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Transgender and Gender-Creative Students in PK–12 Schools: What We Can Learn From Their Teachers

by Elizabeth J. Meyer, Anika Tilland-Stafford & Lee Airton - 2016

Context: A growing body of work reflects the ways in which gender-creative and transgender students are ill-served by current social climates in the vast majority of public schools. Few studies have explored this topic from an educator’s perspective.

Purpose: This study was designed to develop a conception of the barriers and supports that exist for educators working to create learning environments that affirm transgender and gender-creative students.

Participants: Twenty-six Canadian educators who all had direct experience working with gender-creative and transgender students in school settings with an average of 10 years’ experience in schools and mean age of 43. Research Design: This project is a Social Action Research (SAR) project designed to identify what are common challenges and why these challenges are present.

Data Collection and Analysis: Each educator was interviewed for 60–120 minutes using a flexible interview guide and audio recordings were transcribed for analysis. Data analysis was conducted via an ongoing and exploratory design. We also performed a cross-case analysis to compare experiences and perceptions across teachers in elementary and secondary schools as well as alternative and traditional schools.

Findings: We identified barriers and supports experienced by our participants. Barriers included: (1) the pervasiveness of transphobia; (2) high frequency of school transfers; (3) the propensity for gay and lesbian educators to take on an “expert” role; (4) ethnocentrism; (5) relying on a ‘pedagogy of exposure’ and using certain students as ‘sacrificial lambs;’ (6) the overlapping challenges of working with youth who also have behavioral and learning difficulties; and (7) the balancing act required to navigate complex issues with little training and support. Supports identified were: (1) alternative schools as sites of refuge and spaces where transgender and gender-creative students are reportedly thriving; (2) empowered transgender and gender-creative students; (3) vigilant and protective adults; and (4) best practices. Recommendations: In order to address systemic barriers we advocate for an application of principles and best practices aligned with critical, queer, and anti-oppressive pedagogies. We recommend that schools: (1) develop a more student-centered, flexible curriculum; (2) promote interdisciplinary and project-based learning; (3) model and promote creativity; (4) establish restorative justice programs; (5) reduce or entirely remove sex-segregated activities and spaces; (6) integrate discussions of gender diversity as a social justice issue throughout the curriculum.



A growing body of work reflects the ways in which gender-creative and transgender students are ill-served by current social climates in the vast majority of public schools. 61% of gender nonconforming children report feeling unsafe in U.S. primary schools versus 42% of the general population, and 1 in 8 report engaging in some form of gender nonconforming behavior (GLSEN & Harris Interactive 2012).1 Further, 95% of Canadian transgender teenagers feel unsafe at school (Taylor & Peter, 2011b). In order to achieve a more detailed conception of the structural barriers and supports that exist for educators working to create classroom environments that support transgender and gender nonconforming students, we offer a deeper exploration of the experiences of diverse educators (in terms of geography, age, grade levels and content areas taught, and roles in their schools) who have worked directly with gender-creative and transgender students. This research was part of a larger Social Action Research (SAR) (Fleming & Ward, 2004; Mullender & Ward, 1991) project examining the issues impacting gender-creative and transgender youth and their families in various contexts (clinical, educational, familial, political) in Canada. Although these data were collected in Canada, comparisons of studies conducted in the United States., UK, and Canada indicate many commonalities in areas of gender and sexual diversity; therefore the findings reported in this article should be of use to educators in these regions as well. As a SAR project, the intended outcome is a direct positive impact on the quality of life of the community represented and served by participants, not only through creating new knowledge and inciting further studies but through actual interventions that can immediately improve available supports. This portion of the project on educators experiences aims to contribute to teacher education, educational policy reform, and school climate initiatives in order to help create schools more inclusive and affirming of gender diversity.

Our findings offer an understanding of the barriers and supports that exist in schools for transgender and gender-creative youth based on the experiences of professional educators who work with these students. We use the terms transgender and gender-creative to describe any person whose behavior does not match the stereotypes for their sex assigned at birth, or, who identifies with a gender different from their sex assigned at birth. The term gender-creative  emerged from the work of Diane Ehrensaft (2011) and was selected by the research team for its affirming tone and fluid quality that reflected the experiences of many children, youth, and families involved at the outset of the project. Other terms used in the literature to describe this population include gender variant, gender atypical, genderqueer, gender independent, gender expansive, and gender-nonconforming. Although many people may engage in behaviors that defy sex stereotypes, the educators participating in this study focused their discussion on students whose gender identity and expression had caused prolonged and consistent tension or difficulty for that individual or their community within the context of school.

While literature referenced at the beginning of the article is important for identifying some of the school-based challenges experienced by transgender and gender-creative students, few studies explore similar issues from an educators perspective. Meyers (2008) study of teachers explanations for nonintervention in cases of gendered harassment and GLSENs study of a professional development program have offered some insight into how we might impact educators practices in relation to LGBTQ-inclusive education (Greytak & Kosciw, 2010). Wright (2010) shares important information about LGBT educators experiences of school climate, but does not include issues related to working with gender-creative and transgender students. A fourth study examined educators beliefs around raising LGBT-related issues in the classroom (Schneider & Dimito, 2008); as a quantitative study, however, it did not allow for deeper exploration of the complex topics educators face and focused primarily on issues of sexual orientation with limited discussion of primarily gender-related concerns.


This study provides a systematic analysis of teaching and school cultures and uses critical (Friere, 1970/1993; Kincheloe, 2005; McLaren, 1995), anti-oppressive (Kumashiro, 2002; Stafford, 2013) and queer pedagogies (Britzman, 1995; Bryson & de Castell, 1993; Meyer, 2007) as frameworks for analyzing data and forming recommendations for teacher and administrator education as well as policy and school climate initiatives.

Since the 1970s, post-structural feminist scholars have examined how gender norms are a taken-for-granted component of Western culture, often masquerading as inevitability or common sense (Lever, 1967; Lorber, 1995; West & Zimmerman, 1987). By investigating the experiences of adults in positions of relative power in schools and not students whose gender identity or expression situate them outside of prevailing gender norms, we aimed to probe for the ways in which gendered oppression is instituted or challenged within school cultures. Our analysis of school-based gender normalization is aided by educational scholars whose work examines how schools have both an explicit curriculum (i.e., the actual subjects being taught) as well as a hidden curriculum (Haskell & Burtch, 2010; Kumashiro, 2002; Martin, 1998; Vallance, 1973). The hidden curriculum constitutes what is being taught through often-subtle everyday repetitions of sociocultural norms. For example, students often learn the rules of social conformity through pedagogies that encourage docility and obedience, and even more thoroughly than they learn the subject matter (Martin, 1976). The gendered implications of the hidden curriculum are numerous, from gendered bathrooms and change-rooms or social codes governing toys and fashion to gendered ways children learn to seek teachers attention and assistance (e.g., acting out or working to please). We explore school culture as a mixture of what is explicitly taught and what is powerful yet implicit: hidden in plain sight.

Queer scholars such as Judith Butler (1999) and Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick (1990) have notably theorized how processes of everyday repetition entrench gender (and other hierarchical) norms. Butlers often cited work describes how the repetition of norms can become unconscious and result in the gendered attributes they reproduce appearing to be commonsensical, factual, and therefore natural as opposed to performatively produced. Kevin Kumashiro (2002) profitably brings this work to teacher education programs and students resistance to unlearning homophobia and building queer-inclusive curriculum. He describes performative repetition as comforting because individuals often seek educational experiences that affirm what they already know. For example, Kumashiro discusses how student teachers sought to interpret his unit on queer culture as reaffirming their previously held beliefs that they (gay people) are like us (straight people) rather than challenging the pervasive heterosexist habit of privileging heterosexual subject positions.

Our study was also influenced by Transgender Studies scholars (e.g., Namaste, 2000; Prosser, 1998; Stryker, 2006) who caution against trends in queer and feminist theory that cast gender as taking place solely on a sociocultural level while neglecting the embodied realities of the many transgender people who seek hormonal and surgical change to align their physical and experiential realities. Moreover, these and other scholars critique academic trends that theorize transgender experiences as metaphors to illustrate gender fluidity or the social construction of gender rather than focusing on the practical social barriers faced by transgender people in relation to employment, housing, access to health care, education, and safety from assault. We seek to incorporate these critiques and ensure that our analysis remains focused on how schools can reproduce hostile environments as well as provide concrete affirmation and support for gender nonconforming and transgender people. In what follows, therefore, our focus is never on the identities of the students or what transgender and gender creativity mean. Rather, we focus on understanding the institutional processes that keep gender-creativity and transgender subjectivities in the margins identifying supports that have helped all students to thrive.

Through implementing an anti-oppressive and queer lens that takes up intersecting layers of identity such as race, ethnicity, class and religion, we explore educators understandings of sex, gender, and sexuality as complex and socially situated. We seek to offer an analysis building on and critically examining current efforts to create school environments that are more welcoming and supportive of gender, sexual, and other forms of diversity.


The majority of the scholarly literature on gender diversity in education can be grouped together as follows: quantitative multisite studies providing useful data on the pervasiveness of gender-based violence and other forms of oppression in school and youth cultures (e.g., Baum et al., 2014; California Safe Schools Coalition & 4-H Center for Youth Development University of California-Davis, 2004; GLSEN & Harris Interactive, 2012; Greytak, Kosciw, & Boesen, 2013; Greytak, Kosciw, & Diaz, 2009; McGuire, Anderson, Toomey, & Russell, 2010; Taylor & Peter, 2011a; Taylor & Peter, 2011b 2011; Toomey, Ryan, Diaz, Russell, & Card, 2010); and qualitative case studies providing valuable insight into gender cultures in education by examining individual classrooms (e.g., Blaise, 2005; Stafford, 2013), schools (e.g., Cullen & Sandy, 2009; Slesaransky-Poe, Ruzzi, Dimedia, & Stanley, 2013; Wallis & VanEvery, 2000) and student experiences (e.g., Callender, 2008; Ehrensaft, 2013; Hinton, 2008; Luecke, 2011). While these categories offer valuable insight into far-reaching patterns and specific issues, respectively, our study combines aspects of both: a wide geographical range typical of multi-site quantitative studies and the attention to specific challenges and solutions enabled by in-depth qualitative analysis. The diversity of schools and educators represented sheds new light on ways of approaching gender-based change in educational institutions, while our unique blend of in-depth interviews and geographic diversity fills a gap in the literature.

