How to Support Transgender & Gender-questioning Youth
What Is a Transition?
A transition is the process by which an individual begins living as their affirmed gender. People may transition socially, medical and/or legally. There’s no one way to be transgender and therefore, there is no one way to transition. A transition may or may not include hormonal and/or surgical treatment.
What Is an “Affirming Approach” to Discussing Transitions?
The word “affirm” is used to acknowledge the identity of an individual.
There are a few shared components of adopting an affirming approach:
- Note that gender variations are not disorders.
- Recognize that gender may be non-binary. Non-binary gender is a term that reflects gender identities that don’t fit within the binary of male and female. Individuals may feel they are both genders, neither or some mixture thereof.
- Follow international guidelines and recommendations (WPATH and Endocrine Society).
Supporting Transgender & Gender Nonconforming Students in School
Transphobia, or discrimination against transgender people, can and does occur in spaces where youth deserve to feel safe and included, such as school.
Youth that are not supported are at increased risk for negative health (medical and mental) outcomes when compared with transgender youth that are supported. Just like all other forms of bullying, transphobia needs to be addressed in both proactive and reactive ways by school administrators and staff.
Best Practices for Creating a Supportive Gender-Inclusive School Culture
- Avoid gender segregation and set an inclusive precedent. Personally demonstrate a diverse and nonbinary understanding of gender.
- Be respectful of student names and pronouns. A student’s name and pronoun should be updated on school documents and in databases. Forms should also be updated to allow for transgender students to identify themselves in accurate ways. These changes communicate to the community that the school is accepting of all students of every gender.
- It’s okay to ask people what pronouns people use in a confidential context. People may use the following pronouns:
- Any other pronoun that feels good
- This helpful video below explains pronouns, the importance of using the correct ones and what to do if you accidentally use the wrong pronoun.
- If you are having trouble adjusting to a person’s pronouns try practicing with the Minus18 Pronoun App
- Not familiar with nonbinary pronouns? Here are a few helpful articles:
- "All Your Questions About Gender-Neutral Pronouns Answered" | Teen Vogue
- "A Guide to Nonbinary Pronouns and Why They Matter" | Huffington Post
- "Beyond 'He' and 'She" | BBC
- Implement inclusive dress codes.
- Students should be empowered to express their gender at school. Dress codes should not be enforced along gender guidelines, nor should they be more strictly imposed on transgender students.
- The school facility must be a safe environment. The goal must be to maximize the social inclusion of all students and to provide them with the opportunity to actively engage in all classes and activities.
- Students should be able to access the restroom and locker room that corresponds with their affirmed gender identity. Any student that requires additional privacy should be provided with a single use facility, regardless of the rationale for the request.
- Implement these nondiscriminatory policies and diversity statements that include gender identity.
- Adopt a comprehensive policy for discrimination.
Illinois-Specific Guidance for Inclusive Schools
- ISBE Non-Regulatory Guidance
- ISBE Sample District Policy and Administrative Procedures
- Report of the Affirming and Inclusive Schools Task Force to Governor JB Pritzker
- Keeping Youth Safe & Healthy Act (SB-818)
Related Illinois Statute and Regulations
Becoming an Ally to Transgender Youth
Being an ally to transgender individuals means creating an environment where they feel comfortable and have the opportunity to thrive.
How can you be an ally?
- Ask what the youth would like you to do to be a good ally. You may be the first person to ask this question.
- Take their gender identity and expression seriously. You may be only person in their life to do so.
- Acknowledge mistakes. If you make a mistake—own it, quickly correct yourself, move on, and practice on your own time.
- Respect the student’s name/pronoun. Remember to always refer to transgender students by their affirmed name and pronoun even if you are not in their presence.
- Do not out anyone (or allow anyone else to do so) without their consent.
- Treat trans youth in a manner consistent with their gender identity.
- Provide resources and support.
Supporting Parents: Talking to Children About Gender Identity
It’s important for parents to help children and adolescents understand gender identity. Being friends with or talking about trans, gay and lesbian people will not make anyone gay or transgender. However, learning about and understanding different types of people will make children more likely to be kind and respectful to one another. Understanding diversity may also help children and adolescents stand up to someone who is bullying another student.
When talking to a child or adolescent about gender identity, let them guide the conversation. If you’re not sure where to begin, books are a great jumping off point to start a conversation about gender. Parents should try to find out what specifically the child is trying to understand and help answer those questions.
- For children in elementary school, keep the information and explanation basic.
- For youth in middle school, keep information simple, but add more detail and key terms.
- For high school students, be clear and accurate in your explanation, but also ensure that you understand what specific questions your child has. Are their questions about gender? Transitioning? Don’t answer a question that they’re not asking. Also, if you don’t know an answer, consider looking for more information together.
Download a list of books with transgender or gender-questioning characters.
Hospital Policies to Support Gender Inclusion
LGBTQ patients and families have historically experienced discrimination in healthcare settings. When arriving at a healthcare facility, many assess the environment to determine if they will be accepted and supported. Providing a welcoming setting is crucial and can be done in a few ways, including the following:
- Make all patients and hospital guests feel comfortable and respected.
- Hold ongoing educational opportunities for staff about LGBT patients and families. When staff members better understand LGBT patients and families, these families’ needs are better accommodated in the organization’s policies and the staff’s behavior. More inclusive policies and behaviors lead to higher quality healthcare.1
- Develop a policy statement regarding your institution’s decision to support appropriate and inclusive services for transgender and gender nonconforming youth.
- View Lurie Children's Policy.
- Download this literature review which outlines the research behind the Model Administrative Procedures and best practices for gender inclusion in schools.
- Ensure that public spaces such as waiting rooms are inclusive of LGBT patients and families. This includes:
- Marketing materials
- Display LGBT affirming symbols, such as safe space stickers, the trans and LGBT pride flags
- Implement a registration process that is inclusive of LGBT families.
- Offer inclusive restrooms policies for all hospital visitors.
- Make all gender restrooms available throughout the institution. Learn about Lurie Children’s all gender restrooms.
- Allow all guests to use the restroom in accordance with their gender identity and inform staff of this policy.
- Keep conversations friendly and clinical in healthcare situations.
- If a trans patient is there to address an issue not related to gender, focus on their medical issue. If the issue could be affected by the presence of a uterus, ovaries or prostate, then have a discussion without gendering these body parts. Explain that the presence of these body parts could potentially affect their medical issue, and that is why you need to ask.
For more information, please review this helpful video, “Vanessa Goes to the Doctor”.
1. Diane L. Adams, ed., Health Issues for Women of Color: A Cultural Diversity Perspective (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 1995)