Best Practices for Supporting Transgender Students

Best Practices for Supporting Transgender Students

The following is adapted from The Trans* Policy Working Group Of The Consortium Of Higher Education LGBT Resource Professionals

While schools vary in their ability to implement all of these recommendations and in the resources that they can offer, these practices are what institutions should strive for in addressing the needs of transgender students.

General policies
  • Develop and publicize a trans-supportive policy that recognizes and respects the gender identity of the student. In addition to a general policy, each department (including, but not limited to: Admissions, Registrar, Residential Life, Campus Facilities, Health Center and Fraternities and Sororities) should adopt a trans-supportive policy. The policy should be easily accessible on the school’s website. The school and each department should designate an administrator as a point person responsible for enforcing these policies.
  • Include “gender identity and expression” explicitly in the institution’s general nondiscrimination policy. Or clarify existing protections on the basis of sex to include gender identity just as the federal government has done. (For example, the Office of Personnel Management has clarified that its existing nondiscrimination protections because of sex include gender identity; see “Workplace Rights and Wrongs.”) Include anti-trans acts in harassment and bias incident policies in accordance with campus judicial enforcement.
  • Before asking for gender identity, critically examine if a student’s gender is really needed on a document. For example, is gender identity relevant to a student’s participation in a career center event?
  • Allow students to designate their chosen name (even if distinct from their legal name) on all electronic and hard copy documents (i.e., admissions and matriculation records, medical records, class rosters, transcripts, ID cards and diplomas). In accordance with FERPA, students should be allowed to change their legal name and gender marker upon request (i.e., without a letter from a therapist or doctor and without the need to change other documents).
  • Policies and procedures related to changing names and gender markers should be easily accessible on the school’s website.
Suggested Format for Requesting Student Self-Identification

Suggested Format for Requesting Student Self-Identification:

Gender ____________________________

Or, when multiple-choice format is necessary:

Gender (choose all that apply)

__ Woman

__ Man

__ Trans or transgender (please specify): ________________________

__ another identity (please specify): ____________________________

  • Each department should adopt an equitable process for hiring, training and maintaining trans-identified and trans-knowledgeable staff members. Staff diversity efforts should explicitly include transgender people.
  • Staff training for all departments should require cultural competency on transgender policies and issues to ensure workplace equality and fair treatment of students and staff.
Housing Policies

Develop and publicize a trans-supportive housing policy, which states that:

1. Students who inform the college that they are trans in a timely manner will be housed in keeping with their gender identity; and

2. Every attempt will be made to give trans students safe and comfortable housing assignments.

Establish a gender-inclusive housing (GIH) option that:

1. is available for both new and returning students;

2. is separate from an LGBTQ-themed floor;

3. is open to all students, not just to trans students;

4. is offered in different parts of campus and, if possible, in different types of housing (doubles, suites, apartments); and

5. includes gender-inclusive bathrooms/showers

Bathroom/Locker Room

Have a campus bathroom and locker policy that applies to all buildings (including housing), which allows individuals to:

1. use facilities that correspond to their gender identity; or

2. utilize bathrooms that are designated gender-neutral/gender-inclusive (see below).

3. Create gender-inclusive bathrooms (e.g., single-user, lockable bathrooms that are labeled as “all gender bathrooms” or simply as “bathrooms”) and private showers in all renovated and newly constructed residence halls. Offer more privacy in locker rooms for all students where possible.

4. Have an online list/map of all gender-inclusive restrooms across campus.

5. For gender-inclusive bathrooms, use a sign that avoids the male and female stick figures.

Health Care Policies
  • If applicable to your college or university, remove discriminatory exclusions for transgender health care in student and staff insurance plans to ensure equal coverage for medically necessary care.
  • Regularly train physicians so that they can provide trans-specific health care including: initiating hormone treatment, writing prescriptions for hormones and monitoring hormone levels for transitioning students.
  • Have at least one Counseling Center therapist who has the training and experience to be able to write letters for transitioning students to access hormones. Develop and publicize a list of area therapists who can provide trans-supportive gender therapy for students who are transitioning or who are struggling with their gender identity.
  • Offer a support group for trans and gender-nonconforming students.
  • Have prescriptions and lab orders written in such a way that the name a student uses is called out at the pharmacy and lab.
  • Appoint a patient advocate or have a visible procedure for trans students (as well as other students) to report concerns and instances of poor treatment.
Fraternity/Sorority Policies
  • If applicable to your college or university, develop and publicize a fraternity and sorority policy that includes transgender students by clarifying that sex is defined as a person’s gender identity. This policy should state that the college will always recognize and respect the stated gender identity of the student.
Sports Policies
  • Develop policies that allow transgender students to participate in single-sex sports in accordance with their gender identity.
  • Model policy from U Mass Amherst: “When an activity makes a gender designation, an individual who has transitioned to a different gender can participate in the division of the individual’s current gender. If an individual is in the process of transitioning to a different gender, participation in a particular gender designated activity will be handled on a case-by-case basis.

In The News: The Federal Government Protects Trans Students

Even before the U.S. Department of Education (ED) clarified for the third time in 2014 that discrimination based on gender identity in schools violates Title IX of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, transgender students were successfully making that argument.

On July 24, 2013, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) resolved a settlement with a California school on behalf of a twelve-year-old transgender boy who was told to use a restroom in the nurse’s office instead of the boy’s restroom and locker room, and told he could not room with the cisgender boys on a field trip. The settlement required the school district to take a number of steps to ensure that the student will be treated similarly to cisgender boys, including using the multi-stall restroom and locker room.

The student had returned to middle school after transitioning from female to male and was forced to use a separate bathroom than other students. District officials also separated him for other activities. This treatment made the student the target of awkward questions and teasing that interfered with his ability to focus at school.

The 2013 settlement requires the Arcadia Unified School District to grant the student access to the same facilities as any other male student; develop transgender-inclusive nondiscrimination policies; put its staff through antidiscrimination trainings; and undergo monitoring and reporting. The agreement also involved a clarification from the ED and the DOJ that sex discrimination in schools includes discrimination based on “gender identity, gender expression, and nonconformity with gender stereotypes.”

Then, on October 14, 2014, the federal Office of Civil Rights (OCR) approved a resolution agreement in another California case involving a transgender girl who had complained of gender-based peer harassment. Her settlement with the Downey Unified School District affirmed the student’s right to use sex-designated facilities “for female students at school… consistent with her gender identity.”

Both settlements are great examples of how transgender students, whether K-12 or in college, can exercise their rights under Title IX to prevent their schools from discriminating against them. They also show that the government is receptive to these kinds of complaints.

Trans* is often (but not universally) used to include people who identify as nonbinary trans as well as transgender, transsexual, trans men, trans women and other identities not itemized.

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