Transgender students face discrimination in secondary school

Transgender students face discrimination in secondary school
Transgender and gender diverse students are facing discrimination and isolation in secondary school, a new report has found. File picture: Gareth Fuller/PA Wire

Transgender and gender diverse students are facing discrimination and isolation in secondary school, a new report has found.

Some students reported leaving formal education after they transitioned due to discrimination, while others transferred to a different school.  

All of those who participated in the research felt marginalised in school due to the lack of discussion around gender diversity. 

One participant said: "[The teachers in my previous school] wouldn't discuss LGBT people at all, but especially not trans people." 

The students also reported a lack of LGBTI+ supportive spaces. One student commented that they had tried to get an LGBT group going in the school, but staff said it would be "inappropriate", "too time-consuming" and a "teacher would need to supervise". 

Others were prevented from putting up posters that discouraged homophobic bullying. 

Some students hid their gender identity due to this marginalisation, and felt shameful and anxious about coming out to staff and fellow students.

This stress resulted in their well-being and academic attainment being negatively affected. 

The majority of transgender and gender diverse students said they disclosed their gender identity to a member of school staff. 

The majority said that the staff member was supportive and that they felt heard. They also felt safer in the wider school community as a result of staff support. 

However, a minority reported that the staff member they told invalidated their gender identity, didn't offer support and obstructed their transition, which left them feeling discriminated against. 

Some reported staff asking inappropriate questions or making transphobic comments. One transgender boy was shut down by his teacher and principal when he confided in them about being transgender. The teachers said there was "nothing they could do". 

After he came out to his parents and received their support, they contacted the school about his transition. However, the teachers were still calling him by his old female name and referred to him as she/her. 

Another participant, a transgender girl, had to leave her secondary school and join Youthreach because her school would not accept her gender identity and teachers persistently called her by her old name, even after her parents intervened.

The majority of respondents transitioned while they were in secondary school. All of those surveyed said they experienced challenges such as misnaming and misgendering, restrictive uniforms, issues with bathroom accessibility, staff prejudice, peer bullying, barriers to sports, and felt there was an overall lack of support.  

Gender diverse and transgender youth also recommended measures which could be taken to help them feel more accepted at school. These included the use of their preferred name and pronouns, proactive and periodic engagement, a dedicated member of staff to act as a liaison and for staff to receive more training and education.

The teenagers surveyed also said they would like to see gender-neutral single-stall bathrooms, non-restrictive uniform policies, the setting up of LGBTI+ schools clubs, and for transphobic bullying to be prevented and challenged. 

This first-of-its-kind research was carried out by the Transgender Equality Network of Ireland and the University of Limerick.

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