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The Importance of Trans Inclusivity in Schools

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In the Murky discourse that surrounds “Bathroom Bills” the overall humanity of the subjects of such bills has been lost. We’ve moved away from empathy and dived headlong into specious claims and assertions with little to no backing. It is important to keep in mind the worth and value of trans people and their right to human dignity. In this paper I’ll focus on trans students’ right to use the bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity and the importance of having their gender affirmed by their community and school faculty.

What is gender? How do we define it and what does it mean to be transgender? Ostensibly gender is a categorical binary of the sexes, an identifier predicated on our own sexual dimorphism. But that is not the whole picture, that only covers sex. gender is far more reaching and complex than our own sexual dimorphism. For instance, gender impacts our social and private life’s, it can, in some subtle ways, impact the course of our life e.g. what careers we’re presented with and expected to aspire to. Gender is more than our sex, it’s the cultural, social and individual identity of a person. To be transgender is to not identify with the gender that you were assigned at birth, this displacement can be referred to as gender dysphoria. Most trans people than go on to transition socially and/or medically. Gender goes beyond your genitals and trans people’s choice to transition not only medically but socially as well shows this.

Gender Performativity is a phrase coined by academic Judith Butler, on the subject she has said “In this sense, gender is in no way a stable identity or locus of agency from which various acts proceed; rather, it is an identity tenuously constituted in time – an identity instituted through a stylish repetition of acts.” (J. Butler, 1988). Judith clarifies and says that performativity should be thought as or compared to an illocutionary act (J. Butler, 1988), insofar that our performance of our gender produces a process that we capitulate to i.e. identifying and “preforming” as a woman or man causes the world to treat you as such, regardless of biological sex. Additionally, we slowly build a gender identity through this repetitious act, some are content with this illocution while others are not, they do not identify with their assigned gender and usually decide to transition. Coming back to Judith Butler, Judith in no ways disregards the materiality of our bodies but instead posits that both the materiality of our bodies and immateriality of our gender have a delicate relationship (Butler, 1993, p. 110-111). While we can’t ignore the materiality of the body, we also can’t ignore the immateriality of gender and the acute position trans youth are in and how we can help them.

We must help trans youth because of the challenges and barriers they face as they navigate from adolescences to adulthood. Where ever trans youths turn they face challenges that range from classroom bullying, unsupportive parents, suicide ideation and lastly to poor access to trans related health-care (Grossman, D’augelli, 2006). It is important to foster a safe and affirming environment for trans students because of the disproportionate rate at which they experience mental illness and/or self-destructive behaviour (Connolly, Zervos, Barone, Johnson, Joseph. 2016). We must work to depreciate difference between trans youths and their peers, a step towards that would be respecting trans youths gender identity with regards to the public bathrooms.

Bullying is wide ranging and many children must undergo and endure a process of bullying in their life time, even more so for trans youths and students in some cases. Bullying can lead to further isolation for a trans student which in turn can lead to the self-destructive behaviours previously mentioned. But bullying goes beyond what happens in classrooms and school hallways and can lead to long term negative affects on its victim’s health and ability to properly function as an adult i.e. they may not be able to formulate lasting relationships, integrating into work and being economically independent (Wolke, Lereya. 2015). Trans youth can face discrimination for things other than their gender identity. This creates a disadvantaged group with many and various reasons why they may become at risk (Daley, Solomon, Newman & Mishna. 2007). The importance of affirming a trans students’ gender shouldn’t be understated, whether it’s using proper pronouns or allowing access to corresponding bathroom facilities, school faculty have a responsibility to ensure the safety and prosperity of their students.

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Support and resources for trans youths is necessary but unfortunately access to such necessities is not always possible for them. Some clinics may be ill-equipped to deal with the needs of trans youths, this continues to affect them as they age and may contribute to any isolation or depression they may be feeling. One journal article has described the barriers trans youth face when looking for resources in medical care facilities:

  1. few accessible pediatric providers are trained in gender-affirming health care;
  2. lack of consistently applied protocols;
  3. inconsistent use of chosen name/pronoun;
  4. uncoordinated care and gatekeeping;
  5. limited/delayed access to pubertal blockers and cross-sex hormones;
  6. insurance exclusions.

With proper resources and care trans youth can be given the same possibility of success as any other youth and/or student. A part of helping trans youth can happen in the school, keep in mind how important it is to affirm a trans youth’s gender identity, the use of a trans youth’s chosen name has been linked to a decrease in negative mental health (Russell, Pollitt, Li & Grossman 2016). Teacher can become supports and push their trans students to success as allies, but first they must start with advocacy of trans rights in the classroom.

Trans rights and acceptance in Canada have seemed to make progress with Bill C-16, a bill that includes gender expression and gender identity as prohibited grounds of discrimination (Parliament of Canada. 2017). With the passing of this bill into law there has been no increase of bathroom assaults or persecutions of freedom of speech, like some critics have stated (Crossman. 2018). The framing of such bills as “Bathrooms Bills” relies on stereotyping and the dehumanizing of trans women as predators, but rarely any mention of trans men and where they may fit in the context of this view on gender and bathroom relations. (Schilt, Westbrook. 2015). Fortunately, Bill C-16 gives precedence for school faculty to make space and considerations for trans students, fostering in a more inclusive school that harbours successful and healthy students and dispels stereotyping and specious claims.

As the Equity and Inclusive Education policy from Bluewater District School Board states “Bluewater District School Board is committed to racial equity, and the principles of fairness and equity as essential principles in our school system, reflected through inclusive policies/procedures, programs, services, curriculum, and operations, in accordance with the Ontario Human Rights Code, the Education Act, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and board policy BP 7520-D “Human Rights” (Bluewater District School Board. 2010). Later they include a sub header about definitions, one of which is titled diversity which includes gender identity. With local schools including in policies the need to protect and implement trans rights in their school boards can help ensure the safety of trans youths, if the school board take the responsibility seriously and take the necessary steps to affirm and protect trans students. One step being allowing trans students to use the washroom that corresponds with their gender identity.

Trans youths face many barriers in their life with restrictions to bathrooms in public spaces being just one of them. It’s the right of the trans student to use the bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity and school faculty can go a long way to help trans students feel affirmed and safe in their school. Trans youths struggle with the fickle nature of gender, are faced with barriers and discrimination at school, in the public and possibly at home. They have their rights bartered over in parliament and the public discourse, but Canada has taken steps towards a more inclusive future and school boards can have a hand in that as well.

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The Importance of Trans Inclusivity in Schools. (2022, October 28). Edubirdie. Retrieved February 6, 2023, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/the-importance-of-trans-inclusivity-in-schools/
“The Importance of Trans Inclusivity in Schools.” Edubirdie, 28 Oct. 2022, edubirdie.com/examples/the-importance-of-trans-inclusivity-in-schools/
The Importance of Trans Inclusivity in Schools. [online]. Available at: <https://edubirdie.com/examples/the-importance-of-trans-inclusivity-in-schools/> [Accessed 6 Feb. 2023].
The Importance of Trans Inclusivity in Schools [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Oct 28 [cited 2023 Feb 6]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/the-importance-of-trans-inclusivity-in-schools/
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