Best Practices to Support Transgender and Other Gender-Nonconforming Students

by Genny Beemyn

Add the Phrase “Gender Identity or Expression” to the Institution’s Nondiscrimination Policy

College nondiscrimination policies include “sex” and often “sexual orientation” as protected categories. The reference to “sex” in such policies has historically not been considered to apply to transgender people. Likewise, “sexual orientation” does not necessarily cover transgender people, who encounter discrimination because of their gender identity and expression, rather than their sexual identity. Having a transgender-inclusive nondiscrimination policy gives legal recourse to students who experience discrimination because they are (or are perceived) as transgender and indicates to all students that anti-transgender discrimination will not be tolerated.

Ask “Gender Identity” on College Forms and Surveys

Increasingly, college and university students are identifying as transgender, but do not have the ability to indicate this identity on admission forms or other institutional documents. As a result, they do not feel welcomed or included, and institutions remain unaware of the presence and needs of these students.

When asking “gender” on forms and surveys, use the following format:
Gender Identity (select all that apply):
__ Woman
__ Man
__ Transgender
__ Another identity (please specify______________)

If you must legally ask “sex: female or male,” also ask “gender identity” as stated above.

Enable Students to Use a Preferred Name on Campus Records and Documents

Revise software and processes to allow students who have not legally changed their names to have a preferred first name on course and grade rosters, online directory listings, identification cards, and other institutional records and documents. Otherwise, students may be outed as transgender when an instructor takes attendance or when someone sees their student identification card or looks them up in the college’s online directory.

Enable Students to Change Their Gender on Campus Records and Documents 

Create a process by which students can change the gender on their campus records upon the request of the students or with only a letter of support from a licensed mental health or medical professional. This process means:
— Students are not required to have changed the gender on their birth certificate or driver’s license prior to changing campus records.
— Students do not have to produce proof that they have modified their body.

Having this policy is important because states often require evidence of gender confirmation surgery before changing legal documents, and several states refuse to reissue birth certificates. Moreover, many people transition without undergoing surgery, because they cannot afford to do so, are not satisfied with the aesthetic results, or just do not see the need. In addition, some individuals have to wait to revise documents because of legal and medical concerns. Requiring a changed birth certificate or driver’s license places an undue, unnecessary, and sometimes impossible burden on students to be fully recognized and acknowledged by the institution.

Offer Gender-Inclusive Housing

Gender-neutral or gender-inclusive housing enables two or more students to share a multiple-occupancy room, suite, or apartment, in mutual agreement, regardless of the students’ sex or gender identity. Although many students may take advantage of this housing option, it is particularly beneficial to students who identify as transgender, who are questioning their gender identity, or who do not wish to classify their gender. Gender-inclusive housing should be open to both incoming and returning students and be available in different areas of campus and in a range of different types of housing. Gender-inclusive bathrooms/shower rooms (either single- or multiple-user) should be readily available to the individuals in gender-inclusive housing.

Provide Gender-Inclusive Bathrooms

Gender-neutral or gender-inclusive bathrooms are single- or multiple-stall restrooms that are open to people of all genders. Colleges and universities should create at least one gender-inclusive restroom in each campus building by changing the signage on existing men’s and women’s restrooms and require all newly constructed buildings to include at least one gender-inclusive restroom. To protect the rights of transgender people in women’s and men’s bathrooms, institutions should also adopt a policy that enables students to use the campus restrooms that are in keeping with their gender identity and expression. The University of Arizona has a model policy related to restroom access.

Enable Insurance Coverage for Transsexual-Related Psychotherapy, Hormone Replacement Therapy, and Gender Confirmation Surgeries

Transsexual students often seek to transition during their college years, but many are unable to do so because the expenses are not covered under student health insurance. Colleges and universities should remove the clause that insurance companies regularly include in their exemptions that denies coverage for transsexual-related medical care. The institutions that have done so report that there is no or only a minimal additional cost.

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