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How parents and schools can support transgender students

March 17, 2018
an illustration of genders
(Photo: Sudowoodo / Getty Images)
A Stanford psychologist discusses how parents can talk to children about issues of gender and sexuality.

Inge Hansen sat down with Graduate School of Education Dean Dan Schwartz and Senior Lecturer Denise Pope on School’s In to discuss how parents can talk to children about gender identity and the roles of schools in supporting transgender and non-binary students. Hansen is the co-founder and director of the Weiland Health Initiative at Stanford and assistant director of outreach for Stanford’s Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS).

Listen to the full episode at the link below and find more episodes at Stanford Radio. School’s In airs weekends on SiriusXM Insight channel 121.

Interview Highlights

Explaining the Difference Between Sex and Gender

Gender is multiple things and we tend to conflate it into just this one construct where sex and gender are the same thing, and so who you are physically, how you express it, how you understand your gender and your personality behavior and so on, we tend to lump that all together as though it's just this one monolithic concept. And so, what sex you're assigned at birth determines all these different aspects of your identity. But these are separate constructs and your anatomy isn't destiny, unlike what Freud would like to tell us. There are a lot of different ways of being a girl and a lot of different ways of being a boy and sometimes people don't identify as a girl or a boy.

The Importance of Schools Recognizing Gender and Sexual Diversity

It's important because gender and sexual diversity is a fact of our existence. It's existed as long as there's been people. We're just understanding it and recognizing it currently. And as we understand it better and recognize it more, and create policies and practices that are inclusive, we are seeing youth thriving. Kids that don't fit with traditional gender norms, they're really at high risk in terms of depression, anxiety and very importantly, suicidality. And when we have these kinds of policies that are inclusive of gender and sexual diversity, then these kids feel safe and they do better, and they're at much lower risk. That's important for all of us.

The Role of Parents

I think once you know, it's a wonderful place for a parent to be a huge advocate for your kid in school, with friends, and so on. Giving them support, advocating with teachers. In some situations, the teachers themselves have been willing to go to trainings and get the language and the information themselves so that they can best support the whole classroom. I think that's an ideal scenario, but usually happens due to parent advocacy.