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Association of California School Administrators
Association of California School Administrators
LGBTQ+ policy, advocacy and action
How educational leaders can meet student needs
By Natasha Neumann | March | April 2022
As educational leaders, we advocate for all of our students, every single one. This is our charge as public servants and stewards of the safety, well-being and educational development of our students and even their families. The objective of this article is to not only celebrate diverse learning communities and how we, as educational leaders, can promote information and advocacy to ensure all learners feel safe and welcome at their school sites and within their communities, it is also to provide readers with a general understanding of terms, policy and history in order to better advocate and act on behalf of students who identify as LGBTQ+ or are growing into their own awareness of themselves and seek a knowledgeable, caring adult for guidance. Oftentimes, school age students turn to teachers and administrators for support. We must be equipped and ready to provide support. Hopefully, by the time you finish this article, you will take with you positive thoughts and valuable information and be inspired to move forward with the message of equity in education.

Let’s Talk Terms
Before we dive deeper into how to be an advocate and an ally for students who identify as LGBTQ+, an understanding of terms is helpful to engage in conversation. The author encourages the reader to view themselves as a learner in order to be an advocate. LGBTQ+ includes everyone on the sexual orientation and gender identity spectrum. Language is evolving in real time and there is no one way to be non-binary, just like there are many ways to be transgender.
Lesbian: a person who identifies as a woman and is romantically or sexually attracted to women
Gay: a person who identifies as a man and is romantically or sexually attracted to men; gay can also be an umbrella term and might be used by any person on the LGBTQ+ spectrum
Bisexual: a person of any gender who is romantically or sexually attracted to men and women
Transgender or Trans: defined in greater detail later in this article
Queer and Questioning: defined in greater detail later in this article
+ Plus: The plus sign at the end of LGBTQ+ is representative of fluid, non-conforming to defined identities and is not reductionist, rather the plus stands for an expansive nature of sexuality and gender (Wheeler, 2021).
In the LGBTQ+ abbreviation, LGB are sexual orientations, while TQ are gender identities, and +Plus are additional gender identities which include gender non-conforming, gender expansive, and non-binary although they are not stated in the abbreviation.
The Gender Binary is the dominant view model in our society. Upon birth, the first question asked about the baby supports the claim that we live in a Gender Binary dominant world, “Is the baby a boy or a girl?” From this first question, we presume gender: boy or girl. For most people, this is where the gender discussion begins and ends and is also why the gender binary model persists. For many, the Gender Binary suffices as babies grow into a world designed simply around this genitalia-based, binary model. The binary model acknowledges that a person is either labeled as a boy/man or girl/woman. When a person identifies with the sex they were assigned at birth, they can be referred to as cisgender from the Latin prefix “cis” – on the same side. A person assigned female at birth and identifies as a girl/woman may say she is a cisgender woman and likewise a person assigned male at birth and identifies as a boy/man may refer to himself as a cisgender guy or cis.
The gender binary is one model for describing gender and is not consistent with the experiences of many people. We can begin to better support students and adults in our educational communities by recognizing the dominant gender binary is not the only experience. When a person does not identify with their assigned sex at birth, they might use the term transgender. Here the prefix trans means across from indicating a person’s identity and sex assignment at birth are not on the same side. When transgender is used in a binary way, a person may describe themself as a transgender woman or a trans guy or simply trans.
Continuing with the gender binary, if we think about female bodies on one side and male bodies on another, there is a spectrum in between, which brings us to the term, “intersex.” At this anatomical level, the binary doesn’t always fit as bodies aren’t always born in solely two types. Intersex bodies differ from male or female bodies as they have natural differences in genitalia, chromosomes, gonads, sex hormones, hormone production and response, and/or secondary sex traits such as how body hair grows. Intersex conditions are additional examples of how the gender binary does not apply to all individuals. Similar to the body and feelings about identity, gender identity is determined by each individual. The gender binary is not inclusive of everyone’s experience and while most people have the privilege of not thinking too much about their gender identity, many feel an identity that does not conform to the cisgender experience.
With an understanding of the gender binary, we move to non-binary gender terms such as genderqueer or gender non-conforming: GNC, androgynous: both male and female gender identity, agender: neutral or unrecognized gender identity, genderfluid: gender identity changes over time, and culture specific terms like two spirit and third gender. The similarity in the terms above demonstrate a sense of self and identity not represented in the strict binary language of female and male. When an individual uses one of the terms above, and you do not want to assume you understand the meaning, you can say, “I don’t want to make any assumptions, so can you help me understand how you are using the term ___?” You could also say, “I have a general understanding of the word to mean, ___; is that how you are using the term?”
Queer and Questioning, according to Wheeler (2021) “means to reimagine possibility while deconstructing heteronormative and cisgender norms.” While Queer is also used as a noun to describe underrepresented genders and sexualities broadly, it is also regarded as a pejorative term by some within the LGBTQ+ community based in historical pejorative use of the word. Some members of the LGBTQ+ communities have reclaimed Queer as an empowering word.
As educators in California, we work mostly with students under the age of 18, and it is important to consider what the American Academy of Pediatrics shared in 2019: “By age four, most children have a stable sense of their gender identity.” Take a moment and think about your own sense of gender identity. Think about your own age when you realized your own gender. How did you know? What messages did you receive about the clothes you wore and the toys you played with? How did people around you respond to your sense of gender?
Three essential thoughts to consider on dimensions of gender:
1. A person’s experience of gender is informed by three dimensions:
a. Body: our anatomy and our own experiences of our own body, how society genders bodies, and how others interact with us based on our body b. Gender Identity: internally and deeply held sense of self, the name that best captures it and that we use to convey our gender to others c. Social: how we present our gender in the world, how society, culture, community, and family perceive, interact with, and try to shape our gender
2. Each dimension is a spectrum.
3. Gender is different than sexual orientation (Westheimer, 2018).
Now think about a young person navigating these three dimensions and how challenging it may be as individuals intersect with what society says and what they as individuals feel. As an educational leader, how can you create a safe space for students?
Pronouns and Why They Matter
As the article establishes, the gender binary does not work for everyone, and this is one of the reasons why the use of pronouns matters. For someone who identifies as non-binary, the use of they/them pronouns can be a non-binary alternative. The use of they/them to refer to a single person is quite common. In order to find out the name and gender pronouns a person uses, you can simply ask, and introduce yourself with your own name and pronouns. Asking is a great way to be inclusive and welcome the conversation about pronouns. Take care to not ask what a person’s preferred pronouns are as this implies a choice, for you, the speaker to make. As you strive to be inclusive, think about the use of gender pronouns on paperwork and consider using gender neutral language such as this/that person as well as using the singular they/them/their pronoun. What can I do if I make a mistake with a person’s pronouns? Correct yourself and move on with the conversation. Don’t apologize profusely, don’t mention how difficult it is for you, don’t assume they didn’t notice it, don’t assure them you are supportive but need more time to feel comfortable using their name and pronoun, or don’t argue that ’they’ is plural.
Policy and History
The following is an overview of Federal and California State Laws providing legal protections for LGBTQ+ Youth in Schools:
  • 1972: Title IX
  • 2000: California Student Safety and Violence Prevention
  • 2007: Safe Place to Learn Act (AB 394) & The Student Civil Rights Act (AB 14)
  • 2011: Fair, Accurate, Inclusive, and Respectful (FAIR Education Act)
  • 2011: Seth’s Law (AB 9)
  • 2014: School Success and Opportunity Act (AB 1266)
  • 2015: California Healthy Youth Act
  • 2016: Suicide Prevention Policies in Schools
  • 2018: Gender Recognition Act (SB 179)
The list above is meant to be a reference for educators to refer to and understand the protections afforded to students. Here are a few noteworthy highlights:
  • Title IX is not just about athletics, and forbids sex discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance, is enforceable through an implied private right of action.
  • The FAIR Education Act of 2011 requires that California K-12 schools provide Fair, Accurate, Inclusive and Respectful representations of people with disabilities, people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender Americans, and other ethnic and cultural groups in history and social studies curriculum.
  • Seth’s Law of 2011 requires public schools in California to update their anti-bullying policies and programs to include explicit protections from bullying and harassment based on race, ethnicity, religion, ability, sexual orientation, and gender identity or expression as well as requiring reporting and swift responses to reported incidents.
This brief description of law and policy is meant to provoke thought and reflection about where your school site or district understanding currently rests in relation to what you have just read. The references list provides links to further explanation of policy, law and history. What steps can you take to foster discussion and action in light of law and policy in place to protect LGBTQ+ students?
The safety and well-being, both physical and mental, of our students are at stake. Our role as educators and leaders is to advocate for and ensure every single student feels safe and secure on campus and beyond.
Advocacy, Action and Application
There are many visible strategies and steps you can take to be an ally and be affirming for students and adults on campus. First, respectful language as well as a respect for privacy can invite conversation. Use affirming names and pronouns. An affirmed name is one chosen by the individual to use instead of their legal name. Consider using the word updated in the place of preferred when referring to a name transition. Words matter. Affirming and inclusive spaces can be created with signage, stickers in windows, buttons on backpacks and clothing, as well as explicit displays supporting LGBTQ+ people. Additionally, the display of TGNC (trans, gender non-conforming) and LGBTQ magazines signal an affirming space. Take a moment to think about what is visible, or not visible, in your educational space. Where are your pronouns located? In your email signature? In your Zoom name? What does your school and district web page look like?
Finally, as you think about your context and school climate, be proactive and consider the 5 Ps.

