herald

Tuesday 6 December 2016

Schools urged to get unisex toilets for transgender pupils

Minister Jan O'Sullivan
Minister Jan O'Sullivan

Schools should look to amend uniform rules and provide appropriate bathroom facilities - including the possibility of unisex bathrooms - according to new Department of Education guidelines on dealing with transgender students in second-level schools.

For the first time, schools will receive practical advice on how to address the needs of students who identify as transgender - many of whom make the transition in their teenage years.

The guidelines, launched by Education Minister Jan O'Sullivan, also cover issues such as the name and pronoun by which the student wants to be addressed, toilets or changing rooms, PE and sport.

Where schools have a uniform for PE or sports, they are advised a transgender student should be able to wear clothing for their preferred gender.

The guidelines state that transgender students should feel safe and supported when accessing toilets and changing rooms.

They should be able to access facilities which correspond to their gender identity, or a use single unisex facility.

The Being LGBT in School pack builds on previous resources aimed at supporting lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students and was developed in association with the Gay and Lesbian Equality Network (GLEN), the Transgender Equality Network, school management bodies, teacher unions and the child and family agency Tusla.

GLEN's director of education Sandra Irwan-Gowran said: "Every classroom has young people who are LGBT. School life for many of these people is still very difficult, often with serious consequences for the self-esteem and mental health."

Transgender describes people whose gender expression is different from the sex listed on their birth certificate.

They often choose to change their first name, and schools are advised to discuss with the student, and parents, where appropriate, how they wish to be addressed.

The new guidelines state that transgender students should be permitted to wear a uniform that is consistent with their identity, adding that all-girls schools may need to consider allowing trousers while all-boys schools should consider "a variation in uniform options".

Schools were urged to create new rules and come up with guidelines to cater transgender students back in October.

Welcomed

The call was made following a meeting at the Department of Education, chaired by Ms O'Sullivan, between teacher unions and school managers, and Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) support groups and other organisations.

The meeting, the first such involving the key groups in education, was hosted by Community and Social Support Minister Kevin Humphreys, who said the aim of the talks was to "ensure transgender children are treated the very same way as other students".

The move has been widely welcomed.

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