Transgender youth face several unique problems caused by the highly gendered societies in which they live. Overall, society in the United States relies on rigorously maintained concepts of gender and gender expression. This creates specific challenges for transgender youth.
- Deliberately incorrect and disrespectful use of names and pronouns—When a transgender youth identifies as a particular gender (irrespective of biological sex), it is respectful to the youth's human dignity to use the name chosen and the pronouns appropriate to that particular gender. To persevere intentionally in the use of a prior name and other pronouns is to be deliberately disrespectful. Transgender youth can understand and sympathize with some confusion, so long as there is continuous, good faith progress in using the proper name and pronouns.
- Lack of access to appropriate restroom facilities—Transgender people often lack safe access to public restrooms. They may be assaulted if they use the restroom that conforms to their gender identity or forced to use a restroom that does not conform to their gender identity.
- Lack of access to appropriate locker room facilities—Transgender people often have no safe access to locker room facilities that conform to their gender identity.
- Rigid dress codes that differ for males and females—Wherever dress codes are enforced, they may create problems for transgender youth.
- Confidentiality—Transgender youth may have unsupportive families and may even face violence and/or ejection from their home if their gender identity or gender expression is disclosed to the family.
- Lack of role models; lack of accurate information—Transgender youth often feel alone in the world. Few programs for youth employ transgender people; few libraries offer information about biological sex and gender, gender identity, or being transgender.
Solutions to the Challenges:
- Names and/or pronouns—Use the name and/or pronouns appropriate to the young person's chosen gender identity. Remember that it is everyone's essential dignity to be called by our chosen name, and it is everyone's right to be recognized as the person we see ourselves to be. Please apologize if you use the wrong pronoun or the wrong name.
- Access to restroom facilities—Educate staff and youth about gender identity. Make sure that everyone understands that transgender youth want to use the restrooms that conform to their gender identity; they have no interest in spying on others using those restrooms. If possible, designate gender-neutral restrooms (toilet facilities that anyone may use, irrespective of gender identity or gender expression).
- Access to locker room facilities—Educate staff and youth about gender identity. Make sure that everyone understands that transgender youth want to use the locker room facilities that conform to their gender identity; they have no interest in spying on others using the locker room.
- Dress code—Make sure that the dress code, if any, in your program respects youth's rights to dress in conformance with their gender identity.
- Confidentiality—Make sure that the program maintains confidentiality with regard to the gender identity, gender expression, sexual orientation, and sexual behavior of all the youth in the program.
- Role models and accurate information—Make sure that everyone in the program is aware that there is great human diversity regarding gender, including male and female certainly, but also going beyond these two genders. Search out transgender support groups and GLBTQ youth-serving organizations in your area. Make sure that these groups and organizations are included on your resource lists. Make sure your resource lists are available to all the youth in the program.
* Adapted with permission from the Transgender Law Center, Transgender and Gender Non-conforming Youth: Recommendations for Schools; San Francisco, CA: The Center, © 2003.
This publication is part of the Creating Safe Space for GLBTQ Youth: A Toolkit.