Trans @ School

This resource has been developed in partnership between the LGBTI Legal Service, Legal Aid Queensland and the Queensland Human Rights Commission, in consultation with the Queensland Children’s Gender Service, young people, parents and educators.
This guide is for trans and gender diverse students, and aims to help them navigate the complex issues that can arise at school.

A companion resource for schools and educators is also available.

A close up photograph of a child's face overlaid with the blue and pink stripes of the trans flag. The child's gender is ambiguous and the photograph is of one side of the face only. The child's eye is brown and so is their hair. Download the Trans@School guide for students (PDF File, 3.1 MB)

Using this resource

A pdf version of this resource is available to download, or you can scroll through it below or click straight through to different sections using these links:

Introduction

Some people’s gender identity is different from their sex assigned at birth. This is known as being trans or gender diverse. Self-recognition of gender identity can emerge earlier than many people realise, with identity emerging for some children by 3 or 4 years of age. Others may not identify as trans or gender diverse until adolescence or adulthood. Some people may not identify as male or female and may identity as non-binary or feel they have no gender.

School is an important part of life for children and young people. Schools not only have an ethical duty, but a legal responsibility to provide a safe and supportive environment that protects all students, including trans and gender diverse students. As such, schools need to know how to support trans or gender diverse students, and understand that each will have specific needs.

Children and young people express gender identify in many ways, such as in their choice of clothing, hairstyle, name and pronouns, behaviours, and social relationships. The school environment should support and affirm gender diverse students, so that they feel they can safely explore and express their developing gender identity, whatever this may be. The best approach is always to ask a student what they need in order to feel respected and affirmed. For this reason, a ‘one size fits all’ approach is unlikely to be successful. To succeed there must be clear and open communication between the school and the trans or gender diverse student (and when possible, their family) to ensure that the needs of the student are met.

Use this guide as a resource, but ensure that communication between the school and the trans or gender diverse student and their parents or support people is ongoing.

Terminology

Terminology is important, and using inclusive terminology should always be the aim. In this guide we use the phrase ‘trans and gender diverse’to acknowledge the many identities in the gender diversity spectrum.

Trans and gender diverse is an umbrella phrase that includes all identities within the gender identity spectrum, including (but not limited to) people who identify as transgender, transsexual, genderqueer, gender fluid, non-binary, sistergirl, brotherboy, trans man, or trans woman.

It’s important to check with individuals what language they prefer. Language is always changing.

Terms used

Gender is part of how a person understands themself. A person’s gender does not necessarily mean that they have particular sex characteristics.

Sex refers to a person’s biological and hormonal sex characteristics. Sex is different from gender.

Gender identity means a person's understanding of themself as male or female, both, or neither. It affects how they perceive themself, and what they call themself. Gender identity can be a fixed and unchanging characteristic for some, however it can also be fluid or evolving for others.

Note: For the purpose of unlawful discrimination, gender identity under the Anti-Discrimination Act 1991 (Qld) is defined in the following terms:

gender identity, in relation to a person, means that the person —

(a) identifies, or has identified, as a member of the opposite sex by living or seeking to live as a member of that sex; or

(b) is of indeterminate sex and seeks to live as a member of a particular sex.

Just to be clear, the definition is based on self-identification rather than legal paperwork including identification documents.

Gender expression is the way in which a person communicates their gender identity to others through behaviour, clothing, appearance, voice, and other forms of presentation.

Gender diverse refers topeople who do not prescribe to binary roles or normative standards of expressing gender. Other identifications that may be used are gender fluid, gender questioning, or genderqueer.

Gender fluid means that a person’s gender identity is not fixed. Some gender fluid people feel very masculine on some days, and feminine on others, while some live free from definition entirely.

Non-binary is used to describe genders that do not fall into binary definitions of male or female.

Affirming gender means affirming the gender that matches a person's gender identity. For example, if a person was assigned male at birth and identifies as female, the person affirms their gender as female.

Cisgender is a term used to describe people whose gender is the same as that assigned to them at birth. ‘Cis’ is a Latin term meaning ‘on the same side as’.

