Communicating with your child’s school
Feeling comfortable, safe, and supported at school is critical for all young people. Whether your child starts a new school in their gender identity without anyone knowing their history, or they go through their gender transition at their school, being in the school environment can trigger anxiety in gender diverse children in several ways.
Your child’s school has not only an ethical duty, but a legal responsibility to provide a safe and supportive environment for their students. It’s important that your school recognises their role in supporting gender diverse students, and how to do so, understanding that every student will have unique and specific needs.
Click here for our guide for parents and carers: Supporting your gender diverse child at school
Click here for our guide for schools: Supporting gender diverse students
Here’s some helpful wording for communicating with your child’s school:
Providing an affirming environment
- ‘I wanted to discuss with you that <name> identifies as <gender identity>, and [she is / he is / they are] now at the stage of wanting to live as this gender at school.’
- ‘<Old name>’s new name <name> and [her / his / their] pronouns are <pronouns>. Using these are very important to [her / him / them] and when they’re not used, [she feels / he feels / they feel] invalidated, which is upsetting. Can you please let all staff and educators know, and request that if they notice anyone using the old ones, to please correct it?’
- ‘I want <Name> to grow to [her / his / their] full potential, and to do this, [she needs / he needs / they need] to have the freedom to express [her / his / their] individual identity.’
- ‘Helping <name> develop [her / his / their]sense of self is going to improve [her / his / their] self-esteem and resilience. It will let [her / him / them] know [her / his / their] school supports them.’
- ‘Can you please let me know what uniform options are available for [her / him / them]?’
- ‘I want to respect <name>’s autonomy by taking [her / his / their] wishes and views into account when we’re making decisions about [her / his / their] schooling.’
- ‘Inclusivity is important. Not just for <name>; there are probably other students who haven’t come out yet or have queer family and friends.’
- ‘Does the school have an existing Inclusion Policy that includes gender diversity?’ …If not: ‘Do you have the capacity to develop one? I can provide a few guides and resources to draft it from.’
- ‘The school isn’t obliged to disclose that <name> is trans to the whole school community. It’s personal and sensitive information and should be kept confidential unless [she / he / they] or I give you our permission to share it.’
- ‘Splitting students up by gender might make <student>, who identifies as [non-binary / agender], excluded. Could we think of a different way to divide the students?.’
- ‘Instead of dividing students up into “girls” and “boys” groups, would the school consider other options? They could be divided according to the month in which they were born; by the first letter of their name; or just by numbering each child randomly and creating teams from the numbers.’
- ‘If staff and educators are unsure how to affirm <name>’s gender at school, perhaps you could book an LGBTQA+ awareness professional development course. Is that something you might be open to?’
Providing a safe environment
- ‘I want to make sure that <name> feels safe at school.’
- ‘Bullying and discrimination is well-known to cause serious risks to the mental health and wellbeing of gender diverse kids. <Name>’s safety is obviously important to me.’
- ‘If <name> starts to experience any bullying or harassment, what steps will you take to manage this?’
- ‘May I please book a time to meet with you to discuss <name>? [She / He / They] have been having trouble at school and I’d like to set up a plan to support them.’
- ‘At the moment, <name> is not feeling comfortable or safe at school.’
- ‘I’d like to work with the school to stop the bullying <name> is facing. Where is the best place to start?’
- ‘<Name> has told me [she’s / he’s / they’re] still getting bullied at school. We discussed <things discussed with school previously>. Have these been done?’ … ‘May we please book in another meeting to discuss what we can do next?’
Sport and physical education
- ‘Sport is so important to <name>. [She’s / He’s / They’re] worried [she / he / they] won’t be able to participate anymore.’
- ‘Leaving the sport would be bad for [her / him / them], physically, mentally and socially.’
- ‘I’m working to protect and maintain <name>’s mental health. Sport is such a healthy way to do this. I want [her / him / them] to feel comfortable to continue participating.’
- ‘I want to work with the school to support <name>’s right to participate. What steps can be taken to enable and encourage [her / him / them] to do so?’
- ‘There is a group called COMPPS. Its members are the AFL and NRL; Football Federation Australia; and Cricket, Netball, Rugby and Tennis Australia. COMPPS asks its members to encourage gender diverse people to participate in their sports. I’m hoping the school will follow this lead.’
- ‘Children under the age of 12 are actually welcomed by Australian law to play on whatever gendered team they prefer.’
- ‘There is a permanent exemption in the federal Sex Discrimination Act that allows the discrimination of a person due to their sex or gender identity. It’s called “Competitive sporting advantage” or “single-sex competition”. It says an individual can be excluded from “any competitive sporting activity in which the strength, stamina or physique of competitors is relevant”, to ensure a “level playing field”. Competitive sporting activity exemption doesn’t apply to kids under 12 years old.’
