Support transgender students

Craig Austin

Teachers have a responsibility to eliminate harassment and victimisation and support transgender students.

Maltreatment, victimisation and rejection of transgender students can lead to depression, anxiety and drug and alcohol abuse. Isolation, along with that nagging sense of not feeling ‘right within their own body’, makes transgender people one of the most susceptible groups for suicidal ideation and attempts.

Useful strategies for supporting transgender students include:

•allowing students to use their preferred names, and updating school systems and records accordingly

•acknowledging the right for privacy of the student and family around the issue

•offering the student support if they wish for others to know

•allowing the student to use a toilet that matches their gender identity (the use of disabled toilet facility may be a viable option if the student desires, however, sometimes this may draw attention to the student and is not always recommended)

•allowing the student to wear the uniform that matches their identified gender

•reassuring the parents/caregivers that the school will keep them safe and support them

•being mindful of the possible repercussions for siblings and offer support

•being mindful of the potential problems, such as victimisation, and come up with a plan to manage these problems.

Further information is available on Federation’s website (including Twenty10’s guide to supporting young transgender people at school) as well as from community organisations such as Twenty10 and the Gender Centre.

Currently the Department of Education and Communities (DEC) lacks explicit advice to schools in how to support transgender students, unlike Queensland and Victoria. In recent correspondence the DEC stated that equity, diversity and inclusion are reflected within current policies, specifically the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act 1977. Federation will continue to pursue the Department to issue its own policy to support schools and their communities around this sensitive issue.

Craig Austin is a school counsellor at Campbell House School and a member of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Restricted Committee.