Fostering Inclusive School Environments for Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming Students

Chicago Public Schools

Chicago Public Schools created gender-affirming guidelines, resources, and training to build safe and supportive learning environments for transgender, non-binary, and gender non-conforming students.

In Chicago Public Schools, more than 2% of high school students and 1% of middle school students identify as transgender. Transgender and gender non-conforming youth are more likely to be bullied at school, use substances, and have poor mental health. Safe and supportive school environments protect against these negative outcomes for all youth, especially transgender youth.

To improve support for transgender, non-binary, and gender non-conforming students, Chicago Public Schools was among the first large school districts in the nation to release guidelines outlining gender-affirming protocols and policies in schools. The guidelines describe ways that schools are expected to create safe and supportive spaces for all students, such as ensuring they are protected from bullying and discrimination and establishing their right to privacy, open expression of their gender identity, and to be addressed by their affirmed name and pronouns.

Young diverse people having fun at LGBT pride parade

Chicago Public Schools also provided a toolkit with resources to support gender diversity in schools and held training for all school staff to help schools implement the guidelines. In the 2020-2021 school year, all 40,000 school staff attended professional development on supporting transgender, non-binary, and gender non-conforming students.

School-based policies and practices that are designed to support LGBTQ youth increase students’ feelings of being cared for, supported, and belonging. These feelings of connectedness have long-lasting positive effects on adolescents’ health and well-being into adulthood. By putting LGBTQ-supportive policies and practices in place, Chicago Public Schools is creating environments where all youth across the district can thrive.

Chicago Public Schools’ Chief Executive Officer at the time of implementation, Dr. Janice K. Jackson, sums up the importance of this work, “School districts must support the unique needs and experiences of transgender students, and as a district, we are unwavering in our commitment to promoting safe and inclusive schools. Our guidelines and policies are centered on our commitment to fostering healthy and supportive learning opportunities across the district so that each of our students can reach their full potential.”