How to support trans educators

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By Sam Long

As teachers, we strive to bring our best selves and our whole selves into the classroom. But for transgender educators like myself, the parts of our identities that we’re proudest of are often silenced and overlooked.

I am a transgender man, a high school science teacher, and a co-founder of the Colorado Transgender/Nonbinary Educators Network. We teamed up with trans filmmaker Z Griffler to create a short video titled “Five Best Practices To Support And Learn From Trans Educators.”

  1. Listen to the expert and do your homework.

When a teacher announces that they are transitioning or coming out, your instinct may be to jump in and help by telling them what they should and should not do. But remember that the trans educator is the expert on their own needs. We are the ones who have thought about this decision the most, and we must be trusted to decide how and when we express our identities publicly. Supporting a trans colleague means doing your own homework and taking steps to learn the basics of transgender identity.

2. Identify and interrogate your own biases.

A common belief, even among educators who are supportive in principle, is that trans teachers will spark unwanted controversy among parents and students. If you hold a meeting for parents to voice complaints, then you will receive complaints. If you ask for all students to try and show tolerance for trans identities, then a few individuals may refuse. But if you state clearly and authoritatively that you expect all students to show respect and empathy, then students will listen.

3. Stand behind your trans educators.

Most students respond positively when I come out. But after five years of teaching, I am sure that at least a few parents have gone behind my back and asked the principal to switch their child out of my class. My principals have always stood behind me and never allowed these changes. They recognized that trans people are a part of society, and that all young people need to learn to coexist in a diverse society. My supervisors and colleagues have also observed that trans youth, who make up nearly 2 percent of high school students, are uniquely able to thrive when they have a role model like me in the classroom.

4. Share the work of creating an inclusive school climate.

Teaching is already more than a full-time job. In many schools, it is quite common that equity work such as running a Gay-Straight Alliance and counselling LGBTQ students falls on the one teacher who is out. Share this important work by forming committees, using district resources, hiring trans-competent consultants, and using web resources such as GLSEN and Teaching Tolerance.

5. Develop official policy in your school or district.

Plenty of school districts now have strong policy in place to support transgender students. But does your school have a way for staff to easily change their name and gender for their many online employee accounts? Is trans-inclusive health care part of the benefits package? Do you have a clear system for reporting discrimination? To develop a strong policy for supporting trans staff, you may want to refer to the Toronto, Chicago, Washington State, and Los Angeles Unified school districts, which all have policy addressing some of these staff needs.

We hope you will use these practices to support current and future trans educators in your community.

About the author

Sam Long (he/him/his) teaches science at Standley Lake High School in Westminster, CO. Sam also trains other teachers in developing gender-inclusive biology curriculum.

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