To be inclusive is to ensure a person or group of people are not excluded. An inclusive classroom is one that acknowledges and celebrates diversity, enables participation and removes barriers for people who might otherwise be excluded or marginalised, such as people from a range of different backgrounds, genders, orientations, races and religions. While the world has come a long way in supporting the LGBTQ+ community, there is still room for improvement, and it can start in the classroom.
What is Transgender?
Transgender is a gender identity. A person whose gender identity does not align with the sex they were registered with at birth may identify as transgender or trans. If a person’s gender identity aligns with the sex they were registered with at birth, they may identify as cisgender or cis, and if a person does not identify as male or female, or solely as one of these two genders, they may identify as non-binary. Some non-binary people self-identify as transgender, and some do not.
Beyond’s Understanding Gender and Sexuality Lesson Pack and Cisgender and Transgender Information Sheet can be used to aid your students’ understanding on gender and sexuality including what transgender and non-binary are, as well as explaining the meaning of heteronormativity, cisnormativity and gender binary.
Here are our 6 top tips to build transgender inclusivity in the classroom. We have also included a handy list of key terms at the end of this post, in case there is any terminology you are unsure of.
1. Respect Students’ Pronouns
Pronouns are words that refer to either the people talking (such as I or you) or someone or something that is being talked about (such as she, it, them or this). Gender pronouns (such as she/her/hers, he/him/his and they/them/theirs) may specify the gender of the person you are referring to. Everyone has the right to use the pronouns that they feel most comfortable with and this does not necessarily have to correspond with their gender identity or gender expression.
It is important not to automatically assume someone’s pronouns based on their appearance or your own perceptions of their gender. Instead, it may be worth asking your students for their pronouns in a safe, non-judgemental way. One way to do this is to offer your own pronouns and encourage students to share theirs too. By encouraging students to share their pronouns, you create a safe and respectful environment for all students, where gender identity is not assumed and students’ identities are respected. If someone does not feel comfortable sharing their pronouns with you, it is often best to just refer to them by their name.
Using the incorrect pronouns for someone is an act of misgendering. To misgender someone is to refer to someone using a word or phrase (especially a pronoun) that does not correctly reflect the gender with which they identify. Sometimes, we may accidentally use the wrong pronouns for someone. In this case, it is often best to apologise, correct ourselves, and move on without making a big deal out of it or causing embarrassment. Remember, it is never OK to misgender someone on purpose; continuing to refer to someone with the wrong pronouns may make them feel uncomfortable or have an adverse effect on them in terms of gender dysphoria.
Above all, it’s important to be patient. A person’s pronouns may change throughout their life, and in particular a person who is questioning their gender identity might shift back and forth as they find out what pronoun works for them. Try to be kind and respectful of this, and encourage other students to do the same.
A good way to be inclusive is to make your pronouns public, even if you are cisgender. By doing this, it normalises the practice of sharing pronouns, and fights against cisnormativity. As an educator, this may mean including your pronouns on email correspondence, making them visible somewhere in your classroom or on your door, and introducing yourself to new students with your name and pronouns.
2. Respect Students’ Chosen Names
Just as it is important to respect students’ pronouns, it is also important to respect chosen names. Continuing to use the name that a transgender or non-binary person may have had before their transition, instead of the name that the person has chosen in their transition, is known as dead-naming. It is important to avoid dead-naming somebody, as this is an act of misgendering, and can be harmful.
If a student discloses to you that they would prefer you to use a different name or different pronouns for them, it is important to ask whether other members of staff and the student’s parents are aware of this change or not. This can help you to ensure you don’t accidentally ‘out’ a student to someone without their consent, as students may be ‘out’ at school but not at home, or may have revealed their gender identity and chosen name to some members of staff, but not to others.
3. Use Gender-Inclusive Language
Using gender-inclusive language and phrases that avoid specifying the genders of our students can help to create a safe and inclusive learning environment, and avoid cisnormativity. For example, a teacher may address their students as ‘boys and girls’ or ‘ladies and gents’. While their intentions may be good, the teacher is making the assumption that everybody they are addressing identifies as either male or female. This may exclude non-binary people or people of other genders. Instead, teachers can use gender-inclusive terms such as ‘everyone’ or ‘folks’, or even refer to their class by their year group. This is a small change that can have a big impact on non-binary students, making them feel included and respected.
4. Avoid Using Gender to Split Your Class into Groups
Similar to using gendered language, splitting your class according to gender makes the assumption that every student in the class identifies as either male or female. This can exclude non-binary students or students of other genders, and put these students in the uncomfortable position of having to be in a team that corresponds to a gender other than their own. By splitting your classes differently, you can demonstrate inclusivity and create a safer environment for anyone who is starting to question their gender identity. An alternative to the ‘boys vs girls’ model could be something like having a team captain pick team members, splitting according to the seating plan or assigning your students a number and using these to create groups.
