A lack of understanding among the educational community hinders the inclusion of transgender people in primary and secondary schools

A URV study identifies for the first time the needs of LGBT+ students in educational centres and suggests actions to improve the situation in the Spanish education system

Students in a classroom. PHOTO: Pavel Danilyuk (Pexels).

The social changes of recent years in Spain have led to more and more people expressing their trans identity during childhood and adolescence. Moreover, the education system is the first place where they show their identity and, therefore, where they may feel more vulnerable. However, virtually no scientific research has been conducted into the needs and difficulties of LGBT+ pupils in the early stages of the education system, where they spend much of their time.

For this reason, a research team from the URV’s Department of Psychology has carried out a study on transgender people, the difficulties they face, the needs of both students and schools, and what educational actions the Spanish education system can take to improve their care and treatment. The results are the outcome of a survey of 72 participants from 4 different groups: transgender activists, activist families of transgender children, health professionals (medics, psychologists and social workers) and primary and secondary school teachers.

Although they differ on some aspects, all four participating groups agree that the lack of understanding regarding gender diversity in the educational community is the most important difficulty that transgender people have to face in the educational system. There is also a consensus regarding certain needs in educational centres: the use of toilets, wearing clothes according to the gender they feel and being called by the name they want. This is linked to the need for teachers and classmates to recognise the identity of transgender students and for protocols to be in place and strictly complied with so that there are no cases of bullying or cyber-bullying in schools.

To make this possible, families, students and, especially, teachers and professors need to have adequate knowledge about sexual and gender diversity. “There is no need for complex training, nor do they need lots of economic resources, but they need to understand that there is no correlation between biological sex and gender identity, that it is a social construct, and the need to banish both the reproduction of gender roles and the paradigm that trans people live in the wrong body”, explains Jorge Dueñas, a researcher at the Department of Psychology who has led the study.

It is a question, therefore, of schools allowing students to express their identity, for example, by allowing them to use the toilets for boys or girls according to their gender or to dress according to what they feel. They should also be listened to about their needs and, for example, be explicitly called by the name they want.

“It is true that we learn from mistakes, but no student should have to be on the receiving end of unnecessary mistakes from schools”, says Jorge Dueñas. In this regard, the study is a necessary first step towards improving the experience of transgender students in the Spanish education system, given that for the first time the researchers looked at a sample of different groups and professionals and not just extrapolated opinions. They did this by using the Delphi method, a process involving different rounds of interventions that allows a consensus of opinion to be reliably obtained from different experts without them mutually influencing each other.

Bibliographic reference: Jorge-Manuel Dueñas, Fabia Morales-Vives, Elena Castarlenas & Gisela Ferre-Rey (2021) Trans students. Difficulties, needs and educational actions in Spain, Gender and Education, DOI: 10.1080/09540253.2021.1971160

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