With studies such as the Egale Canada Human Rights Trust national survey (Taylor & Peter, 2011b) and the GLSEN National School Climate surveys (Greytak, Kosciw, & Diaz, 2009; Kosciw, Greytak, Bartkiewicz, Boesen, & Palmer, 2012) illustrating the prevalence of homophobia and transphobia in secondary schools, a body of academic scholarship has turned its attention to why school cultures currently demonstrate high levels of hostility to those who may fall outside of rigid norms of gender and (hetero)sexuality (Duke, 2010; Haskell & Burtch, 2010; Jamil & Harper, 2010; Loutzenheizer, 2010; MacIntosh, 2007; Meyer, 2008; Wilkinson & Pearson, 2009). These and other scholars have produced studies on high school life for queer youth that identify overarching trends (e.g., harassment and social exclusion, a lack of intervention from teachers, and a lack of LGBTQ representation in the curriculum). Studies echo each other and recommended strategies for social change. For example, many scholars argue for inclusive school policies, enhanced teacher education in related areas, and the provision of queer and transgender role models for youth. These recommendations act as a jumping-off point for our present study, which extends beyond identifying barriers within educational institutions; rather, we offer examples of school communities where these recurring issues are alleviated to varying degrees.

In addition to high school studies, early childhood education scholars have produced generative accounts of how gender norms become entrenched in the foundational years of education across the global north (Lever, 1967; MacGillivray & Martinez, 1998; Månsson, 2011; Martin, 1998; Stafford, 2013; Thorne, 1993). This includes, for example, how boys are often treated as knowledgeable subjects in their lives (Månsson, 2011), while girls are physically moved by adults or touched without permission (Martin, 1998). Ethnographic studies such as the landmark Gender Play: Girls and Boys in School (Thorne, 1993) have examined phenomena such as the disproportionate power accruing to boys and masculinity relative to girls and femininity in public schools as well as ways in which gender segregation is normalized in childrens play. While studies of high school focus on homophobia and sometimes transphobia, however, studies of elementary school gender culture have tended to focus solely on sexist gender roles negatively impacting women and girls. Blaises (2005) ethnography examining how heteronormativity effects boys and girls and Staffords (2013) ethnography examining how heteronormativity creates inhospitable climates for boys, girls, transgender, and gender independent students in Kindergarten both offer notable and recent exceptions to this trend. Using educator interviews, the present study examines educational environments from preschool through high school to understand how spaces for gender non-conformity are opened up or shut down. Thus, in addition to contributing national data across Canada, this study also contributes to the emerging literature on safe and inclusive schools that acknowledges the presence of transgender and gender-creative students of all ages.


The research reported in this article is part of a larger project using Social Action Research methodology (Fleming & Ward, 2004; Mullender & Ward, 1991) to engage caregivers, educators, and other involved adults in identifying ways of promoting respect for and fostering appreciation of gender diversity in order to transform social dynamics. Rather than constructing the child as the problem, this model offers a means of directly addressing the social and structural forces of gender normalization bearing down upon all of us, and in particular children who do not fit neatly into a world defined by traditional gender boundaries. This methodology is based in Freirean principles of critical pedagogy (1970/1993) that engage participants in a process of identifying the challenges facing a particular group of individuals who experience oppressionthe what. Once the challenges have been identified, the focus moves to the whyexploring the underlying processes that contribute to this oppression. Once the deeper root causes have been identified, then the research team, in collaboration with key stakeholders, identifies action steps and move forward with the action plan (Fleming & Ward, 2004; Mullender & Ward, 1991). Data from these interviews contributed to understanding the what and the why and are currently informing action steps related to this project. Specifically, this project helped found a nonprofit organization (www.gendercreativekids.ca) that is taking political action and providing training to educational professionals in some areas identified by participants.

This paper presents an analysis of qualitative data collected through interviews in order to investigate these what and why questions. The research team consisted of the Principal Investigator (first author) and four Research Assistants (including the second and third authors), with each Research Assistant (R.A.) based in one of three major Canadian urban centers: Montréal, Toronto, and Vancouver. The R.A.s conducted outreach to identify and recruit participants, and completed one-on-one interviews with 26 educators having experience with gender-creative and transgender students in school settings. Participants were recruited through outreach to community organizations, educator networks, email lists of professionals working on transgender and LGB issues, and the research teams personal and professional networks in the provinces of Québec, Ontario, and British Columbia. These interviews were digitally recorded and transcribed verbatim for analysis. Each educator was interviewed for 60120 minutes using a flexible interview guide (Appendix A) that addressed the following areas of teacher experience: career and education, school culture, gender-creative and transgender students at school, inclusive practices, and advice and recommendations for practice. The R.A.s conducted the interviews face-to-face or via Skype, and transcripts were sent to participants for validation and then coded for emergent themes using qualitative research software. The R.A.s also completed an audio reflection after each interview and these were included in the data analysis. Finally, each participant completed a demographics form (Appendix B), which allowed us to track information about each educators social group memberships (i.e., ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, and citizenship), and classroom teaching experience (i.e., years teaching, grades and subjects taught, private/public, etc.). Data analysis was conducted via an ongoing and exploratory design (Maykut & Morehouse, 1994) as we sought to uncover common themes among teachers experiences that can inform future studies and school interventions. The P.I. and one R.A. independently coded all 26 interviews and met to discuss codes and emerging themes. We developed a codebook (Appendix C) through writing and reviewing research memos and research team discussions. After developing this codebook, the P.I. went back to conduct a secondary review of significant statements to identify whether any other key themes were missing or inadequately captured in the codebook. Significant statements are defined as sentences or quotes that provide an understanding of how the participants experiences the phenomenon (Creswell, 2013, p. 82). We additionally performed a cross-case analysis to compare experiences and perceptions across teachers in elementary and secondary schools as well as alternative and traditional schools. The authors identified the topics presented in this paper as the most novel and significant findings from the study to share with the educational research community. Finally, a preliminary copy of this article was sent out to all participants for their feedback on our analysis and findings with a request to send us feedback if they had concerns or critiques of our analysis. Participants only replied with supportive statements for our results and thus this member-checking process supported the validity of our findings.


As stated above, 26 educators were interviewed from three Canadian provinces: British Columbia, Ontario, and Nova Scotia.2 Despite our best efforts in recruiting participants (e.g., distributing bilingual outreach materials and hiring bilingual Research Assistants), no Québecois educators volunteered to participate in the project. Participants had an average of 10 years professional experience in schools and mean age of 43. Seven participants were male-identified, 15 were female-identified, one identified as genderqueer, and three chose not to state a gender identity. While the educators all had experience working in schools, the ages, school types, and regions varied significantly. The schools ranged in level from preschool to grade 12 and included public, private, and alternative schools in both urban and rural areas. Participants were current and former classroom teachers, administrators, early childhood educators, and school board staff. Four agreed to serve as identified (as opposed to anonymous) key informants, given their professional history and expertise: three due to their role as consultants/mentors in their school boards on diversity issues (two anti-homophobia mentors and one anti-racism mentor), and one due to his high public profile on gender issues (the father of Baby Storm see: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/tag/baby-storm) and uniqueness of his schools social justice-focused culture.


In what follows, we present insights gleaned from these educators reflections on their work with transgender and gender-creative youth. Our preliminary analysis is focused on an overview of the structural barriers and supports that emerged from the educator interviews. In this first section, we discuss the many barriers reported by participants whereas, in the second section, we examine some of the supports discussed in the interviews.


We identified some common barriers represented by our participants: (1) the pervasiveness of transphobia in many school cultures; (2) a reported high frequency of school transfers among transgender and gender-creative youth; (3) the propensity for gay and lesbian educators to take on an expert role in relation to transgender and other gender diversity issues regardless of actual level of knowledge or training; (4) the degree to which ethnocentrism and notions of Canadian-ness may hamper interaction and communication with families who are members of visible minority groups or new arrivals to Canada; (5) relying on a pedagogy of exposure and using students as sacrificial lambs; (6) the overlapping challenges of working with gender-creative and transgender youth who also have behavioral and learning difficulties; and (7) the balancing act that educators perform while trying to effectively navigate these complex issues with little formal training and institutional support. We address each of these barriers in turn.

Pervasive Transphobia

The first theme identified in our analysis reflects findings from many of the studies cited throughout: transphobia is pervasive in traditional K12 school cultures. We heard many stories of difficulty encountered by gender-creative and transgender youth at school. For example, a veteran teacher related her experience of teaching a male-to-female transgender student. The student came out in grade 11 and began presenting as female at school. She was subsequently subjected to a range of bullying and harassment behaviors:

And so ultimately, yeah, he came out in grade 11 and he came out. . . . He was someone who . . . He was bullied quite frequently and he became quite combative about his sexual identity. And you know, hes one of those examples of the thick-skinned kid, right, in a small town. So yeah, he took a lot of abuse. A ton of abuse actually. And there was an administrative response. There was physical bullying. There were physical threats that were offered to him outside of the school. But he . . . he kind of responded with, you know, sort of youre going to say that, Im going to act even more outrageous.3 (Connie)

Another educator, Gina, is a behavioral specialist and resource teacher at a high school that she described as fairly progressive and inclusive of gender and sexual diversity. However, Ginas discussion of why every transgender student (of whom she was aware) was referred to her indicates an implicit culture of transphobia extending beyond incidents of clear harassment:

So how come all four of the transgender kids crossed my path at one time or another? Because learning became so difficult at some point for some reason, that they needed a safe harbor, a place to breathe, another way of learning, because learning in the classroom was becoming too difficult. (Gina)

We include these examples from Connie and Gina because they are exemplary of broader findings about transgender students experiences in schools. We were not surprised to hear stories about these youth being bullied, excluded, or sometimes violently harassed, and also seeking refuge in teachers offices. These stories are not a focus in the article precisely because they are expressions of a familiar and well-documented trend.

Frequent School Transfer

A second recurrent theme from teachers accounts was that transgender and gender-creative youth frequently transfer schools. For example, Millicent described a family who transferred their gender-creative child (masculine-presenting daughter) to an alternative and independent elementary school: they were looking for a refuge for her, basically, she was so traumatized from her other school (Millicent). Another teacher described the journey of a student who had socially transitioned at his high school but eventually left for a more inclusive alternative school:

He eventuallythis was sometime in grade 11some of the students that he had gone to middle school with were there and were not willing to accept the change. So there was a lot ofnot in class behaviors that were being evidenced, but obviously something happening in the locker area in the basement and it got to be the point where [the student] decided to transfer into [an LGBT program]4 (Gawain)

These stories are not unique in our dataset. Many participants described working with a student and their family for a year or two and then not knowing what happened because they moved or changed schools. We also heard from many educators in alternative schools who described their experience of working with transfer students who had clearly left the kind of deleterious situation so widely documented in the literature. In addition to having to transfer schools to avoid bullying or seek out a supportive school culture, many schools where participants worked had limited resources (such as access to experts, funds to support professional development, and curricular materials inclusive of gender diversity) and thus a decreased capacity to support transgender and gender-creative students and their families. As a result, we heard of many schools turning to existing experts on other related issues such as sexual diversity and anti-homophobia education; as we take up in the section below, this may have limited the schools ability to provide meaningful and relevant support.

