LGBTQ-Inclusive School Cultures: What's Policy Got to Do With It?

a list of elements we address when we analyze and write school policy and that we believe are the initial necessary steps toward creating affirming and respectful school environments for LGBTQ and gender-nonconforming students and the children of LGBTQ families:

Clear, consistent, and comprehensive anti-discrimination, anti-bullying, and anti-harassment policies naming LGBTQ students and families as protected categories.

Clear and specific procedures for responding to policy violation and for educating students, faculty, staff, and parents about these procedures.

Consistent and equitable enforcement of policy.

Dissemination and education plans for anti-discrimination, anti-bullying, and anti-harassment policies to faculty, all school staff, parents, and students.
A student, faculty, and staff code of conduct that sets a clear standard of respect for all students and takes specific measures to create a safe, affirming environment for students who have historically been marginalized in the school setting.

A code of conduct for guests on school premises that communicates the standard of respect for all. This should be posted in public spaces where parents and guests often gather, such as auditoriums or sports arenas. It can also be posted on special events programs and on advertising materials inviting the community into school space.

A comprehensive supervision and monitoring plan for all school spaces when students are present.

Disciplinary procedures that are mindful of research findings indicating that marginalized students are disproportionately sanctioned by school policies addressing "disruptive students" (students who disrupt or interfere with educational processes). Hypervisibility of LGBTQ and gender-nonconforming students can be (mis)construed as disruption, and students who try to defend their identities or stand up for themselves can be marginalized by these policies.
Thorough, respectful accommodation plans for transgender students.

A professional development plan that trains school professionals to a) be supportive of stigmatized student populations; b) understand the complexities of stigmatization, marginalization, bullying, discrimination, and harassment; c) prevent and respond to microaggressions as well as visible violence and harassment; d) create LGBTQ-inclusive curricula and multiple avenues to student social recognition; e) understand the specificities of LGBTQ discrimination and harassment; f) create classroom space that is not only "safe" but affirming for LGBTQ students; and g) trains school counselors and social workers to address the experiences of marginalized student populations in a nondiscriminatory and supportive way.

A proactive plan for creating a positive school culture that looks beyond eliminating overt acts of violence and addresses the school's roles in systemically marginalizing some students while privileging others.

A school plan to explore possibilities for elevating prestige and community visibility given to academics and the arts, thus increasing the tangible value the school community places on students who excel in these areas.

Inclusive curriculum that represent the contributions of LGBTQ people in all areas of study.

A commitment to incorporate images of gender diversity and different family structures including LGBTQ families in the posters, brochures, bulletin boards, and other sites of visual representation in the school.

Begin and actively support a gay-straight alliance (GSA) student club. Research supports that schools with GSAs have more positive climates and less harassment. Visibility of the GSA sends the message that the school acknowledges the presence of LGBTQ students.

Documented administrator support for LGBTQ students and families will empower teachers in directly confronting LGBTQ harassment and teaching inclusive curriculum.
Our policy recommendations provide more detailed guidelines for professional development goals, because we believe that thoughtfully educating school personnel is key to addressing issues of student marginalization in schools:

Provide a more complicated picture of how aggression "works" in the school environment, one that includes understanding of the social function of aggression in the school environment, and recognition of the microaggressions that are constantly occurring in the social culture of school.

A school staff that is knowledgeable about the cultural norms students are using as tools for targeting one another. In particular, educators need in-depth information about what gender policing is, how it is used as a weapon in fighting for social position, and how gender norms affect every student. The cultural systems that allow for LGBTQ harassment are the same systems that create the possibility for gender policing throughout the social culture of school.

A school staff that is culturally competent in educating and supporting marginalized student populations. This includes training on the school experiences of marginalized students. LGBTQ students are a priority because of the severe social stigma that this identity group continues to experience in schools and in the U.S. culture at large.

Teachers who feel competent to create and present inclusive and affirming curricula including representations, contributions, and experiences of LGBTQ people, and to challenge the restrictions of the gender binary.

A school staff that is knowledgeable about what it means to be "hypervisible" in the school environment, and how this leaves some students (e.g., gender-nonconforming students) vulnerable to both unnecessary sanction from educators and intense harassment from peers.

An understanding that a "safe" school environment is the baseline requirement, and the goal is an affirming school environment.

Finally, we recommend that all schools adopt policies that specifically speak to the needs of transgender students, whether or not they are aware of transgender students in their school.

Dress code should not prohibit students from choosing to dress in accordance with their gender identity, regardless of real or perceived biological sex. Regulations on what constitutes "appropriate" clothing coverage of the body should apply to all students. All acceptable items of clothing, bodily adornment (e.g., jewelry), and personal style (e.g., hair length) should be allowed for all students.

Include "other gender identity" when collecting gender data. All forms requiring gender information should include an additional gender option "box" or a blank where gender identity can be filled in. The presence of this option on all forms is educational as well as utilitarian. (Note: Many transgender students will choose M or F, as that is how many transgender people identify.)

Regardless of legal name or gender on official school records, use the student's chosen name and pronouns in all interactions. Procedures must be put in place to manage name use and insure consistency and the compliance of all school staff.
Students requesting school recognition of a gender different from the gender on official school records should not be required to provide a medical diagnosis to receive accommodations. Parents may request the accommodations for children K-8. High school students requesting the accommodation should be able to do so through work with the school counseling office.

Access to a gender-neutral bathroom. (How this is accomplished varies based on the school building facilities.)

Locker room accommodations for gym class. (How this is accomplished varies based on