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Being an ally

Laura Sergeant, clinical specialist and social worker, Adolescent Medicine program and Child & Youth Mental Health program

Back to school signals the time for a fresh start. There may be a student who is attending school with a new name or pronoun and could use an ally. An ally is someone who stands up for, supports and encourages the people around them. It means that someone who is cisgender — where their gender identity matches the biological sex tries to make the world a better place for people who identify as trans.

Here is how you can help.

For classmates

  • Include your pronouns when introducing yourself. Using your pronouns makes it more comfortable for others to share theirs.
  • Use neutral language. For example, say “who’s the kid in the blue shirt?” instead of “who’s the guy in the blue shirt?”
  • If you mess up someone’s name or pronouns, simply apologize and move on.
  • Be a friend. If you notice someone who could use an ally, ask them how you can help. Using the chosen name and pronouns in front of others is huge. They might want you to accompany them into the washroom, or to stick close in situations where they’ve felt unsafe – maybe in the cafeteria or on break.
  • Don’t pressure someone to share the name they were assigned at birth.

For parents of children who are gender diverse

  • Let your child lead the way. The beginning of a school year, especially starting a new school, can be a time when kids come out to their peers. Remember, it’s your child’s decision to take this step.
  • Help your child prepare. Reach out to the school ahead of time if your child is returning using a different name or pronouns. Contact the school office or guidance counsellor to change the information on the school’s student record and let them know how they can support.
  • Ensure your child will have access to a gender-neutral single-stall washroom if that’s their preference.
  • When it comes to ordering school uniforms from the catalogue, you can choose the clothing that fits your child’s gender.

For educators

  • Use inclusive language such as “Good morning folks” or “people” rather than “boys and girls.”
  • Introduce yourself and include your pronouns to lead by example and show the students they can also introduce themselves in this way. It also allows other students to ask questions about why this is important.
  • Call out last names when going through the roster and give students a chance to share their first name.
  • Advocate for gender-neutral washrooms and private stalls, access to gender-neutral sports and activities in gym class and after-school activities, and other ways LGBTQIA2S+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning, intersex, asexual and two-spirit) students can feel safe and supported at school.
  • If a youth comes out to you as a trusted adult at school, don’t assume they are out at home or with other staff or students. Check in with the student. Ask them if they’d like you to help them explore ways to get additional support. (See resources below)
  • Educate yourself. Don’t expect the non-binary or trans-youth to explain things for you. If you’re not transgender, it’s natural to be curious and have questions, but remember that your curiosity is never more important than the comfort, privacy and even the safety of your transgender student. Don’t ask intimate questions about anatomy or medical transition.

Remember, you don’t have to be an expert to support a transgender youth. Transgender is a positive identity and part of human diversity. Transgender individuals need allies in the same way all oppressed and marginalized communities do. Being an ally can save lives.