Delegates at the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) Conference on Tuesday 5th April 2016 were told that more must be done to equip teachers in dealing with transgender pupils, especially in same-sex schools. This comes at a time when more pupils are ‘coming out but are unsupported by their schools and staff.
Graham Easterlow, a drama teacher at an all-boys school in North Yorkshire, spoke about one of his pupils coming out as a transgender woman. He was quick to discover that there was “no precedence” and “no process,” leading him to believe that “schools are ill-prepared” and that “there is a blind spot on [this] particular issue.”
Mr. Eastlow also commented on the fact that some older members of staff refused to acknowledge the transition of the pupil, suggesting that the school was “pandering to a fad.” In an attempt to overcome negative and unhelpful attitudes, the Conference wanted to “deplore the paucity of meaningful and informed discussion of gender identity and trans issues within schools and colleges” in order to ensure staff are well-informed in dealing with future cases.
Adaptations to facilities are also seen as an important step in acknowledging the needs of transgender students. The Intercom Trust, an LGBT community resource centre in Dorset, maintains that the use of toilets and changing facilities are often a cause for concern because this is where trans pupils “may find themselves in vulnerable situations…where they could fall victim to unwanted attention that could (if escalated), lead to sexual bullying, assault, or other physical or emotional harm.”
The Trust also notes that members of the transgender community should be “seen and treated as a member of their true gender.”
Nick, a 15-year-old from South East England, spoke about his experience of transitioning while at an all-girls school to the Huffington Post. He said that he remembers “the deputy head telling [him] that she rang every school in the area to ask for information about the subject but no one could help her.”
He also recalls the time that he was told by a senior member of staff to “just be a lesbian and transition when [he] left school.” While Nick is appreciative of the support of the majority of the staff, he is still forced to use female toilets at school because there are no male toilets available for pupils. He describes this as being “uncomfortable” for both him and the girls, especially on ‘own clothes day’ when he is “perceived as male.”
Teachers at the ATL Conference spoke of “breaking with tradition” by introducing new provisions in schools, such as gender-neutral changing facilities and uniforms. The Conference held that teachers have a “duty to promote equality” and that facility amendments should be treated in a similar way to accommodations made for disabled pupils.
Mr Eastlow later pronounced: “I long for a point where it just doesn’t matter who you love, it doesn’t matter how you identify, but that in schools we get the best education to the young people that we can and for them to achieve the best they can be.”
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