  1. Policies: What is the universal agreement among staff about equity and supporting LGBTQ+ families?
  2. Place/Space: Put a rainbow flag or safe space symbol in your office or Zoom background. Allow student clubs that specifically support LGBTQ+ individuals. Some students call theirs GSA (Gender & Sexualities Alliance).
  3. Power of Presence: Meet your LGBTQ students and ask them to share what makes them feel safe at school.
  4. Participate: Learn more and convene conversations about supporting LGBTQ+ families and cultivating a more inclusive school climate.
  5. Promote: Inclusive and equitable schools every day – your words and actions have a strong impact! (Darrow, 2021)
The safety and well-being, both physical and mental, of our students are at stake. Our role as educators and leaders is to advocate for and ensure every single student feels safe and secure on campus and beyond. Through our own education and inquiry about how to foster welcoming environments for LGBTQ+ students, we can begin to shift campus and community cultures. A safe space is only the beginning of inclusion.
Credits and Thank You
The objectives of the article include increasing awareness, decreasing prejudice, and building skills for educational leaders to facilitate conversations around fostering inclusive spaces for all students and staff.
The author hopes you have learned something new and feel comfortable after reading the article with basic gender concepts and terms. Hopefully, the reader has picked up a few strategies to be affirming for all genders, including transgender and non-binary individuals.
While the author does not consider herself an expert in the spectrum of LGBTQ+ individuals, she does strive to learn, share and advocate for inclusive school settings. She continues to share her understanding and experience as she encounters school leaders who may not feel comfortable or knowledgeable with terms and policies around LGBTQ+ students and staff.
As terms and definitions evolve, the author strives to stay up to date and inclusive, so please share with the author if you have different definitions or understandings of terms and policies discussed in the article.

Natasha Neumann (she, her, hers) is an Assistant Professor at California Polytechnic State University San Luis Obispo.
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