As school districts plan what back-to-school time will look like during the COVID-19 pandemic, the start of the school year is bringing on many mixed emotions for students, especially for transgender and gender diverse youth.
For some, school can be a stable and supportive environment, but for others, it can be anxiety-provoking and discouraging. Extracurricular activities and in-person classes may be limited, making it hard for youth to find time to be with their friends and support systems outside of the home. This can have a huge impact on their well-being.
How does COVID-19 affect LGBTQ+ youth, particularly transgender and gender-diverse touth differently?
The social isolation that results from being at home and lack of connection to friends and other important figures is stressful, particularly if their families are not supportive of their identities. About 50-60 percent of LGBTQ+ youth don’t feel supported by families in their identities, and they may hear negative comments about their identities in their homes. LGBTQ+ youth who are highly rejected by their families are 8 times more likely to have attempted suicide, whereas the risk is significantly decreased when parents and families are supportive.
It is extremely important for youth to have supportive adults at home and school. Make sure to tell the young people in your life that they are amazing and that you support them. Support from their peers, families and community can make a world of difference for LGBTQ+ kids.
Transgender youth are nearly four times as likely to experience depression than their non-gender peers according to one study (Reisner 2015). Social isolation can make it even more difficult. If you think your child is experiencing anxiety or depression related to back-to-school time or COVID-19, our behavioral health professionals are ready to help.
Children’s Minnesota is a resource for your family during times of transition. Our Gender Health program is an exclusively pediatric, multidisciplinary program providing compassionate and comprehensive care for transgender and gender-diverse youth. Our board-certified pediatricians, pediatric gynecologists and pediatric endocrinologists are dedicated to serving as essential medical partners for kids and families along their journey. Call us at 612-813-7950 to make an appointment.
Tips to help transgender and gender diverse youth go back to school
The following tips can help parents, school staff, school administrators and allies support LGBTQ+ students at their schools as they return to a new school year—whether that’s in-person or distance-learning.
Let your child lead the way
The beginning of the school year tends to be a time when kids come out. It’s important to remember that it’s always the child’s decision to take this step. The school may not disclose your child’s gender identity without their consent, and schools are responsible for keeping information private.
Find a trusted person at school
If your child’s school will have in-person classes, try to help them connect with someone at school who affirms their identity and will advocate for them. This could be a counselor, social worker, coach or school nurse.
Model and advocate for inclusive speech
Even when at home, avoid using binary terms such as “boys and girls” and instead use “you all,” “everyone” or “folks.”
Showing up as your authentic self requires bravery and resilience, especially for gender-diverse and transgender youth. Celebrate the children in your life who are making brave efforts to be who they are.
Tell teachers and school staff your child’s name and pronouns ahead of time
If your child wants to use a preferred name and/or pronoun, it may be helpful to communicate with administrators and teachers before school starts. Ask if your school has an official form that you can fill out to designate name and pronoun changes.
Ask what your school is doing to create a gender inclusive environment
Many schools have a Gender Inclusion Policy that outlines practices and policies regarding the use of preferred names and pronouns, avoidance of grouping or excluding based on gender, and students’ right to use bathrooms that are consistent with their identified gender rather than their assigned sex.
Advocate for inclusive curriculum
Ask the school how their curriculum avoids bias and portrays LGBTQ+ people, history and events positively. This helps increase understanding and acceptance, as well as validating the experience and identities of LGBTQ+ people.