- ‘Instead of dividing students up into “girls” and “boys” teams, would the [coach / physical education teacher] consider other options?’
- ‘Getting changed into [her / his / their] sports uniform in front of other students is causing <name> to feel anxious. What other options might the school be able to offer? Perhaps [she / he / they] might be allowed to wear the sports uniform all day, or leave class ten minutes earlier than the other kids to get changed? Or perhaps use a staff bathroom to change?’
- ‘<Name> would like to use the [girls / boys / disabled / staff] facilities from now on.’
- ‘[She doesn’t / He doesn’t / They don’t] feel comfortable using the [girls / boys / disabled / staff] facilities. Gender diverse kids, including <name> can be hyper-vigilant about their bodies and privacy, and this is particularly important with bathrooms and change rooms.’
- ‘I appreciate that some students and/or their parents or carers may feel uncomfortable about this. If this occurs, I encourage the school to educate these young people and parents about the needs and rights of gender diverse students. You may also assign a different bathroom to any students who feel uncomfortable about <name> using the [girls / boys] toilets.’
- ‘[She is / He is / They are] actually protected by the federal Sex Discrimination Act to have access to this bathroom.’
Book a time to discuss with the school any extra arrangements that need to be made for camp. Some measures will be site and activity-dependent; different camps and venues have different set ups, so the school may need to contact the camp facilitators or visit the site to find out what options are available. This will help prevent any potential problems arising when your child arrives at camp.
Toilet and changing facilities may need to be discussed. Your child’s preference of where they wish to sleep should guide this decision. If the dorm rooms are separated by gender, they should be allowed to sleep in the dorm room which aligns with their gender identity. They may also wish to share a dorm with friends.
- ‘School camp is coming up and <name> is feeling anxious about it. I’d like to book a time to talk with you about how activities and accommodation can be organised so [she’ll / he’ll / they’ll] feel comfortable to participate.’
- ‘I want to work with the school to support <name>’s right to participate in camp and its activities. What steps can be taken to enable and encourage [her / him / them] to do so?’
- ‘I’ve seen that the kids are going to be kayaking, and wearing wetsuits. Is it possible to please arrange for <name>’s wetsuit to be one size bigger?’
- ‘I think <name> might feel uncomfortable wearing an abseiling harness. Could we please arrange for [her / him / them] to take part in the activity in a different way, like being Chief Encourager, Photographer or Deputy Safety Officer?’
- ‘Regarding sleeping arrangements, <name> would feel safest and most comfortable sleeping in the [girls / boys] bunkhouse.’
- ‘Regarding sleeping arrangements, <name> has said their friend(s) <friend’s name(s)> would be happy to bunk with them. Their parents – who [know / do not know] that <name> is [trans / gender diverse / non-binary] – have consented to this. What can we do to organise this?’
Faith-based and single-sex schools
Australians are protected from discrimination on the grounds of sex or gender identity by Section 21 of our Sex Discrimination Act (1984).
But for now, faith-based environments can rely on exemptions in Section 38 the Act. If a school follows the beliefs or teachings of a particular religion, is not unlawful for that school to discriminate against a person on the ground of their gender identity in providing education or training if the discrimination is ‘in good faith in order to avoid injury to the religious susceptibilities of adherents of that religion or creed’.
Single-sex schools may rely on exemptions in state- and territory-based legislation to refuse the enrolment of children who are not of the prescribed sex, for example, an all-girls school refusing to enrol a child of male sex, even if that child identifies as female.
But these kinds of decisions could potentially cause harm to the people involved. Advice from some state governments is that a decision about enrolment should be based on the child’s gender identity. So a child that was assigned female at birth who is living in a male identity should be considered as a suitable enrolment for a boys’ school.
It is worth discussing with your school whether they will choose to rely on either of these exemptions regarding your child’s enrolment with them.
Furthermore, the Australian Government has committed to reforming these Federal anti-discrimination laws to ensure that a religious educational institution must not discriminate against a student on the basis of gender identity; while it may continue to build a community of faith by giving preference, in good faith, to persons of the same religion as the educational institution in the selection of staff.
In faith-based and single-sex schools
- ‘In this enrolment application, I must disclose that <name> is gender diverse. I know that single-sex schools have the right to refuse a new enrolment under an exemption in the Sex Discrimination Act (1984). Would you consider accommodating for student diversity by choosing not to rely on this exemption?’
- ‘Many private and faith-based schools have been leading gender affirmation and diversity by enrolling new gender diverse students.’
- ‘<Name> would love to stay at this school. Will you please consider allowing [her / him / them] to stay?’
- ‘Thank you for your commitment to affirming <name> in [her / his / their] gender identity at school. I know there will be a few logistical considerations, like a suitable uniform and participation in sports and on school camps, and the potential for bullying. Can we please book a time to discuss how we might manage these?’