Gender dysphoria is a recognised medical condition in which a person's sex assigned at birth does not match their gender identity or expression, resulting in impaired functioning in daily life. One treatment for gender dysphoria is for the person to undergo a transition. Not all trans and gender diverse people have gender dysphoria and of those who have dysphoria, for many it ceases with access to gender affirming health care.

Transgender (or trans)means that a person does not identify with the sex assigned at birth.

Transitioning is the process by which a person changes aspects of themselves to better match their gender identity.

A medical transition is the process by which a person changes their physical sex characteristics via hormonal intervention and/or surgery to more closely align with their gender identity.

A social transition is the process of making others aware of one’s gender identity, changing name and pronoun in social settings, and changing gender expression.

Back to top

Introduction to discrimination and human rights

A student who identifies as trans or gender diverse enjoys the same legal rights and protections as any other student. Anti-discrimination protections for students apply under the Queensland Anti-Discrimination Act 1991 and the federal Sex Discrimination Act 1984.

Under the Queensland Human Rights Act 2019, students in state schools have the right to access primary and secondary education appropriate to their needs, and can expect equality before the law. Children also have the right to have their best interests protected.

The Human Rights Act recognises that children are entitled to special protections under the law because of their vulnerability. This means that the best interest of the child should be taken into account in all actions that affect a child. A child’s ‘best interests’ will depend on the circumstances and is different for each individual. Consideration of best interests should take into account the child’s views and recognise their autonomy to make decisions for themself when they are mature enough to do so.

In the context of education, this means that children in Queensland have a human right to a public education that enables them to develop to their full potential, caters for their individual circumstances, and allows them to express their individual identity.

The Human Rights Act also requires that children are protected against discrimination.

Unlawful discrimination under the Anti-Discrimination Act can be either:

Direct discrimination: less favourable treatment because of an attribute (such as gender identity, age, or sex), for example a school refusing to accept an enrolment application from a student because of their gender identity; or

Indirect discrimination: imposing an unreasonable requirement that a person cannot comply with because of their attribute (such as gender identity, age, or sex), for example a school requiring all students to wear a school uniform based on their gender assigned at birth.

The Queensland Human Rights Commission (QHRC) helps resolve discrimination complaints under the Anti-Discrimination Act 1991 and human rights complaints against public entities (including state schools but not private schools) under the Human Rights Act 2019.

The federal Sex Discrimination Act 1984 provides protection from discrimination for people who identify as trans and gender diverse, and the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) resolves complaints made under this Act.

Back to top

Expressing yourself at school

The information provided in this section is for students who have decided it is time to express their gender identity at school. Everyone’s experience is different and these changes may take place over time. You may be clear about what you want to happen, or you may be uncertain. We suggest that you take it one step at a time.

Before you start affirming your gender, it is probably best to work out a plan with the school guidance officer, school principal, or another trusted person. This may help to avoid communication breakdowns, misunderstandings, and insensitive treatment. If you don't explain your needs or concerns the school cannot address them.

For example, if you are changing your name the school will need to organise a new student identity card, email address, computer logins, academic and other achievement records. These processes can take time, so it is important to involve the school from the beginning.

Importance of communication

Good communication is essential for you to be supported to affirm your gender identity at school. You could start by thinking about who you are most comfortable to approach at the school. As difficult as it may be to have that first conversation with the guidance officer, principal, teacher, or other staff member, it is vital to involve key people at the school for things to go well. If you have the support of a parent or carer they can help you approach the school.

You should also make it clear what information you consider private, and what information you are okay with others knowing, and at what stage. If you have any issues, it is better to let someone know early on.

Support person or ally

We suggest that you find a trusted support person from outside school such as a parent, guardian, friend, or sibling who can assist you through the transition process. This person can attend meetings with you, and, if you are ready to do so, set an example by using your correct name and pronoun in front of other students and staff.

If you have an ally, give them information about how you want to be supported. There are a number of helpful resources available for allies, including:

Back to top

Help for your parent or carer

As a trans or gender diverse student, you may face additional challenges if your parents or carers are not supportive of you affirming your gender. You may have been thinking about this for some time but your parents or carers may need more time and information. You could suggest your parents seek support from Parents of Gender Diverse Children or Transcend Support or give them some information from these websites. The Australian Psychological Society has an information sheet for the parents, caregivers and families of trans and gender diverse children.

