But Really, Do No Harm: Supporting All Students in Positive Gender Identity Development | KB Kinkel | 11 Min Read

September 6, 2023

The year 2023 may still be in its third quarter, but it has already proven to be a devastating legislative year for transgender people in the United States. According to Trans Legislation Tracker, at least 566 bills intended to impact access to healthcare, education, and student athletics have been introduced in state legislatures this year. Many of these bills target transgender youth and procedures in K-12 schools. Take Arizona SB1001, which states that no school employee may refer to a student using a pronoun “that differs from the pronoun that aligns with a student’s biological sex” without written parental consent. Or consider Arizona HB1700 (What’s going on, Arizona?) which bans books from school classrooms and libraries that discuss gender fluidity or even explore the idea of using gendered pronouns—concepts its authors liken, bewilderingly, to “groom[ing] children into normalizing pedophilia.” Anyone who is paying attention knows it’s a dark time for trans youth.

Outside of legislative sessions, attacks on trans youth and those who support them are perpetuated in harmful, biased media reporting. In February of this year, close to 1,000 New York Times contributors signed an open letter to the newspaper in protest of its “poor editorial judgment” in reporting on transgender people. In their letter the signatories highlighted, among other offenses, at least “15,000 words of front-page Times coverage debating the propriety of medical care for trans children” in the eight months between June 2022 and the letter’s publication, including a long-form article by a known transphobic journalist that has since been used in a Texas court to discriminate against trans kids. Clearly, the firestorm of anti-trans sentiment has taken particular aim at trans and gender-nonconforming youth, and educators who would seek to support and affirm them. 

K-12 schools and educators therefore find themselves navigating two challenges: an increasingly visible and vocal population of trans and gender-nonconforming students who need support and protection, and a social and political climate hostile to transgender people and trans youth in particular. It is paramount that schools consider their vital role in helping students and families navigate gender identity and its representation in law and media, just as schools must consider their responsibility in all facets of child and adolescent cognitive and psychosocial development. Moreover, it is crucial that…

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