Follow Their Lead: How Schools Can Help Transgender Educators Thrive
In today’s world, many transgender people face discrimination, harassment, and bigotry. How is an out and proud transgender teacher supposed to teach when such realities exist? What kinds of things can schools do to make a trans teacher feel safe, welcome, and supported? The following four suggestions are a jumping off place to help make that happen. They apply to teachers already out and to those coming out as trans during their tenure at a school. Also, it cannot be stressed enough that the example of trans teachers being treated with respect will not only help ensure a positive experience for them and the school, but it will also have a profound effect on the LGBTQ students in the school—helping give them the confidence and courage to be who they are, knowing they too will be supported.
1. Educate the Parent Body, Faculty, Staff, and Students on What it Means to Be Transgender and How to Be Supportive Allies.
This, of course, should be positive, celebratory, and must follow the lead of the teacher. Trans teachers shouldn’t be expected to educate the entire school about who they are. Schools can have representatives from local LGBTQ centers or local GLSEN Chapters come and have diversity and advocacy trainings to help take the load off. If such centers are unavailable, local trans people (approved by the teacher) can come to help bring awareness of the trans experience. The teacher should have final say on the information shared to the school community. Someday such education won’t be necessary, but in today’s world, it is.
2. Allow Trans Teachers to Express Themselves in the Manner that Makes Them Feel Most Comfortable.
This may sound superficial, but in actual practice, it’s not. It was my experience that some schools try to put restrictions on what trans teachers wear. And while this may not be as true for transmen or other masculine of center trans people, trans women and trans femmes are often looked at more askance, and thus policed more as far as what they wear is concerned. For example, one school I taught in did not want me to wear skirts. They felt it was too much for the students to handle. I wore skirts anyway. The skirts I chose to wear were appropriate to an educational setting, and followed the school’s faculty dress code policy. However, transphobia takes many forms. Trying to dictate how a trans teacher dresses is one of them. The same can be said of makeup and other ways trans teachers choose to present themselves. Once again, follow the teacher’s lead. In addition, always honor the pronouns the teachers choose to use.
3. Allyship in Action: Have a Buddy System.
Trans teachers should have an active ally who can act as a “buddy” for regular check-ins to see how things are going in the classroom, with parents, and colleagues. This ally can act as an advocate if any issues arise. Being trans might bring extra emotional and mental strain on the teacher, and having a trusted ally can help alleviate such stresses. Some teachers may need additional support during parent-teacher conferences and other school functions.
4. Allow the Teacher to Decide About Media Coverage.
It is possible the school might come under the attention of local media for employing a transgender teacher. Treat this with care, and follow the teacher’s lead on how to handle such situations. No one should in anyway speak for them. They get to decide what, if anything, is said. The administration needs to have their backs and ensure they are treated professionally, and not like a curiosity.
In summary, transgender teachers are just that—teachers. Their experiences as educators can be positive for everyone involved if the school follows the teacher’s lead, and takes steps like these on an ongoing basis. Trans teachers need active and vocal allies to feel safe and supported in schools.
www.glsen.org/trans - find videos, resources, and blogs by trans educators and students
Jennifer Angelina Petro is a transgender activist and educator. She helped found the SAGA (Sexuality and Gender Acceptance) LGBTQIA Center as a part of Love in Action UCC in Hatboro, PA. She leads workshops, gives concerts, and shares her poetry on the trans experience. She chronicles her journey in over seven hundred videos on YouTube, and in The Wonder Child Blog. Her story was featured on Liz Plank’s “Divided States of Women,” and in the Philadelphia Inquirer. She has three children and is an avid reader of P.G. Wodehouse.