As there is growing attention to gender-based issues in schools such as gender-based bullying, victimization, and harassment, the solutions to address these issues are also being more concentrated than before. The Human Right Campaign Foundation (HRC), the first gay and lesbian political action committee in the United States, is also paying attention to these solutions. Among their actions, “welcoming schools” project is significantly focusing on the gender-based issues in school. “Welcoming Schools” project is the nation’s premier professional development project providing training and resources to elementary school educators to welcome diverse families, create LGBTQ and gender inclusive schools, prevent bias-based bullying, and support transgender and non-binary students (“Welcoming Schools” n.d.). Among several programs of this project, “Developing a Gender Inclusive School” program1 will be the main focus in this text. The aim of the program is to create schools that nurture academic achievement, provide physical and emotional safety and welcome all students by reducing gender role stereotyping and allowing them to express their interests and find confidence in their strengths.
The target population for this program is the LGBTQ students, gender nonconforming students, and sexual minority students, especially in the US schools. In order to implement this program, HRC has three form of approaches which are structural approaches, relational approaches, and instructional approaches. In this text, the crucial of those approaches in implementing the program will be widely criticized based on the scholars’ researches and recommendations, and own argumentations. After that, the testing of the programs and its outcomes will be discussed.
1) Structural Approaches
Structural approaches contain professional development for staff, policies or administrative regulations, student records and student information systems. Professional development for staff is the key point to developing a gender-inclusive school. Teachers and administrators must learn how to develop and maintain a safe learning atmosphere that openly welcomes sexual diversity and foster student comfort in discussing sensitive topics by assessing students’ relevant needs, designing activities that meet these needs and delivering content consistent with community values (Barr et al., 2014; Stufft & Graff, 2011). In addition, it is the responsibility of school administrators to provide the training for school’s staffs that is crucial for teacher preparation and ongoing professional development (Russell, S., et al.(2010)). Teachers may be better prepared to approach the topics of LGBT individual and their families if they received more training that reflects their own experience with diversity(Bishop & Atlas, (2015)). The comprehensive professional development training can lead to reduce the gender role stereotyping and allow the students to express their interests and find confidence in their strengths. Therefore, the comprehensive professional development training is an important approach to create a gender inclusive school that provide safe school climates for every student.
The first step to challenge gender and sexuality norms and promote safe school climates is to enumerated anti-harassment policies and implement policies and procedures to prevent harassment due to LGBT status and gender nonconformity (Russell & McGuire, 2008; Toomey, Ryan, Diaz, Card, & Russell, 2013). For instance, the school policies such as providing gender-neutral bathroom options for students, staff, and teachers and avoiding the use of gendered segregation in practices such as school uniforms, school dances, and extracurricular activities are structural ways to provide safer school environments for gender minority students. (Toomey et al., 2013). So, the policies or the administrative regulations of the schools is also an effective approach in promoting the gender inclusive schools as it can reduce gender role stereotyping in schools.
The other structural approach is student records and information systems. For example, reviewing parent or guardian forms and allowing them to specify their relationship to the child regardless of gender. Many students come from single-parent homes, usually without a father present, or more recently where the guardians are either lesbian or gay. Not knowing your students can have very negative effects on students and can put them in situations that are very uncomfortable (Stufft & Graff, 2011). Moreover, schools should ensure privacy for transgender students. This approach can help students express themselves based on their gender identities and feel safer about their parents and families gender status. Therefore, it can also increase the gender inclusiveness level of the school.
2) Relational approaches
The relational approach has four components which are inclusive messages, Individualized attention, stopping gender-based bullying and teasing, and ensuring good communication with parents and caregivers. Inclusive messages mean using the gender inclusive terms, gender-neutral terms, grouping students the ways that do not rely on the genders in the classroom. Moreover, students also need to exposure to literature that is not only based on heterosexual characters but also based on the world of alternative styles. The schools should also help them to understand that the home, the place where students go after school, may not consist of a mother and a father but could have just one parent or two guardians that are of the same sex. (Stufft & Graff, 2011) Using such kinds of the gender-neutral terms and gender inclusive messages can make children understand about the diversities of gender and accept these diversities. In this way, the gender-based stigma, victimization, bullying, and discrimination can be reduced and the school will be more inclusive.
Individualized attention means let students know that schools see their strengths and appreciate their unique qualities. Schools should also encourage students to find the activities that they enjoy and that respect their interests. Children can develop social connections, well-being and their academic achievements when they feel that schools are supporting their strengths, don’t discriminate based on their genders. This approach allows students to express their interests and finds confidence in their strengths that do not concern with their genders.
