If this is the first time you have had a gender diverse student at your school this document is here to help. It covers the basics and provides guidance on how you can best support your student and their family. Schools across the country have been supporting students to affirm their gender for many years now. Most education departments in Australia have policies that support you to do the same at your school.
This resource may be used by parents and staff at your school in conjunction with our Guide for Parents and Carers. Both of these have been abridged from more detailed booklets created by Transcend Australia. If you are currently working with a gender diverse student, we recommend you also use Transcend’s more in-depth Guide for Schools. You can also complete a Student Support Plan — Gender Affirmation, which offers prompts for discussion, and records agreed actions you will take as a school to create an affirming environment for the child. All of these resources can be found on the Transcend Australia website.
Language and definitions
Language in this area is evolving and changing all the time. This glossary is not a definitive list, but is a good starting point. It’s also important to ask the student how they would like to be referred to. You can find a full list of terms that describe gender identity and expression and terminology relevant to gender diversity on the Transforming Families website.
A term for someone whose gender identity aligns with the gender they were assigned at birth (i.e. someone who is not trans or gender diverse).
Intentionally or unintentionally referring to a gender diverse person by their original name, instead of using their chosen name.
Gender is a set of characteristics – certain behaviours, roles, and physical appearance – we use to categorise people. Western culture has traditionally recognised only two genders: male and female; but we now understand that gender is a spectrum, with countless expressions and identities in between. Gender is internal and personally defined by each individual alone.
Gender affirmation (experience)
When the gender a person knows themself to be internally is acknowledged by themselves and others. This could be through their own gender expression (wearing clothing typically worn by a person of their gender identity), through the actions of another person (someone using their chosen name and pronouns), or through healthcare and medical treatment.
Gender affirmation (transition)
The personal process/es undertaken by gender diverse people to live as their defined gender and have this recognised by others. Processes can involve personal, social, medical and legal changes. Every journey is different and may involve one or more these elements. This is sometimes referred to as gender transition.
Gender identity is how someone experiences their gender. It is a person’s internal sense of themself as male, female, a blend of both or neither. One’s gender identity can be the same or different from their sex assigned at birth.
To misgender is to accidentally or deliberately refer to a trans person using a pronoun that does not reflect that person’s gender identity.
An umbrella term for any gender identity along the spectrum between the ‘female’ and ‘male’ binaries. It can describe people who don’t identify exclusively as a woman or a man, those who identify as both, or who do not identify with a gender at all. Non-binary can also describe a person’s gender expression, when they present themselves in any combination of feminine and masculine, or neither.
Sexuality (Gay, Lesbian; Bisexual; Pansexual; Asexual)
The part of a person’s identity that relates to their patterns of sexual and romantic attraction to others. Examples are heterosexual/straight (when a woman is attracted to a man, and vice versa), gay/homosexual (when a woman is attracted to other women or a man is attracted to other men), bisexual (when a person is attracted to more than one gender), pansexual (attraction to people of all genders), and asexual (not feeling physically attracted to any other person). Gender diverse people can be any sexuality, as can cisgender people
Transgender and gender diverse
Transgender is a term for someone whose gender identity does not match the gender they were assigned at birth. People who identify as transgender (trans) may have a binary gender (identify as female or male) or may be non-binary. Being trans is one way of being gender diverse, but not all gender diverse people identify as transgender. Gender diverse is an umbrella term to describe people who do not conform to others’ norms or expectations about males and females.
Elements of a gender transition
Elements of social transition where a school can support their student can include:
- Changing name and pronouns
- Clothing / uniform
- Using the facilities that align with their affirmed gender
- Amending documents to match their gender identity, e.g., school records
- Participating in activities in alignment with their gender identity, e.g., sport
- Coming out to peers
Other elements of social transition can include:
- Cutting / removal / growth of hair
- Using make up / clothing / other accessories
Elements involved in accessing gender-affirming healthcare can include:
- Visits to GPs, psychiatrist and psychologist and other allied health professionals.
- Use of puberty ‘blockers’. This is medication used before, at, or after the onset of puberty to stop a person’s body from producing the hormones responsible for the development of secondary sex characteristics. Research shows that puberty can intensify gender dysphoria and gender-affirming care, including puberty blockers, can relieve this distress. They are used primarily to withhold the development of the body until the child is mature enough to determine whether they would like to continue their gender affirmation or not. If the young person stops taking the blockers, natural puberty will either start or continue.
