All students have the right to a safe educational environment in which they can learn and be successful.

Some Kansas school districts are considering adding gender identity or expression to nondiscrimination policies as a way to protect transgender students and staff. Such a policy — which districts started implementing over a decade ago — is one strategy to help vulnerable students, and it's a strategy districts should consider.

Nondiscrimination policies are intended to protect all students from discrimination. Such policies identify certain characteristics that place students at risk of discrimination. A typical nondiscrimination statement would list age, race, color, creed, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender, disability, national origin or ancestry as protected classes. Wichita Public Schools recently held hearings to consider adding gender identity or expression to its policy.

Many Kansas districts already include gender identity and gender expression in their nondiscrimination statements, including Topeka Public Schools, which has had the policy for more than a decade. Some school officials believe Title IX protections already protect transgender students from discrimination. Title IX is a valuable tool, but clearer protections for LGBTQ students can help.

LGBTQ students are at particularly high risk for discrimination. Nearly two in three (63%) LGBTQ students experienced at least one form of anti-LGBTQ discrimination at school during the past year, according to the most recent School Climate in Kansas report from the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network. The organization recommends comprehensive anti-discrimination policies to give students options, but such policies do not protect students by themselves.

Supportive school staff, an active gay-straight alliance or similar organization, inclusive curriculum and library resources can all help students feel safer at school. The report found that students with such resources in place reported more positive school experiences.

Suicide statistics for transgender teens add further urgency to the need to create safe spaces at school. Over half of transgender male teens, 29.9 percent of transgender female teens and 41.8 percent of non-binary teens, who do not identify as male or female, have attempted suicide, according to an American Academy of Pediatrics study.

As schools work to help students learn, protections for transgender students are an important part of ensuring all students have the opportunity for success.

 

Gatehouse Kansas