Gay and Lesbian Educators as Experts on Gender Issues.

To this end, the third barrier identified through our analysis was that gay and lesbian educators are often sought out as experts in relation to issues faced by transgender and gender-creative youth. One straight-identified participant explicitly performed this conflation then clearly re-examined it when prodded by the interviewer:

Gopher: But the staff, weve . . . feel pretty confident about dealing with stuff. Maybe to a fault, I suppose, but you know. Its a very progressive bunch, right? No ones going to be thrown off by . . .One of our staff members is gay too so

Interviewer: Sorry. Can you say that again?

Gopher: One of our staff members is gay and . . .you know, so we got a resource there at least on some level of . . .although you can . . .just because youre gay doesnt [mean you] know everything, you know?

Similarly, several openly gay or lesbian participants spoke of being consulted by colleagues in relation to a transgender or gender nonconforming student. This is exemplified by the following excerpts from Connies interview:

Connie: So colleagues would come to me wondering what the hell is up with him.

Interviewer: Theyd come to you . . .

Connie: As the head of the GSA. I had a relationship with this kid. They knew I was gay so they would say whats up, you know. Why is this kid. . . .Why is he inviting his own destruction? And I said he is compelled to do that, you know. There is something within him that needs to come out and he needs to say this and. . . . And they said well, why does he have to be so flamboyant? Why cant he just shut up about it, you know. He can still be gay and doesnt have to talk about it all the time. So I would try to explain, you know, why there was this sense of outrageousness, why this sense of very self-conscious performance on his part, right? Im not sure that they understood but . . .

Interviewer: You did your best.

Connie: I tried, yeah.

Interviewer: And you were the resource.

Connie: For them, yes.

Connie was challenged in her attempts to help colleagues understand the behavior of a flamboyant gender-creative and gay-identified student, as well as educate against victim-blaming. In other parts of the transcript, it is clear that Connie relied heavily on her own personal experience with coming out as lesbian to try and explain the students behavior to heterosexual colleagues.

Other participants were even brought in to support staff at other schools in relation to gender diversity issues because, for example, they were a Gay-Straight Alliance advisor at their own school. Gawain found himself in a similar situation:

Its a process and, as I said, its the first time I had directly dealt with it because I remember that was about the same time that there had been a transgender student, the student council president at [secondary school] around that same time, either the year before orI guess it was about the year before. And I remember being contacted by email by someone at [other school] because of my involvement with the QSA [Queer-Straight Alliance] at the federation level about how do we deal with this.

We tentatively titled this theme gay activist hubris because several participants saw themselves as experts on any LGBTQ-related issue regardless of their own level of knowledge and experience with transgender and gender diversity issues. This perception of oneself as an expert did often limit the degree to which they reportedly sought additional outside resources and supports. As Jayne, a high school teacher, explained:

Jayne: There are resources available. I, as someone who I suppose should know them, I dont. I dont know what all the resources are, what the numbers are, but I have all the pamphlets on my desk and can easily access them. We have


Right. And your colleagues ask you

Jayne: Mm-hm. My colleagues ask me because . . . usually, Ill just say, from my experience, heres some things I would think about.

Wolfgang, a participant working in an elementary school, explicitly critiqued this gay activist hubris with reference to his own situation:

Well, in fact, at the time I wasnt the Special Education teacher for that grade level. It was a colleague of mine and she basically said I dont know what to do with this [gender-creative child]. And I said I dont really know what to do with it either so [laughs]. . . . But you know [laughs] . . . People who . . . They tend to lump, you know, gay and lesbian, bisexual issues together with gender identity, so they figured that I would have all the answers to this because Im a gay man [laughs].

However, he did continue working to support this student and, moreover, spoke about his longstanding involvement with gay and lesbian equality issues as having prepared him for supporting gender-creative children. Interestingly, several educators who did not identify as gay or lesbian indicated that they had sought out advice from members of the transgender community and/or gender-related resources and services offered by their school board in order to support a transgender or gender-creative student; this was in spite of the fact that they did possess some form of expert knowledge (i.e., they had attended a workshop, came from a sexual health background, or had personal contact with transgender people). In contrast to many nonheterosexually identified participants, however, they did not seem to position themselves as better equipped to support these students on the basis of tangential expertise.

White Educators and Ethnocentrism

The fourth theme we identified as a barrier to supporting transgender and gender-creative youth was ethnocentrism5: in our usage, the narrow ideological perspective among White, European or 2nd, 3rd, or 4th generation Canadians that people like them are necessarily more likely to affirm and accept sexual and gender diversity. We found some evidence that ethnocentrism may limit some White educators ability to reach out to and work collaboratively with transgender and gender-creative students of color and their families. There were a few incidents where a racialized familys transphobia was implied by behavior observed by or reported to the White educator in question. Examples include a gender nonconforming students mother performing an exorcism, or a student who expressed a transgender identity being removed from school and purportedly entering into a nonconsensual heterosexual marriage. However, in many other cases, a White educator presumed a racialized familys transphobia without making any attempt to reach out or gather additional information on the familys perception of their childs gender identity or expression. The exorcism example came from Jill, an elementary teacher, who explained that language was a barrier limiting her outreach to the family:

Interviewer: And did you communicate with his family around this issue?

Jill: Not about that specifically. And part of that was I think theres justyou know, as I talked about in the context, theres so many needs at this school thatone of them being a big, big ESL factor and with this student in particular, momlike there was some major ESL stuff, you know, and it was a single parent family. So just kind of getting her on board and supporting, you know, in general was a challenge enough and keeping her informed andI just felt the language barrier was too much to kind of get into that. And I also didnt see it as a problem or an issue for that family.

Here, a language barrier and cultural difference is conflated with a mothers perceived lack of support for a childs gender expression. The teacher also explicitly states the she decided on her own that it wasnt a problem or issue for that family without consulting with them. Whereas Jill named language as an insurmountable barrier, Rocky shared her assumption that another family would not be supportive based on that familys geographic origin:

His family, I believe isI decided they werent open. Like I have a feeling it wouldnt be open, so I didnt really talk about that. I mean, there were other issues butrelated to his behavior and stuff like that, that I would talk to them about, but they were very hard, and very hard on him. And they were a traditional African family, and I justperhaps I was wrong, but I just felt like it wasnt something they would be open to hearing, so I didnt go there with that piece.

Although many participants attest to advocating for the needs of their transgender and gender-creative students, there was a tendency for these predominantly White educators to also depict homo- and transphobia as characteristic of particular racialized and immigrant groups, primarily those coming from predominantly Muslim countries in Africa and South Asia.

However, other participants reported experiences with racialized families who are affirming of their childs gender-creativity. Below, for example, Wolfgang describes being aware of his ethnocentrism and how it held him back in working with a particular South Asian Muslim family. Through his conversation with the interviewer, he is somewhat able to recognize the contradiction between his ethnocentric assumptions and the real context for the childs gender expression:

Wolfgang: . . . my other reaction was oh my god, hes South Asianthis is totally my prejudicewas oh my god, his parents are going to freak. Right? Surely they must know. Why is he coming to school dressed this way? Whats going on? Whats going on with the parents? You know, all these questions sort of came up. So if theyre letting him come to school [in feminine dress] are they okay with it? Theres always that fear about how parents are going to react.

Interviewer: Right. And do you have any, do you know anything about the parents in this situation?

Wolfgang: Not -

Interviewer: Are they interactive with the school about it?

Wolfgang: Not a lot. I mean the . . . the teacher at the time, my advice to her, I guess, was to talk to the parents about the inappropriate touching. Deal with the more socially . . . like the observable things around touching and what hes saying to people and. . . . And you know, the teacher, if I remember correctly, did actually talk to the mom about it. Because I guess that seemed safer. [laughs] And the mum just sort of laughed it off, like oh, yeah, I know, da, da, da . . . I feel like the family members have sort of been left out because people were afraid to talk to them about it. And the fear was that if we bring this up theyre going to clamp down and not let him express himself.

Interviewer: Even though this [male] kid was wearing headscarves. [laughs]

Wolfgang: Right.

Here, even in the face of disruption (i.e., evidence that a South Asian family was comfortable with their sons gender creativity to the extent that he often was veiling at school), Wolfgangs ethnocentrism inhibits his ability to observe that such disruption has taken place. This is a clear example of confirmation bias and speaks to how deeply racism and racialization can be naturalized within educators social contexts as well as how they may impact professional behavior such as assessing risk of harm.

Another White participant, Elke, worked in an educational program that partnered with local schools. She recounted the story of a Filipino child who was stealth (living seamlessly in their identified gender at school) and affirmed by their family but outed by white teachers when the childs sex assigned at birth was discovered by elementary school officials:

A couple of years back we had a student from one of our schools who I believe was Filipino, potentially immigrant, like I dont actually know the childs family. I didnt know the childs family so I didnt know how recently their family had been in Canada. But the child presented as male and was referred to as male by his peers. And then at some point the teacher came in and said well the office staff pulled me aside and explained to me that actually he was registered as a girl. And I dont, this was probably the hardest thing that I ever had to hear or deal with. And I was really at a loss for how to deal with. And that is that what the school decided to do or what the teacher decided to do at that point was when that child was not there tell the other children that actually he was a girl. And these were grade fours or fives, not quite old enough to be really, really taunting but old enough to be like somethings really weird and I dont know how to interact with this person who I thought was just my friend. And kind of outed him without his permission and consent or knowledge.

Notably, Elke did not use this story to point out the prevalence of transphobia among White teachers. Members of a dominant group were often protected from generalization in that one isolated incident of transphobia or a lack of affirmation on the part of a White parent or teacher was not generalized and applied to all other White Canadians. By contrast, people of color continued to be depicted by some participants as more transphobic than White people even when there was evidence to the contrary. This theme merits further exploration in order to understand the particular impact of ethnocentrism and White (educator) privilege on young gender-creative and transgender people of color. This kind of intersectional anti-oppressive analysis is sorely missing from some of the literature cited throughout this article, which tends to generalize the needs and experiences of LGBT students writ large without particular attention to race, ethnicity, culture, or language.

