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Dublin: 19 °C Tuesday 31 May, 2016

Schools advised to have gender neutral toilets and uniforms to support transgender pupils

New guidelines have been launched to help schools support LGBT students.

Image: Shutterstock/Zurijeta

THE DEPARTMENT OF Education has published guidelines for schools on how to support LGBT students.

Being LGBT in School was compiled in conjunction with Glen, the Gay and Lesbian Equality network.

It provides advice for teachers on how to support a child who comes out as LGBT, and how to deal with bullying in this area.

The report notes that transgender students “should be able to access toilet and changing facilities that correspond with their gender identity”.

“Being able to access gender neutral toilets may be particularly important during transition; gender neutral toilets might be provided by re-naming a disability toilet as a unisex toilet/changing facility.

“While some transgender students will want this arrangement, others will not be comfortable with it and consequently these students should be provided with a safe and adequate alternative, such as a single ‘unisex’ toilet facility where this is possible. This should not be a staff toilet facility.”

The report notes that the use of toilet and changing facilities “often causes most debate around the inclusion of transgender students”.

Other students and their families may feel uncomfortable with a transgender student using the same gender-specific facilities. This discomfort may be rooted in an unfounded assumption of inappropriate behaviour on the part of the student who is transgender and consequently it is not a reason to deny access to the transgender student. However, it is important to address this discomfort and to foster understanding of gender identity in order to create a school culture that respects and values all students and prevents transphobic bullying.

In terms of uniforms, the report states that transgender students “should be permitted to wear a uniform that is consistent with their gender identity”.

It notes that this “will present more of a challenge” for some schools than others.

“For many schools variation in the uniform is available (i.e. trousers, skirts and tracksuits). In a single-sex school context, varied uniform options may not be readily available.

“Any special accommodations should be worked out with the student and his/her parents/guardians. At a minimum a gender neutral option should be offered. For example single-sex girls’ schools may need to consider allowing trousers to be worn. Single-sex boys schools may need to consider a variation in uniform options.”

The guidelines also encourage teachers to talk openly about LGBT issues.

The most supportive thing you can do is to not allow homophobic/transphobic name-calling in any situation. The use of the term ‘gay’ as a derogatory term is frequent, widespread and largely unchallenged in many schools. Students need to be made aware that using such language is offensive to people who are gay or LGBT even if offence was not intended.

Self-esteem and mental health 

Education Minister Jan O’Sullivan launched the report. She said the resource “will support schools in the implementation of my department’s anti-bullying procedures, by providing support to key members of school staff on addressing homophobic and transphobic bullying and on supporting lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students”.

It is important that we create a positive culture and climate in our schools where all students feel accepted and welcome regardless of their background or sexual orientation.

Sandra Irwin-Gowran, Glen’s director of education, said: “Every classroom in every school has young people who are LGBT. School life for many of these young people is still very difficult, often with serious consequences for the self-esteem and mental health of the most vulnerable.

“We hope that young LGBT people in our schools will see this resource as a beacon of hope that the goodwill that now exists among the educational community and the broad Irish public will result in transformed school climates that fully include and value them.”

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