Last week the Minnesota Department of Education voted and approved a very specific new toolkit for all public and charter schools. Every school will now be equipped with “tools” to support and empower trans and gender nonconforming students.
The goal is to ensure that these practices are in place for all public and charter schools so that they can put responsibility for a trans-inclusive environment back on the administration, instead of on the students. Far too often we see cases like Gavin Grimm’s where trans and gender nonconforming students are left to advocate and fight for their own rights within the school system. Whether it’s to use the bathroom and locker room of their choice or to ensure that teachers use the correct pronouns, students shouldn’t be going to court over school officials.
OutFront Minnesota has advocated for this toolkit which has over 1,050 parent signatures in support of this action. Though the School Safety Technical Assistance Council, which acts as an advisory council on bullying prevention and intervention efforts, approved the toolkit to go into place it still may be an uphill battle for adoption in schools. Many opponents feel that this will be having teachers inform students about gender and sexuality in inappropriate ways which “undermine” parental authority. Parents who oppose the toolkit showed up to the meeting last Wednesday with signs saying #StopTheToolkit.
“The toolkit is not a requirement, it’s a set of best practices or advice with links and connections with resources as they create policies in their own district,” Josh Collins Director of Communications at Minnesota DoE told GO.
“In our experience, districts are really looking for assistance. Because it’s not something they have to implement, they don’t need to do anything. It’s a resource to use or not use. We have already shared it electronically and hope to build excitement as we get closer to back to school. We have a two day conference where all superintendents and school administrators will have the opportunity to ask questions and learn more about the toolkit. What happens now is just like every other piece of technical support. We go about our business in helping districts add trainings.”
The 11-page toolkit provides resources and guidance on everything from the legal rights of trans and GNC students to how to use gender neutral language. The toolkit provides worksheets such as the “Gender Communication Plan” which empowers students to make decisions for themselves on what pronouns are to be used and who they’d like to know about their transition, as well as involving their parents in the process.
They even go as in depth as to offer alternatives for language around homecoming/prom nominations. “In an effort for inclusivity, schools may wish to consider revisiting existing traditions or establishing new traditions. For example, instead of electing a homecoming king and homecoming queen, some schools have chosen to nominate ‘prom ambassadors,’ ‘homecoming court’ or ‘homecoming royalty,'” writes the Toolkit for Ensuring Safe and Supportive Schools for Transgender and Gender Nonconforming Students.
It’s powerful to see a state taking action against transphobia and giving space for schools to support all of their students in a safe and welcoming environment. Almost 50% of transgender youth have seriously thought about suicide, and 25% reported that they have made a suicide attempt. These staggering numbers are often a symptom of severe bullying in school or lack of parental support in transitioning. OutFront Minnesota advocates call the council’s vote in support of the toolkit a win for LGBTQ youth, stating that this will save lives.
“We have a council that advised us throughout the creation of the toolkit—many students are members of the council, including trans and GNC youth. Through different working groups, we’ve had trans youth and adults, as well as parents of trans and GNC students be a part of this whole process,” Collins said.
This call for action and approval to disseminate formal guidance on trans-affirming environments comes at a time when transgender rights are being blatantly ignored by the white house administration. Shortly after his inauguration, Trump withdrew support for Obama’s federal guidelines and support for trans students to use the bathroom of their choosing. These “bathroom bills” continue to be a hot button topic for many states like Texas, where they continue to push forward on restricting access to facilities for trans and GNC people.
Minnesota DoE in fact makes the opposite decision with this toolkit, using language which empowers schools to enforce a policy where trans and GNC can use the restroom of their choosing. While “any student who wishes not to share a restroom with a transgender or gender nonconforming student can be provided a private space such as a single-user restroom.” This is a huge first step towards standing against transphobia and bullying for LGBTQ students.