- Use of cross-gender hormones (oestrogen or testosterone). The age at which these are started varies for every person but is usually around 16 years. Gender-affirming hormone treatment is used to stimulate physical and emotional changes in the body that may help people feel and appear more masculine or feminine based on their sense of gender identity.
- Undergoing gender-affirming surgery.
Gender-affirming healthcare is not something a school is involved with directly. However, it is good to understand a little bit about it for a few reasons:
- A student may need time off to attend appointments.
- There can be long waiting times to see specialists, which can be anxiety-provoking for young people and may result in a decline in their mental health.
- For some young people, gender-affirming healthcare can involve hormone management which can impact a young person’s mood.
Reminder: These are private medical processes for people and should be treated in the same confidential way as you would any other medical matter for a student.
What the law says about gender diverse children and young people
Australians are protected from discrimination by education providers on the grounds of sex or gender identity by Section 21 of our Federal Sex Discrimination Act (1984). However there are legal exemptions that some faith-based and single-sex schools may choose to rely on to deny accommodations for gender diverse children. We’ve provided more information on religious and single-sex schools below.
A guide to affirming your student’s gender
For gender diverse students, the school environment is often fraught with traumatic experiences. It’s important to understand that things you might not consider significant can cause your student a great deal of distress. But if handled properly, the accommodations you make can be lifesaving.
Using the wrong pronouns, deadnaming, separating the class by gender, or forcing a non-binary child to use a gendered toilet can trigger distress, dysphoria, and even self-harm.
If a student wishes to make social changes to affirm their gender identity it is crucial that they are involved in the planning and decision-making at every possible step. Allowing them to have agency and control over their lives is integral to their health and wellbeing, and their ongoing engagement in their education at your school. Some aspects to bear in mind are:
A student may choose to change their pronouns to align with their gender identity. Common pronouns include she/her, he/him or they/them, but your student may choose pronouns different to these. Pronouns can change over time. Every attempt should be made to ensure that the right pronoun is used to address the student.
School records should be updated to reflect the student’s new name and pronoun (if these have been changed). You should retain appropriate written documentation to record the change so that a student’s historical records can be traced. You may do this by keeping a copy of their birth certificate in a hard copy student file, alongside a written note to document the changes to their school records.
Once you have changed these details in the central records systems you should ensure that these changes translate to other documentation such as class lists, school photos, graduation certificates and letters that are sent home.
It’s critical that name changes are communicated to relevant staff and that all documentation is changed. Seeing or hearing their ‘deadname’ can be very distressing and can trigger anxiety in a student.
Worried about what language to use or about making a mistake? It’s okay. Just ask questions like:
- How would they like to be referred to?
- What pronoun would they like you to use?
- What name would they like you to use?
- Is it safe for me to use those?
Siblings and other family members
If the student has siblings or other family members at the school it’s important to know whether they are supportive of them, and if they need any support as well. They may also be experiencing bullying or may need support in sharing this information with their own friends. You may then also need to set up a time to meet with the sibling.
School support team
A team of key staff members should be formed to support the student when required. Decisions about who is part of this team must be made with the student as part of the conversation. Trusted adults and supported peers should be identified for the student to speak to if they are feeling unsafe or if issues arise.
There are many local services and mental health providers that can provide support for transgender and gender diverse young people. Sometimes the student will be receiving support from an external agency and they may wish for this person to work with the school.
If your school has a uniform, the student may wish to choose new uniform options that align with your school’s dress code. Students should be supported to wear the uniform that they feel most comfortable in and reflects their gender identity. You may need to review your school uniform policy to ensure it is inclusive of all students.
Toilets and change rooms
Ask the student which toilet and change room they would like to use, or that they feel safe and comfortable using. The wishes of the student, their comfort and safety need to be taken into account when deciding on the best option.
Section 22 of the Australian Sex Discrimination Act (1984) states that it is unlawful to deny access to facilities because of a person’s gender identity.
The school should never force a child to get changed in a space that does not align with their gender and where they do not feel safe.
Sport and physical education
Gender diverse young people have low participation rates in sport. Schools should consider how to support gender diverse students to have safe and equal access.
