‘We are preparing for an overnight camp with students, and one of the children in my grade level is transgender. Let’s call her Andi. This is a first for us. …’
Dr Emily Meadows (she/her) is regularly asked for advice by educators who are navigating ways to be the most inclusive and supportive for their students. She is a CIS Affiliated Consultant for international schools on all things LGBTQ+. Here’s how she guided a recent teacher inquiry.
We are preparing for an overnight camp with students, and one of the children in my grade level is transgender. Let’s call her Andi. This is a first for us. Andi identifies as a girl and wants to room with the other girls, but we are aware that this might make some parents uncomfortable. We want to do right by all parties, so came up with a compromise: We decided to let Andi room with the girls, but to notify parents of the other students in her room in advance so that they have a chance to put their child in a different room if they prefer. However, when it came time to call the other parents, I found myself unsure of exactly what to say. What do you recommend?
First, let me say thank you for the care that you have already put into this question. It’s clear you take your responsibility as an educator seriously and want to make camp a positive experience for all students.
Second, your decision to allow students to room with those who share their gender identity is a solid one. We know that affirming transgender students’ identity can go a long way in reducing the significant risks (i.e., depression, anxiety, self-harm, and suicidality) that can result from anti-trans discrimination.
To your question: I can understand why you hesitated when it came time to disclose Andi’s transgender status to others. Perhaps you (correctly) intuited that this would be a breach of Andi’s privacy. Disclosing somebody’s transgender status is essentially sharing medical information about them (specifically, about their genitals). While it may make some parents and caregivers feel more comfortable to have this information, I would place student safety and privacy above their relative comfort.
That said, there are steps you can take to support both Andi and the broader school community so that all students may experience safety and belonging on their overnight trip:
- Offer education for families. Many parents and caregivers are unfamiliar with LGBTQ+ matters and may have questions or fears about what it means for their child if the school is LGBTQ+ affirming. Invite families to ongoing educational sessions to build understanding, dispel myths, and reduce anxiety.
- Review safeguarding protocols. All children, regardless of gender, have the right to safety during school trips. Before travel, review safeguarding expectations and procedures, including the system for reporting.
- Invite student voice in roommate selection. Allow students to have a say in who they room with. I do not recommend permitting students to determine the exact constitution of their rooms, as this can lead to children being left out. However, you may ask each student to (confidentially) name three peers that they would like to room with, for
example, and assure that they will be placed with at least one of their choices.
- Prioritize transgender student safety in room placement. Unfortunately, a prominent worry around rooming transgender children has to do with the myth that trans people are sexual predators. Not only is this categorically false, but the reality is quite the opposite; LGBTQ+ people are more likely to be targets of sexual harassment and assault. So, if the school’s goal is to reduce incidents of sexual harm, allowing trans students to name the students they feel safe rooming with aligns firmly with this objective.
- Formalize the school’s positions in policy. Formalize your position around LGBTQ+ affirming practices, such as overnight accommodations, in policy. This prevents the responsibility of weighty decisions from falling on the shoulders of any one faculty member.
- Set norms for trip providers. Update trip partners and providers in advance on the school’s position on LGBTQ+ affirmation, such as pronoun use. This allows them to adjust their practices accordingly. If a partner or provider refuses to align with the school’s gender-affirming requirements, consider taking your trip elsewhere.
Wishing you and your students a safe, fun, and community-building camp experience.
Dr Emily Meadows is a CIS Affiliated Consultant and is available at: www.emilymeadows.org if you'd like to seek her advice. Please note: Dr Meadow's work centers safety and belonging, and does not replace legal advice. Every country, school, and child is unique; please contact her directly for individualized consultation.
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