5. Diversify Your Lesson Content
Feeling represented is really important, especially to young people. While this is essential for transgender and non-binary students, it also applies to students from other marginalised groups. Consider the material you are using in your lessons; there are a number of questions you may wish to ask yourself to ensure this material is as representative and diverse as possible:
- Does the material you use have examples of people from diverse backgrounds, genders, orientations, races and religions?
- Do the resources you use encourage inclusivity and acceptance, or do they use harmful ideas and/or language?
- How can you incorporate examples of transgender and non-binary role models into your curriculum and classroom displays?
Our blog on Incorporating LGBT+ History Month into Your Teaching is a good place to start for ideas on how to make your lessons inclusive in all subjects. You could highlight transgender pioneers in your subject for Trans Visibility Day (31st March), or incorporate trans representation in your teaching by using our lesson on The Art of Being Normal. This lesson provides a brilliant opportunity to include Lisa Williamson’s writing in your English lesson, whose characterisation highlights the experiences of transgender individuals.
There are many small changes you can make that will have a big impact on ensuring your classroom is inclusive for everyone. One of the most important things you can do as a teacher is to be an ally for students. You could use Beyond’s LGBTQ+ Allyship and Inclusive Relationships Lesson Pack to develop students’ understanding of allyship and inclusion, as well as how to foster LGBTQ+ inclusive friendships and other relationships. You could also use Beyond’s Inspirational LGBTQ+ People Display Posters for some inclusive and informative classroom displays.
6. Be Aware of Transphobia
One of the most important ways to make your classroom inclusive is by ensuring that your students are safe and respected by all. You should be on the lookout for transphobia, as, like any type of bullying, transphobia and transphobic language is not OK and should be called out and reported.
Transphobia is the prejudice and discrimination against people who identify as or are perceived to be transgender. It is typically based on irrational hatred, intolerance and fear. Transphobic behaviour and bullying can also exhibit as students purposely making someone feel uncomfortable; this could be by dead-naming, using the wrong pronouns, or using gendered language that doesn’t fit their identity. It is important to note that these things may be done by accident and not intended to cause harm. In this situation it is best to make the student aware of their mistake, explain why these things can be harmful and encourage them to be more thoughtful in the future. Beyond’s Challenging Transphobia Poster and Being a Transgender Ally Poster are excellent resources for showcasing this to your students.
Remember, building inclusivity in the classroom means that our students can feel supported and thrive in their education.
biological sex – This is based on a person’s biological characteristics, including their genitalia, their reproductive systems, the sex chromosomes in their body and the hormone levels they produce.
cisgender – A person whose gender identity aligns with the sex they were registered with at birth may identify as cisgender or cis.
cisnormativity – Relating to a world view that promotes cisgender as the normal or preferred form of gender identity.
coming out – Telling someone else about your LGBTQ+ identity. When someone has come out, they are said to be ‘out’.
dead name – The name that a transgender or non-binary person may have had before their transition.
dead-naming – The act of continuing to use the name that a transgender or non-binary person may have had before their transition, instead of the name that the person has chosen in their transition. It is important to avoid dead-naming somebody, as this is an act of misgendering, and can be harmful.
diversity – Including people from a range of different backgrounds, genders, orientations, races and religions.
gender dysphoria – When a person feels uncomfortable or uneasy because their gender identity does not align with their biological sex and/or the sex they were registered with at birth.
gender expression – How someone chooses to outwardly express their gender. This is separate from sex registered at birth or gender identity, but can be influenced by them.
gender identity – An individual person’s sense of their gender. This is unique to them and is separate from sex registered at birth, although someone’s gender identity might align with this.
inclusion – Providing equal opportunities and resources for people who might otherwise not have them, for example those who belong to historically marginalised groups.
LGBTQ+ – The acronym referring to all gender identities, expressions, orientations and variations in sex characteristics that are not cisgender or heterosexual, or don’t fit within the male/female biological binary. The letters stand for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning and anything else that falls under the definition.
misgendering – Referring to someone using a word or phrase (especially a pronoun) that does not correctly reflect the gender with which they identify.
pronoun – A word that refers to either the people talking (such as I or you) or someone or something that is being talked about (such as she, it, them or this). Gender pronouns (such as she/her/hers, he/him/his and they/them/theirs) may specify the gender of the person you are referring to.
sex registered at birth – The sex that is recorded when a baby’s birth is registered, usually based on their genitalia. This usually corresponds to a person’s biological sex but may be different to their gender identity. This is sometimes referred to as ‘sex assigned at birth’, i.e. somebody might be assigned male at birth (AMAB) or assigned female at birth (AFAB).
transgender – A person whose gender identity does not align with the sex they were registered with at birth may identify as transgender or trans.
transitioning – The process of someone making the change to adopt the outward or physical characteristics of their gender identity, as opposed to the sex they were registered with at birth.
transphobia – Prejudice and discrimination against people who identify as or are perceived to be transgender. It is typically based on irrational hatred, intolerance and fear.