The Pedagogy of Exposure and Students as Sacrificial Lambs

Many participants discussed the importance of exposing colleagues to gender diversity issues in order to increase sensitivity and encourage inclusive practice. However, most of these educators admitted that, in the absence of a transgender or gender-creative student, school staff tend to be uninterested or unmotivated in relation to learning more about the topic. Therefore, we are concerned that some transgender or gender-creative students may shoulder an immense responsibility as singular sites of all learning and change; they risk becoming what we term sacrificial lambs. In other words, some studentsparticularly the first apparent transgender or gender-creative student in a schoolmay sacrifice their right to privacy, among other things, in order to bring attention to the lack of gender inclusion in a school community and, going forward, reduce the overt and covert oppression they themselves have experienced. By exposing themselves, many students who feature in these educators stories were, in a sense, sacrificed in order to ensure that gender boxes on forms were changed, in-services addressing gender diversity topics were offered, and policies were fully implemented to improve the schools overall approach to gender diversity. Therefore, given how most schools are traditionally structured, we worry that a transgender or gender-creative student must be first exposed as such in order for the professionals to have exposure. Interestingly, several participants critiqued similar implications in our own study: namely, that the interview guide was organized around educators experiences with individual students rather than examining homophobia or transphobia in overall school cultures. We would like to further explore the ethical dilemma of this pedagogy of exposure and ways in which change could be provoked in schools without requiring that a child or a family expose themselves, thus placing them in the visible and vulnerable position of educator or expert in relation to an unprepared school community.

Behavioral and Learning Difficulties

Many of the students featured in these educator accounts were also described as having behavioral or learning difficulties. Sometimes a participant would be very specific and clarify that the behavior had nothing to do with the childs gender identity. With regard to a pre-kindergarten student, for example, Thomas shared how Sometimes he just wants to read a book and learn and so he can be stubborn, but that has nothing to do with his gender explorations. This was such a recurring theme, however, that we wonder whether many forms of acting out and stubbornness often associated with or even diagnosed as a behavioral or conduct disorder might relate to the struggle associated with repeatedly asserting ones identity so that one might be respected and treated in accordance with ones felt needs. Gina acknowledged this challenge when she described a high school student:

So I mean for me it was the stubbornness and the anger more that I was working with, more than. . . . I mean we knew that it was based on the sexuality, but at the same time it was . . . Those were the things I was working with. I think . . . I mean we didnt even talk about sexuality until I have been working with him for almost a year.

We also encountered reports of gender-creative girls being disciplined for exhibiting traditionally boyish behavior, as exemplified by Wolfgang in the following excerpt:

I went to her sending school to observe her, because there were a lot of concerns about her behavior. So I, she was clearly . . . Im not saying she has ADHD but picture a kid with ADHD, and its certainly not my place to diagnose anyone, but she presented all of that really impulsive behavior and very physical and . . .you know, but lots of boys do that too so why is she always in trouble was my question. Because you expect her not to be that way. You expect her to fit this role of whats good for a girl to do or how to behave.

Similar behaviors and their potential identification as learning difficulties are worth examining more closely; they may be exacerbated by the climate of the school and constitute expressions of gender-related stress and anxiety6. Whether this is the case or no, the identity development and expression process for transgender and gender-creative youth can challenge and easily run afoul of normative expectations for appropriate behavior. We are making a preliminary connection here; this is certainly an area for considerably more research and potential critique.

A Balancing Act

Finally, we encountered many instances wherein these educators described how tricky it is to navigate these issues, whether in relation to balancing their own identities and activism as an out gay or lesbian teacher or balancing the politics of their own curriculum in terms of what to include or exclude in discussions of gender and sexuality. For example, as Jayne explained:

Jayne: Yeah, its scary. Its . . .

Interviewer: supporting these students?

Jayne: Absolutely. Its scary because in non . . .in unrelated situations you worry that a parents word and displeasure with whatever it is youre doing . . .no matter how good your intentions are, no matter how much effort youve made, even if theyve sent fifteen e-mails before telling you how well youve done, as soon as you do something they dont like, all of that doesnt matter, because if they perceive you to be, in any way, shape or form, like, doing something that is outside your role as a teacher, or too much or too little it puts you on the line. And, in terms of administrative support, its just not there.

This sentiment was echoed by Gertie:

So I think it was always hard for me, I always felt challenged because I am the gay teacher in the school. I always worried that parents would think that I was doing it because of that. And sure, thats probably part of why I do a lot of thingslike I talk about a lot of the things I talk about as far as just, you know, equity in general is because of my own identity. But its more about what these kids need, right?

This balancing act illustrates how the school environment is not just inhospitable to students due to youth culture, but is part of larger, systemic issues of gender and sexuality norms in educational institutions that impact employees and students alike. Sometimes the balancing act pertained to balancing the best interests of the student with how and what to communicate to their family members. For example, Athena described a situation where she was unsure of the best course of action to take in supporting a student:

But I guess that was the hardest thing, was just being in situations where youre hearing family members and how theyre reacting and kind of going like, I dont know how . . . you know, because you dont . . . like yeah, other than being like whoa, thats not cool, thats not okay, where . . . Theres no guidebook to what to say when your student says their parents are doing this, right?

Connie also reflected on her own actions in hindsight, wondering whether what she did actually contributed to the best outcome for that student:

I mean maybe he needed more help than I gave him. Maybe I should have set him up with a social worker. Like he was on the radar with the admin simply because there was a lot going on with him, right? So we had spoken to his social worker but . . . I dont know. I mean its difficult because were . . . we have to respect kids privacy and . . . I dont know.

To some extent, these excerpts indicate how participants in this study felt: that working with students, families, and colleagues on issues related to gender and sexuality put them in vulnerable situations often with little guidance or clear support.


Although we have identified seven barriers to safe and affirming school experiences for transgender and gender-creative children and youth, we also identified many existing and crucial supports. It is important to note that, in general, the way participants spoke about their school cultures revealed significant differences between traditional and alternative schools in supporting these students. Educators working in traditional school settings echoed most of the barriers described above. On the contrary, many of the supports in this section emerged from interviews with educators working in alternative schools.

We begin with an extensive discussion of the first theme: alternative schools as sites of refuge and spaces where transgender and gender-creative students are reportedly thriving. This discussion contains several sub-themes including: (a) flexible, student-centered curriculum, (b) creativity and nonconformity are valued, (c) fewer sex-segregated activities or facilities, and (d) restorative justice programs. We then address three additional supports identified in both alternative and traditional school settings: (1) empowered transgender and gender-creative students; (2) vigilant and protective adults; and (3) best practices.

Alternative Schools as Sites of Refuge and Support

One of the most apparent findings from these educator interviews is that many alternative schools are acting as sites of refuge and support for transgender and gender-creative children and youth. Many participants worked in schools they describe as alternative and reported that many transgender and gender-creative students transfer there as a result of difficulties elsewhere (as discussed with regard to the first barrierpervasive transphobia in traditional K12 schools). Some participants expressed their (alternative) schools identity as a sort of magnet for students struggling to fit in at their more traditional neighborhood school. For example, Nelsonan alternative high school drama teacherdescribed his school as follows:

Its a refugee center for a lot of troubled kids, kids who dont fit in the school system, and for gay kids, lesbians, who are looking for a place where they can be accepted. And so as a result weve had quite a large number of kids that have come from other schools that want to be in a place where they could be risk-free and bullying-free, sort of thing. So weve provided that for a lot of kids.

KJ, an elementary school teacher, narrated a students journey after spending time in her alternative school and described the childs positive transformation:

When she first came she wouldnt go to the bathroom by herself; she was pretty traumatized. She was very, shes a sensitive person for one, and she was very shutdown and nervous to beBy the end of the school year shed come into school in her full soccer uniform, like it wasnt just about like dressing like a boy, it was also like flourishing fully in who she is. So she came to school in her full soccer uniform and she was so excited about it, and she comes to school in like really, like she loves sort of, she loves uniforms and she loves to dress her own way. And so you started to see her doing that and whether it isI mean I see that in any kid who wanted to just dress their own way and they were getting teased about it before. But now she feels free to do it and proud to do it.

Ms. Erin worked at a school for students with special needs and described a similar experience with an older student who had transitioned:

Well so what happened was at the school that the student was previously at they had been bullied very badly and so they felt it was in their best interest to come in without anybody having this knowledge of them having been through the transgender process. So thats why . . . it was the students choice not to divulge that information and the administration just totally supported that and wanted to do what the student felt was in their best interest.

From educator accounts, some of the elements that made these alternative schools particularly supportive of transgender and gender-creative students include: (a) a flexible, student-centered curriculum; (b) a climate in which all forms of creativity and nonconformity are valued, including but not limited to gender diversity; (c) no/minimal sex-segregated facilities or activities; and (d) restorative justice programs. Such schools often had a culture that could be described as queerthat deliberately celebrated differing unique relationships students had to expressing their genders (along with other aspects of themselves). This approach reduced treating transgender and gender-creative students as a problem to be solved and instead applied a more critical approach to structural factors to examine how schools can expand possibilities for students to learn and contribute to their potential.

Flexible and student-centered curriculum. Participants working in alternative schools emphasized these schools flexible, student-centered curricula and a resulting nonhierarchical learning environment. Many schools avoid traditional credit or merit systems (e.g., having no grades at all) and place teachers in the role of facilitators for students who direct their own learning. Shu-En teaches in an alternative elementary school and compared its culture to that of more traditional schools:

Our school is like none other. Our school focus . . . Our schools priority is on a childs interest and joy in learning which doesnt mean that they dont learn the basics of reading, writing and math. But it does mean that the way they come to proficiency in reading, writing and math looks different for each kid. When you walk into our school you will see lots of kids doing many things at the same time. Whereas, I would say, in my experience working in regular schools, kids are generally working on the same thing at the same time and looking the same way. So at a desk. In our school the kids call it . . . the kids differentiate our school from other schools as other schools are desk schools and our schools a free school. So our school is a democratic school where kids get to make decisions about not only their own learning but also about how the school is, so rules about the school.

Gopher teaches at the same school as Shu-En but at a different age level. He echoed Shu-Ens differentiation and drew a direct connection to the schools appeal for same-sex parented families (which is interesting in light of our previous concerns regarding the conflation of gender and sexuality):

So our school is one where the kids are involved in all decision making processes, at least . . .  not with safety, but with pedagogy and stuff, we bring them in. So we have a weekly or thrice weekly meetings where the kids get to make rules about how to share playground equipment, stuff like that. And one thing to say about our school, like right now we have five queer families and . . . out of about 70 families so I dont know if thats a high number or not. Seems like a lot to me. So we got quite a few double-mom families and so maybe its becoming just part of the school culture too that we can be accepting of this, the kids are different. So then we are non-competitive education so we dont have testing. We dont write the [standardized] tests. We dont give homework. We dont hand out report cards.