If you need support for your own health and wellbeing you could also seek affirmative care from the Queensland Children's Gender Service. This service may also be able to assist you to work on the relationship with your parents or carers. It might take some time for parents and carers to see things the same way that you do. They may be feeling overwhelmed, scared or confused.

If you have given it some time and your parents or carers are still not affirming your gender identity, you may need to think about another supportive and trusted adult with whom you can talk about the changes that you want, and to help you navigate this with the school and your parents or carers.

If your parents or carers do not agree with your decision to change your name, for example, you may encounter some difficulties. If you are in this situation, you could seek help from someone who can advocate on your behalf with the school so that the changes happen as you want them to. This person could be someone from within your school (for example your guidance officer), a counsellor, psychologist, or another trusted adult. If there is a disagreement between your parents or carers about things like changing your name, you should also seek legal advice.

If at any time you feel that you are in an unsafe situation at home because of your gender identity, you should tell the school about this. They need to take into account your safety and wellbeing when supporting you to affirm your gender identity.

Names and pronouns

You have the right to be called by your correct name. This name does not need to be your legal name. You also have the right to be referred to by your affirmed gender pronoun (e.g. he, she, they). It is important to tell the school that your name and pronouns have changed.

While accidental slip ups may happen when the change is new, continuous and deliberate use of the wrong pronoun or a former name may be discrimination. If you encounter issues with this, you should let the school know.

Back to top

School documentation and records

You have the right to ask your school to make changes to reflect your gender and name and ensure that your correct name is reflected on school records and documentation for day-to-day use. This includes the class roll, timetable, email address, logins, and report cards.

Records from prior to your transition, such as old report cards, should be reissued to show your correct name when requested.

It may take time for your school to implement these changes. However, if you feel as though your request has not been processed within a reasonable timeframe, it is possible you are experiencing discrimination.

Privacy issues and medical information

Trans and gender diverse students, like all students, are entitled to have their personal, historical, medical, social, and other information that is collected by the school kept private.

If your school asks you to provide private medical information or details about your interactions with medical or psychological services, you are within your rights to ask why the information is needed.

If you feel that the school is requesting medical reports to identify and address your particular needs, then it is probably a reasonable request. You may also choose to provide the school with medical information even if they do not ask for it so that the school can understand your situation and how best to support you. For example, in a situation where a parent or carer does not give their consent for you to change your personal records, it may be helpful to provide medical information to the school so they can make decisions that are in your best interests.

However, if the school is collecting information that is not needed for the purposes of providing you with education (and you do not wish to provide the information), requiring you to provide it could amount to a breach of privacy law or the Queensland Anti-Discrimination Act, if the information might be used to discriminate against you. If you are at a state school, your school has an obligation to protect your privacy under the Queensland Human Rights Act.

Not everyone who is trans or gender diverse engages with medical services. It should not be a requirement for you to provide the school with medical information in order to socially transition. Social transition includes things like:

  • change to a correct name or pronoun for everything except official records;
  • access to the uniform that matches your gender identity; and
  • using the toilet that matches your gender identity.

These things are about making social adjustments and the school should not need medical information to allow these changes to happen.

Back to top

Toilets and change room facilities

You have the right to use toilets and change rooms that match your gender identity. There is no legal basis to deny a student access to a toilet that matches their gender identity. In some situations, schools may have to consider whether there are any potential safety concerns for you that need to be considered. Some trans or gender diverse students prefer initially, or even in the long term, to use a unisex or gender-neutral toilet.

Another option is to ask to use a locked, accessible toilet and have access to the key. This is a personal choice. You should not be told that you cannot use a toilet that matches your affirmed gender, and you shouldn't be required to use an accessible toilet or a staff toilet, unless that is what you prefer.

Gender fluid and non-binary students should be allowed to use the toilet facilities that they feel are appropriate and safe for them, understanding that this choice may change depending on the day and how safe they feel at the time.

