According to a 2018 study conducted by Human Rights Campaign and the University of Connecticut, only 27 percent of LGBTQ youth report that they can “definitely” be themselves in school, and just 13 percent reported hearing positive messages about being LGBTQ in school (p. 8).
In an article for Rethinking Schools published in Summer 2022, Esperanza Anderson (a pseudonym for the author, a second-grade teacher) calls out how “school systems systemically damage gender-expansive people” and she encourages teachers to act as “co-conspirators and advocates” who encourage “gender-expansive students to thrive.”
Esperanza relates explains her own experiences advocating for gender-expansive students and as the mother of a gender-expansive daughter. Teachers can model inclusivity by using students’ preferred pronouns and organizing activities that are non-discriminatory. Schools and classrooms should be safe spaces for everyone. With the acceptance of gender-expansive students, children may feel safer being their true selves.
The importance of supporting gender-expansive students and the consequences of ignoring them has been an ongoing conversation in recent years. However, corporate media have mostly failed to address the physical threats and emotional pain experienced by gender-expansive students. In April 2022, the Washington Post reported that Alabama passed a bill that restricts the bathrooms and locker rooms transgender students can use, and forbids educators from talking about gender or sexuality from kindergarten through the fifth grade. And, in August 2022, PBS NewsHour discussed how Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law in Florida not only targets LGBTQIA+ students but also makes it more difficult for teachers to support gender-expansive students and create safe spaces for them in classrooms. The articles discussed what teachers and parents might face while trying to support gender-expansive students in the face of adversity, but neither report fully addressed the hazards students face when their gender identities are not affirmed.
Source: Esperanza Anderson, “Can a 4-Year-Old Know Her Gender Identity? Yes. The Importance of Supporting Gender-Expansive Students,” Rethinking Schools, Summer 2022, Volume 36, No. 4.
Student Researchers: Fayobomi Falodun, Anetia Rom, and Alexa Sortino (University of Massachusetts Amherst)
Faculty Evaluator: Allison Butler (University of Massachusetts Amherst)