Siobhan teaches in a small alternative secondary school and used similar terms to describe her own school community:

Well, . . . were an alternative to the alternatives, who are still curriculum-based. . . . I can never plan what my day is going to look like cause the kids plan what the day is going to look like. And then they tell me, by the way, youre helping me do this, this, this and this today. And . . . I love it, I think its really . . . especially as an art teacher, just to see so much creativity happening all at once. I dont just . . . I dont say, hey, this is . . . this is how everybodys going to learn how to do clay today and this is all were going to be working on all week. One kids like, Can I use clay? and the other kids like, Can I do fashion? and, Can I . . . they dont even ask me, they actually just tell me, Im doing . . . and . . . yeah, yeah, okay, okay. And then I . . . I just kind of try and get to everybody and make sure theyre all cool and they all have what they need and nobodys destroying anything and . . . or themselves and that kind of thing.

Finally, Thomas described his Montessori early childhood school as follows: So I like that about our classroom, my classroom particularly, that its not so rigid and I actually do . . . Im not actually following a curriculum, the academic curriculum. Im more following the child. Each of these excerpts demonstrate how some alternative schools construct a more flexible learning experience that is more readily adaptable and equipped to better support diverse students interests and needs.

Creativity and nonconformity valued. A second supportive aspect of these alternative schools was that creativity and nonconformity of all kinds are highly valued. Several schools with arts-based programs were represented in these educator accounts as positive spaces for transgender and gender-creative youth. Participants talked about being frustrated with traditional schools and seeking out workplaces as teachers that would allow them to be creative in their pedagogy and focus on student needs and interests rather than on test preparation or scripted curricula. Minerva, a secondary educator, described a mini-arts academy within her larger comprehensive high school:

So our program is very small. We have only about 5060 students in our [arts] program. I think that the school population is about 1,300 so its a relatively small school. . . . And the staff have all been very supportive but we have probably an unusual proportion of gay and lesbian staff at the school and I dont know if anyone is transgendered or gender-creative. But theres certainly lots of openness and acceptance at this school which is ideal. So as [a student] was sort of transitioning into this new identity thats all been handled really smoothly and beautifully as far as I could tell, I havent heard any nasty things from anyone.

Nelson, a high school drama teacher, described how his arts-focused public school drew in students with a diverse array of creative interests:

Its an alternative program that is a public school so kids, any kid can apply for it, and we currently have 800 people on the waiting list to get into the elementary school and about 300 or 400 to get into the secondary school. So its oversubscribed. And we focus obviously on the arts, we spend extra time for kids on that, so we have, in elementary school we have the standard arts. We have drama, dance, music and art.

Funded by the public education system, these arts-based programs offer accessibility that private alternative programs lack. However, long wait-lists and student transfers demonstrate that the need for such alternative spaces may outweigh their availability. Moreover, the implications of any merit-based admission policy (e.g., according to artistic ability or potential in the case of arts-based schools) warrants further investigation. This is particularly apparent in the accounts of educators who suggest the potential relationship between inhospitable school climates and learning or behavioral difficulties among some transgender and gender-creative students as discussed above.

Fewer sex-segregated activities or facilities. Several of these schools also reduced sex-segregated activities or facilities and offered alternatives. Students can freely choose projects, groups, books, teams, clothing, and washrooms based on how they are most comfortable. David Stocker, one of the non-anonymous key informants in our study, addressed his school communitys decision to create an all-gender washroom:

I mean sort of philosophically right off the top I think what that all-gender washroom highlights is this battle to flip that on its head as well because what happened with people coming into it, some people . . . parents maybe and maybe the superintendent and above level had questions about whether it was a transgendered washroom and the response from the activist students and myself was that no, its an all gender washroom so that means anybody can use it because the problem with these gender-neutralI say that in quotation markswashrooms is that theyre being created as single stall standalones which philosophically frames it as if youre one of those kids, you can out yourself and go down the hall every time you need to go to the bathroom and thats ironic because in terms of safe space whos going to out themselves in a culture thats homophobic and transphobic? Its a huge barrier. So we can see the issue as making accommodation for those kids or you could flip it and say well, in an all gender washroom which is multi-stallso theres two stalls in therethe entire community is now made responsible for transforming not only the physical space but their mental space. The focus is not on trans kids, its on everybody and whether or not theyre willing to make that journey to rethink what they think they know about the world.

This description provides a clear example of how a queer theoretical approach can shift the way schools think about and institutionalize gender. KJ also described the supportive effects of having all-gender washrooms in her private, alternative elementary school:

I love the small classes; I love that theres a freedom when you can just go outside whenever you need to. I love that theres an awareness ofthis is about gender stuff and in our school its such a, you know, weve had kids that came from other schools cause they were getting teased about, you know, seemed like they were being in the boys bathroom, uh, they were in the girls bathroom and they shouldnt be cause they should be in the boys bathroom and just all this. And that doesnt happen; its like those things come up at school, like are you a boy or a girl, but theyre done in . . . theres a kind context that allows these things that are naturally gonna happen between people, between kids, but it happens with support and in a safer place. And, you know, we have the bathrooms that are, theres still bathroom stuff that happens but we have a bathroom thats for boys and girls, so its not gender-defined.

The fact that rigid gender norms are systemically entrenched in even the design of school buildings demonstrates the crucial need for reworking larger school culture. These alternative schools offer valuable suggestions for all educators working to reduce gender-based oppression in their institutions. The move from gender-neutral to all-gender reflects a queer shift away from othering language and toward acknowledging a range of genders. It also offers more flexible possibilities for working within the confines of existing school facilities. Staffords (2013) research supports this approach by documenting what she calls bathroom panic in Kindergarten. She observed how gender segregated bathrooms reinforce two critical attributes of gender-normative culture for students multiple times a day: that you must know that you are one or the other and that there is something suspicious and wrong if you cannot tell which room someone else should be in. Thus, by resolving the issue of gender-segregated washrooms, schools may reduce the pressure for students to gender-conform and learn how to discern where they or their peers are in the binary.

Restorative justice. The fourth element that many of these alternative schools shared in participant accounts was a commitment to restorative justice as opposed to more familiar and punitive disciplinary practices. In most cases, transgender and gender-creative students were reported to be actively involved in maintaining a peaceful and collaborative school culture. David Stocker described this process at his public alternative school:

David Stocker: Its that theres a very overt staff body and student body whos committed to challenging the oppression and working like the conflict through through a restitution process where people who have hurt individuals or that hurt the community as a whole have to come up with how they will make it back to the community.


And that is student-led?

David Stocker: Student-led only in a sense that they generate the solutions, the restitution, and that the teachers facilitate the conflict between the two people or the two . . . the person and the group and. . . . So yeah, restitution is . . . We have a conflict resolution class where actual skills are taught but when we sit down on our preps with students who are in conflict were fairly well-trained to run a restitution process.

Siobhan, a secondary school teacher, described the system they use to address difficult situations, including the story of how one gender-fluid student (Z) used the system to resolve a difficult interaction with a peer:

[Zs friend said], You have a penis, dont you? So that made [Z] uncomfortable on so many levels, but how many of those levels could [Zs friend] understand? And the other students that were there, should they be involved in that conversation? And so that was up to [Z]. And [Z] said, yes, I want a peace circle with all of these people, I want everyone to know . . . cause I know other people were upset by other things that [Zs friend] was saying and then someone else said something that was mean to someone else and it just broke down and we were all, like, we need help. So [Z] came running to me . . . this is what happened, so we all brought this group together and had a talk, about what was hurtful, and how to support one another, and what accepting one another meant, and what that looked like and what they wanted to accepted for and that kind of thing.

This approach to disruptions at school that empowers student voice and values community learning and growth over punishment is a good example of anti-oppressive pedagogies in practice.

In sum, these four characteristics were present in several of the alternative schools in which our participants teach or have taught in the past: (a) student-centered, flexible curriculum; (b) creativity and nonconformity of all kinds are highly valued; (c) an absence of sex-segregated facilities or activities; and (d) restorative justice programs. Taken together, these four characteristics reportedly provide meaningful support and inclusion not only for transgender and gender-creative students, but also for many others who may have experienced difficulty in relation to the normative character of traditional schools for myriad other reasons.

Empowered Transgender and Gender-Creative Students

As a result of these alternative school settings and, in many reported cases, affirming parents, we heard many stories of thriving transgender and gender-creative youth. KJ described how a parent provided their grade three child (A) with the communication tools necessary to speak directly to peers about the childs preferred language regarding gender and pronouns. This was helpful not only for the students but for the teacher as well. KJ told this story to make her point:

She would often dress like one of her mums who sort of tended to dress more masculine than traditionally feminine, and so it was sort of like she was emulating one of her mums. And I remember asking early on, cause kids will often flip between gender when theyre talking, like he wants to do this or she wants to do this and kids would correct, no, [A]s a girl. Oh, is she . . . ? And then so it was like I asked her parents, because thered been such an issue in the old school, how she was feeling about being he or she. And her mum said something very wise, cause shed been talking to [A] about it, that, you know, just that it didnt really matter what gender you were called but if someone was doing it in a hurtful way thats what mattered. And thats how [A] expresses it too, that it was I dont care if you call me a girl or a boy as long as its in a nice way.

Ms. Erin spoke of a student whose parent had particular medical expertise and was openly sharing this information with the child and the school; this was done to ensure that the child received the support necessary for medical transition:

So the transgender student was very fortunate in that her family was actually very supportive. Her mom was a nurse and was very upfront with her about all the information that she would need and made sure that she was aware of everything that she was deciding in terms of you know side effects of medication.

In addition to sharing stories of parent affirmation, several participants offered accounts of transgender or gender-creative students as making a unique and highly valued contribution to the school culture. Siobhan spoke about one gender-fluid student by expressing great admiration for the influence they are able to have on other students:

a lot of the time conflict resolution occurs because [Z] just is this beautiful voice of reason that sees both sides and says, hey, you know what, like, nobodys meaning to hurt anybody here, this is where youre coming from and youre a good person, so lets try and communicate using nicer words. And everyones like, yeah . . . Like, [Z] just has this incredible wisdom. Truly, I do believe that, like, there is really some kind of an enlightened brain in that body.

Angela Brown, a key informant and an anti-racism diversity mentor in the Vancouver School Board, described another student with similar admiration:

Like he is so thoughtful, compassionate, creative. So caring and giving and so helpful to other students, will mentor other students without me actually having to, you know, ask because he was very bright. And seemed very confident, you know, in his body and was talking about how, you know, he wanted to be a hairdresser and thatand would I come to him when he became a hairdresser? I said absolutely. Im always looking for a good hairdresser.

