Guidelines for Schools Working with Gender Variant and Transgender Students

Summer 2010

By John Peterson

• Engage in professional development programs for faculty and staff in the area of Gender and Sexuality Diversity (GSD). Ideally this work is begun before there is a particular student or family that necessitates it.

• Create and enforce nondiscrimination and anti-bullying/harassment policies that explicitly protect gender identity and sexual identity.

• Emphasize school rules and policies that address the emotional and physical safety of all students. Data indicates that those students who are able to be open about their gender identity and sexual identity in a safe environment feel more part of the school community and do better academically.

• Provide educational programs about GSD for parents and students. Creating an informed, inclusive environment is a community-wide effort.

• Be mindful that standard bullying prevention programs often do not explicitly address GSD as an area of concern.

• Use school forms and applications that are inclusive of all gender and sexual identities and family structures. Make sure language that refers to identities and families is inclusive in all written materials.

• Ensure that your academic and social curriculum regularly integrates history, information, and events that recognize GSD.

• Consider a gender-neutral or flexible dress code. Permit students to comply with the dress code in their affirmed gender.

• Honor preferred names and pronouns. There are ways to comply with record-keeping regulations and also allow a student to identify in her/his affirmed gender.

• Avoid gender-segregated activities for P.E., lining up, etc., or create groupings that allow for flexibility.

• Provide gender-neutral options for bathrooms, changing areas, locker rooms.

• Develop clear guidelines for gender variant and transgender students regarding athletic teams participation, overnight trips, same-sex activities and clubs, etc. These students need clear rules and expectations just like all students do.

• Respect students’ right to be “out” about particular aspects of their gender and sexuality identity, as well as their rights to privacy. Not all students, or families want to be spokespeople or activists for these issues.

• Recognize that the needs of gender variant children and transgender teens are similar to and different from students who identify as gay, lesbian, or bisexual.

• Provide GSD resources to all community members. Make sure your library has accessible information and that your Internet filters do not prevent students, faculty, or parents from finding relevant information.

• If you have a gender variant child in your school, put together a team, including a professional therapist and/or consultant, to create plans and approaches on a case-by-case basis. Each child and school community has particular needs that can best be addressed with a collaborative consultation model.

• Understand that for gender variant children, transgender teens, and their families, a private school may be seen as their best option. These schools have the ability to create community, policy, programs, and curricula that reflect an independent vision of inclusion and equity.

• Remember that helping your school community examine unhealthy gender-role stereotyping is a benefit to all, not just those students who are gender variant.


Greytak, E. A., Kosciw, J. G., and Diaz, E. M. (2009). Harsh Realities: The Experiences of Transgender Youth in Our Nation’s Schools. New York: GLSEN.

Brill, S. and Pepper, R. (2008) The Transgender Child: A Handbook for Families and Professionals, San Francisco: Cleis Press, Inc.

Lee, S. When It Counts: Talking About Transgender Identity and Gender Fluidity in Elementary School. Available at:

John Peterson

John Peterman is the head of Brookwood School (Massachusetts).