If there are no safe and appropriate toilet facilities, you could ask the school to make modifications to existing facilities, such as better cubicle walls and doors. The school should make the modifications if these changes are not too expensive or difficult to do. Sometimes these modifications make the school safer and more accessible for all students.

You should communicate clearly and early with the school about what you are comfortable with, and raise any safety concerns as soon as possible. You may change your mind at some point about what toilet facilities you want to access. If you want the school to help and support you, you will need to communicate your needs at every step along the way.

Uniforms and dress standards

You should be allowed to wear the uniform in way that that affirms your gender identity.

Many schools now have gender-neutral options. In most schools, and in all state schools, this will include the option of wearing shorts or pants, regardless of your sex or gender identity. You should be given the same options as everyone else.

It is reasonable for the school to request that you dress in a way that protects your health and safety, such as wearing a hat. There may be other rules, such as to only wear clear nail polish and keep your hair tidy. This will not be discrimination as long as there are not different rules for you compared with the cisgender students.

Just like any other student you will need to comply with the dress code at your school by wearing the full uniform. Sometimes there might be a practical reason why you can’t wear the uniform in the same way as others. For example, a blouse may not fit your chest and you would prefer to wear the sports polo instead. If you are asking for an exemption from the rules in the dress code, you should make a formal request and explain why it is important for you to wear something different from what the dress code says.

When attending a school formal or other official events out of uniform you should be able to wear what you feel safe and comfortable in. For example, a trans female should be allowed to wear a dress, if that is what she prefers. It is reasonable for the school to ask you to wear something formal and appropriate for such an event, so long as there are not different expectations of trans and gender diverse students compared with cisgender students.

Back to top

Sports and physical activities

Rules for participation of trans and gender diverse students can be different depending on the type of sporting activity, age group and competition type.

If you are under 12 years old

Under the anti-discrimination laws in Queensland, children under the age of 12 do not need to be grouped by gender when playing sport. This means that children of any gender may participate in any sport they choose. For example, an eight-year-old girl may freely join the under 9 boys in rugby, and cannot be refused a place in the team because of her gender. Likewise, a boy of similar age may play a traditionally female sport, such as netball.

One exception is where a competition is organised to encourage a particular group to participate more in a particular sport. For example, a girl’s rugby union competition can exclude boys because the aim of the competition is to encourage females in a traditionally male sport. A trans girl should be allowed to join that team.

12 years old and over

You may have heard it said that trans and gender diverse students have a physical advantage over other students in sport, particularly male-to-female trans athletes. While this may occasionally be true, under Queensland laws, students cannot be excluded from recreational school sport on the basis of their gender identity. This includes any intra-school sport (i.e. sports played with other students of the school, such as PE lessons or athletics carnivals).

You can ask to participate with the group that matches your gender identity. If you identify as gender fluid or non-binary, you can ask the school to participate with whichever gender you feel more comfortable.

When it comes to competitive sporting activities, the law is less clear. What is considered ‘competitive’ sport will depend on the particular circumstances and you should seek legal advice from the LGBTI Legal Service if you are unsure.

Gender-specific activities, camps and excursions

Schools sometimes organise events and activities where girls and boys attend separate classes, such as classes for sex and relationship education, sexual health, and sporting activities. You have the right to attend with the group that matches your gender identity. You should advise the school in advance what your preferences are so they can make the arrangements.

For overnight events such as camps, you have the right to access the same sleeping facilities as other students of your affirmed gender, if you choose to do so and feel safe in the circumstances. In advance of the camp you might want to tell the school which peers you feel most comfortable with. If you have any other special requests, such as private change facilities, you should also ask the school in advance so they can make these arrangements.

If you are a gender fluid or non-binary student, you should communicate with the school about the group with which you would be most comfortable and feel the safest.

Back to top

Bullying

You have the right to learn in a safe and supportive environment that values diversity and individual identity, and should be free from bullying, harassment, discrimination, and violence.

If you are being bullied at school, you should talk to someone about it. You could talk to a parent or guardian, a school counsellor, or staff member you trust. Most schools have policies in place to deal with bullying. Websites such as Bullying No Way! and Reach Out have useful information about bullying and how to deal with it.