There were many other examples of educators describing the confidence, intelligence, caring, and creativity of transgender and gender-creative students. When all students were given space to be fully included and valued as they are, entire school communities benefitted from the range of unique assets brought forward by individuals who may have been shut down in mainstream, highly normalized environments. In spaces where students were not being holistically supported and affirmed, we noticed another theme: educators wanting to be especially vigilant and protective of transgender and gender-creative students.

Vigilant and Protective Adults

The third important support was vigilance or protection, articulated by many of the educators in this study; this is perhaps unsurprising given that a disproportionate number of our self-selected participants identified as gay, lesbian, or queer (38%). Notions of vigilance or protection were prevalent in educator accounts of working in traditional schools where the culture is generally more hostile and transphobic than in alternative schools. Many teachers who volunteered for this study expressed taking it upon themselves to do everything they could to watch out for transgender and gender-creative youth. Jayne, who taught in a large urban high school, stated that: I think that if I know a student is queer or genderqueer Im more protective of them, for sure. Logan worked in preschools and early childhood settings and echoed this sentiment: Its like I become sort of their bodyguard. Like I just sort of like check in and like say affirming things and like make myself available and make sure that theyre not being bullied. Yeah, just sort of look out for them. A few alternative school teachers also shared this commitment. Shu-En stated that I naturally become protective of kids who are gender-neutral. In addition, Minerva works in an arts-based mini-school with many out gay and lesbian faculty and shared the following:

I think its also made me more protective of students, like thinking more about being watchful, that everybody is, theres not some covert relational aggression going on that is, you know, really well-disguised. Like that, you know, Im really making sure thatcause I always like the underdog so I always want to protect the one that really needs to be protected but not in an obvious way. Just sort of, like a guardian, be there and be looking out and make sure that theres no damage thats happening while Im on duty, yeah. Thats my goal, try not to break the children.

These and other comments indicate that there are dedicated and caring educators who are trying very hard to create safer and more inclusive spaces in schools, with a particular awareness of transgender and gender-creative youth needs. Should we add a statement that this does not mean that said teachers always knew the best way to support their students (as in the case of gay activist hubris) but does mean that they had the students well-being motivating their actions?

Best Practices

The final support-related theme brings together some of the best practices described by participants as being successful in creating more supportive spaces in traditional schools. Although, as above, alternative schools seemed to be generally more supportive and inclusive spaces for many different kinds of students, some best practices emerged for better supporting transgender and gender-creative youth in interviews with participants from traditional school settings. Many of these will be familiar to readers and include: (a) having experts at the district or board level tasked with specifically addressing issues of homophobia and transphobia; (b) creating support groups for transgender and gender-creative youth and their families at the school district level; (c) being proactive by explicitly addressing issues of gender diversity through the curriculum or conducting safety audits to improve awareness and understanding of gender expression; and (d) updating school policies to offer protection from discrimination based on gender identity and expression, as well as implementation procedures.

Experts at the district or board level. The first best practice is to have expert district- or board-level diversity mentors or resource personnel who provide consistent consultation, training and support to teachers and administrators. Diversity mentors who were experts on LGBT issues and related social justice and anti-oppressive education approaches provided valuable structural support to school boards and schools working with transgender and gender-creative youth. Steve Mulligan, an antihomophobia diversity mentor at the Vancouver School Board and another non-anonymous key informant, described his work and what he was able to offer as follows:

A lot of it was working with principals, teachers, and counselors to help them to understand the issues around homophobia and how it manifests itself in school and sometimes as gender teasing and that sort of thing, is often how it starts. And also to help with any kids, students who presented as somewhat gender fluid or gender variant and to help the schools, you know, find ways to make sure that they are welcomed and accepted and feel safe and that sort of thing. Soand for kids who are coming out, supporting gay/straight alliance clubs, all of that kind of stuff, organizing conferences.

Steven Solomon, another key informant, articulated a very similar mandate in his position as an anti-homophobia mentor at the Toronto District School Board (TDSB):

My practice was specifically with lesbian, gay, bi, trans-identified students, teachers, parents, families. So I was available across the board for, you know, meetings with students and families, students coming out, parents coming out. It ties into sort of how gender independence. . . I phrase it as it kind of found me as opposed to me going looking for something. So that was the counseling work and thats how actually I began to meet the families. I also did anti-homophobia . . .what I called anti-homophobia group work in classrooms across the TDSB, kindergarten to grade 12. So talking about initially issues of homophobia and then moving into issues with transphobia. The other piece I provide . . .I provided social work support to the Triangle Program which is a high school classroom for LGBT students [in the Toronto District School Board]. I was also school social worker there up until last year. So again for students who havent left school, have been thinking of leaving school because of homophobic or transphobic violence, harassment and such.

It is important to also note that although these positions have a long list of responsibilities attached to them, in our examples they were generally not full-time appointments; sometimes they represented only 50% of an educators assigned workload and yet were intended to cover a large urban district. As a result of their position as a resource person, these educators were often able to share ideas and connect teachers and families in the process of learning more about how to support their transgender and gender-creative children and youth.

Providing spaces for youth and families. This brings us to the second example of best practices: providing spaces for transgender and gender-creative students and their families to connect. For example, Steven Solomon initiated the Gender-Independent Group for gender-creative children and their family members in the TDSB. This group met monthly to provide a space for families and youth to create supportive relationships and share ideas and resources. He described how the group got started as a result of several students coming to his attention during the same academic year:

So [I] began then organizing a monthly group where the parents would come. I had social work students at the time so they were organizing activities for the kids. And really, it wasnt about sort of therapeutic interventions. I think a lot of things are therapeutic. They just don't have to be called that. Back to the point around calling it gender independent, I kind of tookand Id done a lot of . . . I had a lot of practice in terms of students who had been transitioning, who knew very young, who would know very later around sort of where they . . .what their gender journey was going to be. But I thought with the younger kids that Im not about . . .Im not here to give a label or identity. Theres places in this city that you could probably go to that have a particular way of doing things, So I thought, you know, really its just . . .the kids are fine if we just get out of their way, let them play, let them be who they are and lets focus our attention on the environment that theyre in at school. So how do other kids react to it? What are those sorts of pieces? So the gender independent term was something that was the least pathologizing, if you will.

Steve Mulligan also described the importance of similar groups in Vancouver, explaining that he tried working with the families sometimes on acceptance. Ive worked with [B] who runs a youth group for trans youth. And worked with him tobecause I had so many parents kind of wanting support, and so they now have got a parent group going. Since these groups were organized by district-level personnel it may send an important message of institutional affirmation to families who are navigating the difficult process of accessing support for their children and themselves. Even if an individual school site was still hostile or nonaffirming, these two districts (Vancouver School Board and Toronto District School Board) are making efforts to provide macro-level institutional support while other microlevel accommodations at the school are explored.

Being proactive. A third best practice is to be proactive, or to make changes well before an apparent transgender or gender-creative student arrives at a particular school. Two ways to be proactive that emerged in our educator interviews were incorporating gender diversity issues across the curriculum and conducting safety audits throughout a school. A pair of teachers who worked at the same alternative elementary school described the foundation laid at their school by the kindergarten teacher and how effectively she incorporates talking about gender and diversity issues in general in her classroom. They both referred to this foundation as being very helpful by allowing them to build on students prior knowledge and extend the culture established early on in kindergarten. Families in the Toronto-based Gender-Independent Group also germinated ideas for school-based interventions. Steven Solomon explained how this process came about:

these parents brought to my attention that every time they raised a concern with the school, the school was good to respond . . . or I should say react. So they would say that this happened and the school would do that. And we realized that thats fine. That's a good starting point. But what if schools were more proactive? What do they do what do they need to get ready for? Or . . . say you didnt know about a kid who might be gender independent. What can you do before they get there? So it came up. Wed talk about . . . you know, they talked about, you know, schools do equity audits, safety audits. You walk around the school, you see what works, what doesnt work, what needs to be changed.

He then described a safety audit that he conducted with a six-year-old gender-creative child where they walked through the school together. As they did so, the child identified spaces that were comfy and uncomfy. This sort of collaborative process engages students as experts of their own safety and comfort in the spaces they inhabit every day. Safety audits can also encourage teachers and administrators to be more proactive in identifying aspects of their school culture that are harming for transgender and gender-creative youth.

Supportive policies. Finally, having antibullying and nondiscrimination policies with clearly enumerated protections as well as ongoing professional development about policy implementation at the district/board-level can assist in generating more productive and creative work around gender diversity issues in schools. Steve Mulligan explained his approach to gender-related professional development and the strategies he used to increase teacher attendance at outreach events and workshops:

I did these lunch and learn workshops withtried to do it with all the elementary schools because I felt that the elementary schools were really where the homophobia was starting. And that if we could get the elementary teachers doing more talk about, you know, gender differences and sexuality and that sort of thing, that by the time the kids got to high school, it wouldnt be as big of an issue. . . . I brought sushi and cookies and I invited the staff to come at lunchtime to the workshop. And I got through we have 91 elementary schools in Vancouver and in my time in four years I got through 75 elementary schools, which I think was pretty successful because most of those schools, it was a good portion of the staff who came to those workshops. So even if you move someone, you know, whos very unaccepting, even if you move them on a little bit, you know, and . . . if you plant a seed in their brain to maybe move them a long a little bit, then hopefully youve helped the cause, helped people understand more.

Toronto District School Board and Vancouver School Board have exemplary policies and extensive experience with inclusion and support provision in the case of LGBT youth; therefore, sharing successes from these contexts can be a useful starting point for other schools, school districts and communities.


The findings presented in this paper indicate that there is a complex web of factors impacting the experiences of educators working with transgender and gender-creative kids in K12 schools. Particularly challenging are when examples of supports are in tension with examples of barriers. One example is the case of gay and lesbian teachers working as advocates for transgender and gender-creative students. Our study revealed several examples of schools turning to existing out gay and lesbian educators who have been involved in anti-homophobia work at the school and school board level. Although this may seem like a reasonable approach when faced with a new challengeparticularly in a case where a school may lack the resources to engage external expertisethe problem with relying on out non-heterosexual teachers in matters pertaining to gender lies in the common conflation of gender identity with sexual orientation. The false assumption that sexual minorities understand and can advocate for transgender or gender nonconforming people may result in responses and supports that are underdeveloped and insufficiently specific to the barriers faced by transgender and gender-creative people. Whereas recent research indicates that gay, lesbian, bisexual, and queer educators are more likely to support various forms of diversity education as compared to straight educators, the difference is greatest in their agreement with the statement: it is important to me personally to address gender expression (97% of LGBQ vs. 80% straight) (Meyer, Taylor, & Peter, 2015). While this indicates that LGBQ educators are more likely allies in supporting transgender and gender-creative youth, it does not necessarily follow that they have the necessary skills or the training to take the lead on this important work. For example, in the same study, LGBQ teachers were only slightly more likely than straight educators to report feeling comfortable discussing LGBTQ content with students (76% vs. 71%) (Meyer, Taylor, & Peter, 2015). Overall, we are concerned that gay and lesbian educators serving as go-to experts on gender diversity may serve to limit the supports and depth of understanding developed in relation to transgender and gender-creative students; we advise schools and school boards to ensure that they are seeking out appropriate experts and resources rather than relying on what may appear to be the obvious choice.   