Stopping gender-based bullying and teasing is the very crucial approach to provide safe schools for every student. A lack of intervention by school authorities, teachers, and staffs when hearing homophobic remarks in the schools, can lead students to consider that such language is tolerated and the intolerance towards LGBTQ people is acceptable in the school (Russell, S., et al.(2010)). Students feel safer when their teachers intervene to stop harassment (O’Shaughnessy et al., 2004). So, interrupting student comments based on gender stereotypes, and stopping hurtful teasing and bullying based on gender put-downs is a way to reduce the gender role stereotyping in school and it is also essential in implementing safe school climates.
Parents and caregivers are also important for their children growth. Some parents and caregivers may be ashamed of their child’s behavior, and sometimes fear about the future of their children. The parent who is the same sex as the child may question his or her own effectiveness as a role model(NASP, 1999). In this school should also ensuring good communication with parents and caregivers, cooperate with them for students’ well-being and helps them to see the strength of their children.
3) Instructional Approach
Instructional Approach includes lesson plans and classroom activities. One of the school safety strategies is integrating LGBTQ topics into the school curricula (Russell, S., et al. (2010)). A strategy that can contribute to a safe and supportive school climate for LGBTQ students is a curriculum that gives attention to LGBTQ people and issues (Russell et al. 2006). Especially the curriculum should also be the supportive LGBTQ inclusive curricula. The implementing supportive LGBTQ-inclusive curricula have broader implications for school climate that may ride out the negative effects from individual students (Snapp, McGuire, Sinclair, Gabrion, & Russell, 2015). Therefore, the inclusion of the LGBTQ topics in the schools’ lesson plans is also important in implementing the gender inclusive school.
Schools should also provide the classroom activities base on the gender stereotyping. Providing role models through biographies or fictional that show a wide range of occupations and achievements for all genders, for instance, the biography about Emperor Hadrian, Walt Whitman, Countee Cullen, who are gays but have a wide range of achievements. So, students can see that their achievements do not depend on their gender. This can reduce the attitudes of students toward gender role stereotyping and can find confidence in their strengths.
This program is already evaluated and conducted by some scholars. Dr. Laura Szalacha from the University of Illinois at Chicago coordinated the evaluation and conducted the quantitative components. Qualitative evaluation was conducted by a team headed by Dr. Peter Goldblum at the Pacific Graduate School of Psychology, a team headed by Dr. Suzanne Pasch from Wheelock College, and Sheila Moriarty, M.A. Ultimately, the evaluation provided compelling evidence that this program is making a difference in children’s lives and the lives of their families and communities. This program could improve educator knowledge, reduce the teachers’ fears of parent/guardian dissatisfaction, change attitudes surrounding important of discussing LGBT topics, and increase the commitment to address topics of diversity. These are the key significant outcomes of this program base on the evaluations of the scholars as mentioned above.
As mentioned, Developing Gender Inclusive Schools program has a clear objectives, target groups, the comprehensive approaches and also have been tested and the outcomes is also positive effectiveness. Therefore, the conclusions is that this program had and also have the potential to be successful in promoting the gender inclusiveness of the schools. Further, even the program is limited to the elementary schools in U.S, they also have the potential to be successful if it will be applied universally. Most of the arguments in this text are based on the concrete literatures and scientific proofs. Even some own arguments that are not scientific, also reflects crucial approach to increase the inclusiveness level of the schools. To conclude, after criticizing the approaches of this program, review about the testing and its effectiveness, it is clear that this program is a good program, can implemented its designed goals, and have positive effective on the LGBTQ students, gender nonconforming students, and sexual minority students who have been targeted.
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Bishop, C. M., & Atlas, J. G. (2015). School Curriculum, Policies, and Practices Regarding Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Families. Education and Urban Society, 47(7), 766–784. https://doi.org/10.1177/0013124513508580
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Snapp, S. D., McGuire, J. K., Sinclair, K. O., Gabrion, K., & Russell, S. T. (2015). LGBTQ-inclusive curricula: why supportive curricula matter. Sex Education, 15(6), 580–596. https://doi.org/10.1080/14681811.2015.1042573
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Toomey, R. B., Ryan, C., Diaz, R. M., Card, N. A., & Russell, S. T. (2013). Gender-nonconforming lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth: School victimization and young adult psychosocial adjustment. Psychology of Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity, 1(S), 71–80. https://doi.org/10.1037/2329-0382.1.S.71
Welcoming Schools | Welcoming Schools. (n.d.). Retrieved January 25, 2018, from http://www.welcomingschools.org/