You could also seek out peer support if there is a rainbow support group or ally program already at the school, or you could even start one with some other students.

Bullying by a teacher because you are trans or gender diverse may be direct discrimination.

If you are bullied by other students and you feel that your school has not taken your concerns about bullying seriously, you should first make a formal complaint to the school, making it clear what you want them to do, and giving them time to resolve the issues. You could suggest that a specific homophobic/transphobic bullying policy and strategies are put in place. The situation may be indirect discrimination if the school is aware that you are being bullied because of your gender identity, and the school has failed to take reasonable steps to address the issue. In this case, you could bring a complaint against the school to the Queensland Human Rights Commission on the basis of indirect discrimination.

Starting a new school

When starting at a new school, students and families only need to provide the school with information that is necessary for the school to provide educational services. Any personal, historical, medical, social, or other information collected about you by the school should be kept private. You can also decide what information you provide – you do not need to provide former names, or even tell the school you are trans or gender diverse. However, depending on your situation, sharing this information may assist the school in providing support. If you decide to provide this information to a new school, you should make it clear exactly who in the school you are comfortable with sharing this information – for example, the school principal, year coordinator and/or guidance counsellor.

Information for Aboriginal peoples and Torres Strait Islander students

If you are Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander or both, you might want to seek out specific culturally safe support to help you navigate your gender identity and culture. 2Spirits are committed to improving health and wellbeing outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders who identify as LGBTI across Queensland. They may be able to provide you with support or referrals.

Back to top

Making a complaint

You might be thinking about making a complaint if things are not going well at school. The first step is to try to resolve the issues directly with the school. If you have the support of a parent or carer they could advocate on your behalf, or you could find another trusted adult to help you. You could start by asking for a meeting with the school. To make it clear what you are looking for to resolve the issue, you should put your complaint in writing and say what you want to happen. If you do not make it clear what your needs are and what outcome you are seeking, then the school may find it hard to support you.

If the complaint is not resolved by talking to the school you could escalate it further. If you attend a state school you could ask for a review in accordance with the complaints process. Private schools will also have their own specific complaints policies and this information will usually be available on the website.

While you are encouraged to try to resolve the complaint with the school first, you can choose to make a complaint to the Queensland Human Rights Commission or Australian Human Rights Commission at any point along the way.

Choosing where to make a discrimination complaint

Both the Queensland Anti-Discrimination Act and the federal Sex Discrimination Act prohibit unlawful discrimination on the basis of a person’s gender identity. While you can lodge a complaint to either the Queensland Human Rights Commission (QHRC) or the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), there are some factors that can determine which is the better option for you. This is illustrated in the examples below. We recommend you seek legal advice before lodging a complaint.

The chart below illustrates the different protections offered by the Queensland and Australian Human Rights Commissions:

This flowchart advises transgender people that if their complaint is about a religious school it should be made to QHRC, and if about a non-religious school to QHRC or AHRC. For gender diverse people, complaints about non-religious schools should be made to AHRC, and they are advised to seek further advice regarding complaints about religious schools.

A transgender student at a religious school is offered more protection under the Anti-Discrimination Act 1991 (Qld) so it would be better to make a complaint to the Queensland Human Rights Commission (QHRC).

A gender fluid student at a state school has better protection under the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth) so it would be better to make a complaint to the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC).

Please note this chart is a guide only and it is important to seek legal advice before taking action.

Kris identifies as non-binary and wants to lodge a complaint about the discrimination they have faced at their state school. Kris sought legal advice from the LGBTI Legal Service, who advised Kris to lodge a complaint with the Australian Human Rights Commission because there are better protections for gender diverse students under the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth).

Age of complainants

If you are 16 years or older you can make a complaint to the Queensland Human Rights Commission on your own. Depending on the circumstances, you might be able to complain to the Queensland Human Rights Commission on your own if you are under 16. Alternatively, the Queensland Human Rights Commission conciliator may ask you if you would like to authorise a parent, guardian, or another adult to act on your behalf.

Back to top