We are also concerned about some of the limitations of supports offered by White educators to students of color and/or new immigrants to Canada, as well as with their families. Where there was often detailed understanding of gender and sexuality issues among our predominantly White participants, there was also a degree of confirmation bias when the student at the heart of an educators account was a person of color, and particularly when their family were recent immigrants to Canada. Confirmation bias happens when individuals focus on behaviors that support stereotypical beliefs and ignore examples of when stereotypes are challenged (Traut-Mattausch, Jonas, Frey, & Zanna, 2011). Given that participants also referenced a dearth of educators who feel equipped to support gender-creative and trans* students within their institutions, the effects of ethnocentrism and confirmation bias on the part of out (and in our sample, majority White) gay and lesbian educators sought as resources are potentially compounded. Since these educators frequently articulated that they are the only adults in a given institution to openly support transgender and gender-creative students through direct advocacy and (informal) staff education, their reproduction in interviews of commonly-held racist and Islamophobic perceptions may indicate a magnified impact on a schools overall response to a situation involving a gender-creative or transgender student of color. Many educators articulated their desire to protect these youth and be vigilant for any bias against their gender identity or expression; however, this stated vigilance and protection about homophobia and transphobia did not always translate into an awareness of racism. This is not to say that all out LGBQ teachers are White, or that White LGBQ teachers always presume homophobia or transphobia on the part of people and/or families of color; however, in our sample this was frequently the case. Furthermore, several participants observed that initiatives geared toward creating safer schools such as Gay-Straight Alliances tend to have a predominantly White constituency, in their experience. This trend has been noted and studied elsewhere (Macgillivray, 2007; McCready, 2004, 2010). As above, some participants stated a belief that LGBTQ students of color are not able to be out to the same extent as White peers due to necessarily increased levels of homophobia and transphobia within their diaspora community.

Another tension that emerged in the data is the process of school shopping, where families have to work very hard to find a school community supporting and accepting of their child. Although some urban areas provide many options, the time, research, and then daily transportation demands on a family can be a significant burden, which can often be borne only by families of privilege. In order to find a school outside of their local catchment area and establish transportation routines to get the child to and from the new school, families must have a degree of economic flexibility and mobility. Furthermore, families in rural or remote areas often do not have options aside from the single school in their community. Whereas seeking out alternative schools, charter schools, or private schools may provide immediate relief for some children and their families, schools must work to be more inclusive of all students so families without the flexibility that comes with class privilege can still find a school environment that is safe and affirming for their child. This issue brings us back to the issues we termed pedagogies of exposure and sacrificial lambs. The recommendations for improvement listed below are steps that all schools should begin implementing whether or not they are aware of a transgender or gender-creative student in their school. When schools wait to do this work until a child or family makes it urgently necessary, the student may be made even more vulnerable because the school community associates the changes with this one child, rather than for the overall health and betterment of everyone. After all, everyones affinities, behaviors, real and imagined possibilities are constrained to varying degrees by rigid gender norms, regardless of ones gender identity (Airton, 2009a, 2009b).


Educational institutions have a responsibility to provide safe learning environments for children off all genders. Unfortunately, when a transgender or gender-creative student enters a school and experiences difficulty, school officials often see them as the source and label them as a problem to be resolved. We must reframe the problem and resist tendencies to understand and label children as such. Current structures, policies, and school cultures must be altered and not individual students. A better approach would be to identify and examine sites of intensified gender normalization, tension, and conflict in a school community and why they exist. We strongly believe that educators must work to meet each and every childs needs so that they can attend school and find there a place where they can holistically belong, regardless of whether they momentarily, occasionally, or perpetually deviate from rigid gender normativity. In order to make meaningful change, an entire school culture must be addressed by the scope of an intervention or recommendation; of course, we recognize that transforming school culture takes time and the commitment of all members. But the interventions we proposeparticularly the lessons from the alternative schools featured in our educator interviewsstand to create less rigid and hostile spaces for all members and not only self-identifying, out and/or apparent transgender and gender-creative students.   

We have compiled the lessons learned from these alternative schools into six general principles that can be applied in traditional school settings to create spaces that are more gender-inclusive of all students and the ways in which people grow, change, and become. Each of these principles would qualify as being proactiveone of the best practices from the previous section.


Develop a more student-centered, flexible curriculum that empowers students and allows their voices and interests to be central to the learning process. Educators who reported building on student interests and experiences and including their voices in developing curriculum also reported a greater sensitivity to students identities and experiences. Keeping student interests, identities, and experiences at the center of the curriculum allows multiple forms of diversity to inform their experiences and development at school.


Promote interdisciplinary and project-based learning that stimulates curiosity and allows students to explore links between subjects and apply knowledge in authentic ways. The shift away from a regimented subject-focused curriculum in alternative schools seemed to create school climates that promoted more authentic learning and more respectful student community. Educators who worked in schools promoting interdisciplinarity described more collegial and respectful interactions amongst students and faculty. This is likely due to the interdependence that can be fostered when learning is seen as connected and everyones knowledge is held to be valuable and meaningful.


Model and promote creativity. Find ways to embed arts across the curriculum and recognize and celebrate creative thinking, expression, and performance. Educators who worked in schools with an emphasis on the arts often described transgender and gender-creative students who thrived in these spaces. When schools place value on artistic and creative thinking and expression, students may learn to appreciate divergent thinking, to see value in the visual and performing arts, and respect creative differences along with other forms of diversity.


Establish restorative justice programs to empower youth-led behavioral interventions and dialogue as opposed to staff-led punitive disciplinary measures. The examples of restorative justice interventions described above illustrate what can happen when students are empowered and supported by adults to listen to each other and learn alongside one another. Misbehavior is less likely to recur when students experience authentic consequences and really learn from the impact of their actions. Restorative justice programs are designed to allow these forms of development and learning to occur in structured and systematic ways (Ahmed & Braithwaite, 2012; Cavanagh, Vigil, & Garcia, 2014; Morrison & Vaandering, 2012).


Reduce or entirely remove sex-segregated activities and spaces. Create other ways for students to organize themselves and the spaces where they need privacy. Consider designating an all-gender washroom, establishing changing rooms that allow for individual privacy and group safety, and organizing students or resources by interest (e.g., ice cream flavors, favorite cartoon character, birth month, hobbies, etc.) instead of by gender.


Integrate discussions of gender diversity as a social justice issue throughout the curriculum. Educators across multiple grade-levels who reported the occurrence of intentional lessons on gender diversity as a social justice issue described school climates more affirming of all forms of diversity and specifically that of transgender and gender-creative students.

These suggestions mark our studys departure from what is currently found in the literature on supporting transgender and gender-creative students, particularly because we are not calling for more professional development on LGBTQ issues, more out LGBTQ teachers, or more Gay-Straight Alliances in schools. Although these efforts may render spaces more welcoming of transgender and gender-creative youthand have been successful in this regard in some schoolswe are arguing for a deeper paradigm shift towards applying queer and anti-oppressive pedagogies in Pre-k12 schools. Although the best practices section outlines supportive changes that include policy reform and implementation, professional development, and other institutional supports, these recommendations are not novel in the literature. Our participants tell us that if we can transform the rigid structures of how the institution of school is structured, how learning is measured and evaluated, how youth are involved in decision-making and how curriculum is conceptualized and developed, schools can become places of peace, curiosity and healthy holistic development for all children and youth. Queer pedagogy advocates for a shift away from the Cartesian mind-body, arts-science split that reinforces binary thinking of all kindsincluding but not limited to gender-normalizationand a move toward more fluid, creative, anti-oppressive and student-empowered learning environments.

Although these recommendations may be challenging and even unpopular in our current educational and political climate, it is our hope that with the new data we are presenting we may be able to spark a revolution in the way we think about and approach ways to better support transgender and gender-creative students. We want to continue pushing people to think beyond these children and youth as the site of the problem and rather focus on oppressive and confining institutional structures and discourses, in order to design spaces where the creativity and diversity of all students is recognized and affirmed.


1. Although this data was collected in primary schools in the United States, comparisons of GLSENs secondary school data with EGALEs secondary school data indicate that the culture in U.S. schools with regards to gender and sexual diversity is similar to that in Canadian schools. Therefore the findings from this study should benefit educators working in U.S. contexts as well as Canadian contexts.

2. The participant from Nova Scotia responded to the recruiting calls that were focused in the three provinces of the study (British Columbia, Ontario, and Québec). We did not place geographic restrictions on participation, but this was the only participant who responded to the call from outside our targeted regions.

3. The student Connie is describing transitioned from male to female during grade 11; however, Connie still used male pronouns to refer to her. This is a common challenge for educators working with transgender and gender-creative youth, so we have not altered the pronouns from the interview transcript.

4. This student also transitioned from male-to-female, however, Gawain continued using male pronouns when speaking about his experiences working with her.

5. We have chosen to use the concept of ethnocentrism and not racism to describe certain attitudes expressed by White educators in the present study. While these two phenomena are certainly related and can often have similar effects, we hope to pick up on and explore how particularly White, Western, and Eurocentric ways of thinking about gender and sexual diversityand diversity acceptancemay take shape in our data. The concept of ethnocentrism has been productively used to trouble how Western (and largely white) norms of gender and sexual diversity become exported and generalized (see Collins & Talcott, 2011; Manalansan, 2003; Puar, 2001, 2006; Wilson, 2006), including under the rubric of homonationalism (Puar, 2007; for uses of this concept in educational scholarship, see Sykes, 2011).

6. For example, at least one study (Jackson & King, 2004) has identified the influence of gender norms on teacher diagnoses of children as having either Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) or Oppositional Defiance Disorder (ODD). The authors found that boys and girls coached to display the same ADHD- or ODD-characteristic behaviors (according to diagnostic criteria) were given different labels that eerily reflect pervasive stereotypes about normal and abnormal boy and girl behavior: "the boy actor exhibiting oppositional behavior received teacher ratings of hyperactivity and inattention that were roughly half of those elicited by his portrayal of ADHD itself. The girl actor portraying ADHD generated oppositional defiant ratings that were roughly two thirds of those elicited from her performance as a child with ODD (p. 215).


