Managing reactions of the school community

Be prepared to manage the reactions of your staff and the wider school community. Most people are not well educated about trans or gender diverse people, and you should educate your staff so that you they are ready to respond to any negative reactions within the school community.

If concerns are raised with the school about discomfort felt by other students or parents because of a transitioning student, deal with these directly. These concerns do not excuse the school from their responsibility to act in a non-discriminatory way towards a trans student, or to consider their human rights when providing them with an education.

Try to provide information about trans and gender diversity prior to the start of a student’s transition process, so that staff are clear about what is expected of them. If there are negative reactions from staff that result in discrimination against the student the school risks being vicariously liable for the actions of those staff.

Trans and gender diverse students often feel uncomfortable being singled out or made the centre of attention. The student themself may not realise how controversial their transition may be, or be prepared for the responses of others. This means that the school may need to take proactive steps to educate their staff by providing general training on discrimination and human rights without the involvement or consent of the student. The Queensland Human Rights Commission can provide tailored training to schools.

The school is not required to advise parents and other students of the presence of a trans child in the school or in the year level. Unless it is at the specific request of the student, a general communication to all parents and students should not be sent out to “announce” a student transitioning. Doing so may place the student in an uncomfortable position or place them at risk. Note that in other situations where students need adjustments or modifications, such as on the basis of disability, these arrangements are generally not advised to the parents of other students.

Josie phones the year coordinator about an upcoming school camp to inquire about change and toilet facilities, to ensure her trans daughter Maya has a private space to change. The year coordinator requests a meeting. At the meeting the year coordinator tells Josie she would like to send a letter to all other parents advising them a trans girl is attending the camp but without disclosing her name. Josie questions why it is necessary to share Maya’s private information with anyone. The year coordinator advises she will need to check with the principal about whether they have to send the letter. In the days that follow Maya becomes so anxious about the possibility that everyone will be guessing who the trans girl in their year level is that she refuses to go to camp.

Here are some tips:

  • Develop standard responses to students, parents, and staff who raise issues about change rooms, toilet use, and physical appearance.
  • Anticipate that misgendering or deadnaming (calling the person by the wrong name or pronoun) is likely to occur by accident to begin with, but be aware that these mistakes can be hurtful to a trans or gender diverse person. Any consistent and intentional misgendering or deadnaming could be unlawful discrimination.
  • Consider and plan for what consequences there may be for a student who bullies or treats a transitioning student unfavourably.

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