The Australian Sex Discrimination Act (1984) states that it is unlawful to exclude any person 12 years or under on the ground of their gender identity from any sport or gendered team or sport.
Excluding people 13 years and older on the grounds of their ‘strength, stamina or physique’ is considered discrimination (unless the person is competing, and at a level which facilitators can prove is ‘elite’) So people of this age should also not be denied playing on a gendered team of their choice.
Arrangements for uniform and change rooms need to be considered at school and in external environments. Consider whether sporting activities need to be divided by gender. If they are, students should be able to participate in the gender they identify as or feel most comfortable in.
Time should be made prior to the camp to discuss with the student (and their parents/carers where appropriate) any extra arrangements that need to be made. Some measures will be site and activity-dependent; different camps and venues have different set ups, so you should contact the camp facilitators or visit the site to find out what options are available.
Toilet and changing facilities may need to be discussed. The student’s preference of where they wish to sleep should inform this decision. If the dorm rooms are separated by gender, the student should be permitted to be accommodated in the dorm room which aligns with their gender identity. You should consider, with the student and their family, if they have friends they wish to share a dorm with which may help maintain the student’s privacy, comfort and safety at camp.
It is good to check in if there are times or places in the school when the student does not feel safe. There may be some classes where a teacher is not responding to transphobic remarks, or consistently misgendering (intentionally or not), and you may need to provide some extra support or follow up. There may also be particular times of the day when bullying is worse or it may be happening online.
Bullying and discrimination
Check regularly with the student about bullying or discriminatory behaviour and be prepared to act. Students are often well supported by schools to affirm their gender, but their efforts are undermined because the school does not adequately respond when bullying or other discriminatory behaviours occur.
- Bullying can have lifelong impacts on people, and in the short term it will impact on this student’s ability to remain engaged in their education.
- Bullying is bullying no matter the ‘reason’ for it. You should implement your school’s bullying policy and procedures and follow through on all actions.
Professional development and student workshops
Professional development sessions can help staff increase inclusion of gender diverse students at school, understand more about gender affirmation, gender and sexuality and equip them to have these conversations with other students.
Schools might also want to deliver student workshops which help build understanding of gender diversity. Student confidentiality must be given the highest priority as you decide how this communication will occur.
This is a good opportunity to review the curriculum to ensure that it is inclusive of gender diverse students; most report that curriculum is rarely representative of their lives or experiences.
Teachers must be able to have safe and respectful classroom discussions. The validity of diverse gender identities should never be a classroom debate. A person’s gender identity is not open for opinion.
You should have existing school policies that are relevant to some of the areas discussed above. Schools policies may need updating to be more inclusive of gender diverse students, including policies around uniform, anti-bullying, school camps and student engagement.
You could also use this as an opportunity to develop your own school policy on supporting sexual and gender diversity so that all your policy and procedures are in place for when you need to support a student in the future.
Privacy and confidentiality
In line with your school’s privacy obligations, personal information about the student should not be shared with anyone without consent. The student and their parents/carers should determine who has access to the support plan and who is informed of their gender affirmation process.
You must balance the student’s right to privacy with the need to communicate their affirmation with the whole school. If you do share the information, make sure that there are adequate processes in place to answer or manage any questions that may come from other parents/carers or students.
Communication to staff
Not all staff may need to be informed about an individual student’s gender identity, but it is helpful for all staff to build their understanding to support gender diverse students more broadly. Consult the student on which teachers they feel comfortable knowing about their gender identity. This may change over time and is important to regularly review.
The following checklist may assist when considering if other school staff need to know about the student’s gender affirmation.
Will this information enable the school or staff member to:
- Provide for and support the student’s education;
- Support the student’s social and emotional wellbeing and health;
- Reduce the risk of reasonably foreseeable harm to the student, other students, staff and visitors (duty of care);
- Make a reasonable adjustment for that student?
Check in regularly
It’s good to check in with your student and their parents/carers regularly to find out what is going well, to see if you might be able to enhance some of these positives and to ask if anything is not working.
Faith-based and single-sex schools
Firstly, check with the school’s governing body – or the church itself – to see if they have a position on gender diverse students, as some do have positioning statements encouraging schools of their religion to welcome, accept and affirm trans students.
At the time of publication, 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 student’s gender identity when providing education or training, if the discrimination is ‘in good faith’ and ‘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.
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.