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Participants will not be shown this guide; it is merely a tool to help shape each interview which will be conducted by the researcher or a trained research assistant. You should schedule 7590 minutes for the meeting. If you feel like you need more time, stop the interview with 15 minutes left and ask if the participant would be willing to meet for a 2nd follow up interview. Be sure to complete the demographics form at the end of the first interview.

START OF MEETING: (10 minutes)


Introduce self


Present and discuss consent form


Answer any questions about the project


Test audio recorder; extra batteries


Have demographics form ready to complete at the end of the interview


Begin recording


State date and time of interview. Start interview

INTERVIEW: (6075 minutes)



Can you start by describing your current job title and responsibilities in your current position? (Official title and responsibilities)


Can you tell me a bit about your formal training: where you studied, when you got your degree and how long ago you completed your schooling?


What motivated you to choose education as your profession?



We would like to get a feel for the current school that you are working in. How would you describe to a new family may be enrolling their child there next year? (demographics, academic focus, neighborhood, etc.)


Is there anything about this school that you feel makes it different from other schools or places youve worked?


Could you list some of the core values of this school community?


What do you enjoy about working at this school? What are some challenges about working at this school?

SEGUE: As you know, you were asked to participate in this study because you have specific knowledge and experience working with gender-creative or transgender students in the school setting. For the purposes of this study, we are using these terms to describe any child whose behavior does not match the stereotypes for their sex assigned at birth, or who identifies with a gender different from their sex assigned at birth. The next series of questions will ask you to reflect specifically on those experiences.

GCK Children & Youth


During your career, can you estimate how many children you have worked directly with who might fit that description?


How recently have you worked with a GCK or trans student?


Can you tell us how teaching a GCK or trans student has been different for you as an educator? (the following set of questions are possible prompts or probes for Q8)


Can you talk about the moment you first learned or realized that you had a student who was gender creative or transgender?


Possible prompts: how did you find out? How did you know? Who told you? How did they tell you? What behaviors had you observed?


What was your first reaction to learning about the gender creative/transgender child at your school? Please be as honest as possible it is normal to have a wide range of responses to this information.


Once you knew you were working with a student who was gender creative or transgender, did you do anything differently? If so, what?


Possible prompts: Did you discuss this student with colleagues? Did you do any outside research or seek out resources or professional development? Did you communicate with the family?


Did you work with students differently when this child was in your class/school?


Possible TEACHER prompts: use of pronouns? Lining up students by gender? Did it influence class activities, stories read, or other curriculum choices?


Possible COUNSELOR/ADMIN prompts: offer training on gender issues? Talk to students and faculty about bullying? Provide different support and communications to family members?


Were there any unique challenges you experienced while working with this child?


Possible prompts: What about&


other students responses,


other families responses,


colleagues responses,


school policies,




community issues,


washrooms, PE class, dress codes, discipline issues etc.,


communication with the family/parents;


getting professional support from your school or school board


Can you describe an incident where you recall you had a difficult time finding an appropriate response to a situation when working with this student and their peers/family members/teachers?


Research tells us that gender non-conforming youth are often targeted for forms of bullying in schools including: exclusion, name-calling, teasing, or physical harassment. Can you talk about any times you may have witnessed this happening? What happened? How did you or the school respond?


Did anything about your approach to teaching or working with families change as a result of working with gender nonconforming youth?



Can you think about a moment or an event that you remember where this child was explicitly included or affirmed by the school environment or their peers? How was this different from their everyday experiences in school?


In what ways did you personally work to ensure that gender nonconforming children were fully included in the life of the class?


What were some of the challenges you experienced trying to ensure that these children were fully included?


In what ways did your school/daycare work to ensure that gender nonconforming children were fully included and/or not targeted for harassment?


Such as: revising policies, holding community education events, professional development for staff, revised curriculum, collaboration with colleagues, consulting with experts


What changes do you think could be made at the school, school board, or provincial level to make schools more inclusive?



If you knew you had another student joining your school/class next year who was also transgender or gender creative, what would you do to prepare?


What advice would you give another colleague who may work with this child, or another trans/gender creative student?


What other thoughts or questions do you have about gender roles and stereotypes or talking about these topics in the early childhood/elementary education classroom?

END OF INTERVIEW: (10 minutes)


Turn off recorder


Complete demographics form together


Discuss and schedule follow up meeting if necessary


Explain member check will send you transcript for your review


Review consent


Thank participant


Participant ID: _____________

Date of Interview: ______________

Preferred pseudonym: __________________ Interviewer Name: _____________________

Professional Information:

1) Current position: ______________________________ 2) Years in this position: _____

3) School: _______________________________________ 4) Years at this school: _______

5) School Board: _________________________________

5a) Other schools/school boards youve worked in: ___________________________________________

6) Total years of classroom teaching: _______7) Total years as an administrator/counselor:  _______

8) Grades taught (circle all that apply if applicable):

early childhood (ages 35)

early elementary (K3)

upper elementary (46)




9) Subjects taught: _________________________________________________________

10) Family Status:




In a relationship


Common law partners








Children living with you


# _______



Children living elsewhere


 # _______


11) Highest Level of Education Completed:


Bachelors completed


Bachelors + some graduate work





Masters + additional course work



Date completed: ____________

12) Household Income:


less than 15,000











How do you identify?


1) Man

2) Woman

3) Transgender



14)Ethnic Background:___________________________ 15) Religious affiliation: ___________________

16)Citizenship status:

17) Language:

1) permanent resident/non-citizen

1) Native tongue _____________

2) 1st generation Canadian citizen

2) 2nd language learned _______ fluency:

3) 2nd generation Canadian citizen

3) 3rd language learned _______ fluency:

4) 3rd generation Canadian citizen

4) others spoken __________________

5) 4th generation +

18) Sexual Orientation: _________________________

19) How out are you at school? (If you identify as LGBT, how many people are aware of this identity?)







actively conceal

      not hiding/not out

    out to few

  out to colleagues only

      out to all


Challenges: examples of difficulties faced when discussing or addressing gender diversity in schools

Culture: any mention of multiculturalism, race, ethnicity or cultural influences (A 678-90, 1082-90); Ethnicity = mentions of issues related to ethnicity (J 1116-26) (G 45-49, 55, 704-22, 822-7, 844-55); Race = discussion of race, skin color, physical features (Athena 1227-33, 1237-1258) instances of the word (A 1434-7); Religion = any discussion of faith, religion, or spirituality (Athena 593-596, 107-110, 170-7, 629-34, 678-90, 769-85, 953-7) (J 709-49) (G 45); School culture

GCK/Trans: any mention of a student who is gender creative or transgender or examples of gender creative behaviors by any student

Gender: any description of gender including: stereotypicality, ambiguity, femininity, masculinity, pronouns, transitions, etc.

Identity: any mention or discussion of searching for, questioning, or embracing identity by teacher, student, or anyone else (Athena= 344-8, 415-56, 436-438, 716-720, 727-34) (J 1376-93) (G 158-161, 704-22) (A 727-34, 754-61)

LGBTQ: mentions of links to LGBTQ students, community, culture; discussion of students revealing their LGBTQ identity to anyone (Athena 803-805)

Parents/Family: any mention of interactions with or descriptions/perceptions of parents and other family members (Athena 334-55, 441-456, 525-531, 520-31, 546-62, 769-85, 830-4, 932-40, 1316-26, 1361-70) (J 475-510) (G 242-70, 375-85, 403-14, 538-46, 587-9, 723-734)

Sexuality: any discussion of sexual orientation, identity, or behavior


asexuality (A 320-7, 715-22, 1013-5, 1019-21, 1171-80)


Sex ed = references to sexuality education (A 134-56, 1310-43)


Sexual orientation = specific discussion of gender of attraction or mention of sexual orientation (A 979-98) (J 414-417, 1387-93) (G 692-701)

Significant Statements: statements about how individuals are experiencing the topic and treats each statement as having equal worth, and works to develop a list of nonrepetitive, nonoverlapping statements. (Creswell, 2013, 193)

Strategies/Solutions: examples of successful responses to potentially difficult situations

Teaching: teachers description of their professional history (education, training, career path) & job responsibilities; any discussion of the teaching profession & issues of professionalism; roles they took on in their school; encounters with colleagues, etc. (Athena 514-531) (J 4-7)

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 118 Number 8, 2016, p. 1-50
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 21368, Date Accessed: 10/23/2021 7:17:04 PM

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About the Author
  • Elizabeth J. Meyer
    University of Colorado, Boulder
    E-mail Author
    ELIZABETH J. MEYER is the Associate Dean of Teacher Education and an Associate Professor of Educational Foundations, Policy & Practice at the School of Education at the University of Colorado, Boulder. She is the author of Gender, Bullying, and Harassment: Strategies to End Sexism and Homophobia in Schools (Teachers College Press, 2009) and Gender and Sexual Diversity in Schools (Springer, 2010). She completed her M.A. at the University of Colorado, Boulder and Ph.D at McGill University in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. Her research has been published in academic journals such as: Gender and Education; Journal of Educational Psychology; McGill Journal of Education; The Clearinghouse; Computers and Education; Technology, Pedagogy and Education; and The Journal of LGBT Youth. She blogs for Psychology Today and is also on Twitter: @lizjmeyer.
  • Anika Tilland-Stafford
    Simon Fraser University
    E-mail Author
    ANIKA TILLAND-STAFFORD's research focuses on children and gender justice and spans sociological and historical methods. She is the author of, Is it Still a Boy? Heteronormativity in Kindergarten (2016) and co-editor of the forthcoming anthology, Constructions of Risk: the Production of “At Risk” Bodies and Populations in Health, Education, and Community Services (2015). Her article “Departing Shame: Feinberg and Queer/Transgender Counter-cultural Remembering,” published with the Journal of Gender Studies, was selected as one of the top ten contributions to the journal’s history. She completed her PhD with the Institute for Gender, Race, Sexuality, and Social Justice at the University of British Columbia. She is currently affiliated with the Department of History at Simon Fraser University as a SSHRC postdoctoral researcher on crossovers between children’s welfare, recreational programming, and psychiatrization of mother’s sexualities in Cold War Vancouver.
  • Lee Airton
    University of Toronto
    E-mail Author
    LEE AIRTON is an instructor and visiting scholar at the Centre for Urban Schooling at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto. They received their Ph.D. in 2014 from York University in Toronto, Canada, and their dissertation used affect and assemblage theories to propose a new model of theory-to-practice connection for social justice teacher education. Dr. Airton's additional publications on gender and sexual diversity issues in education have appeared in Sex Education and Curriculum Inquiry.
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