Gender Justice Policy Advocacy in Schools

The Problem: Wisconsin currently lacks legal protections for transgender and gender non-conforming students. While the Pupil Non-Discrimination Law includes sexual orientation as a protected class, there is no mention of gender identity or expression.  Students are vulnerable as long as we continue to be without clear, widely understood policies and guidelines for implementation.  Adding explicit protections for gender identity and expression will send a clear message to the community that your school does not discriminate. The Impact: While issues of gender diversity impact ALL students, as no one fits perfectly into the stereotypes of “man” or “woman”, this lack of legal protection regarding gender identity or expression most harshly impacts transgender and gender non-conforming students. In most Wisconsin schools, these students regularly experience the following forms of discrimination:

  • Students’ names and gender pronouns not being respected
  • Inadequate access to bathrooms and locker rooms, resulting in many students not drinking water all day to avoid going to the bathroom
  • School staff “outing” a student’s gender identity to family members without permission
  • Dress code requirements being distinct for “girls” and “boys” and transgender and gender non-conforming students being forced to adhere to a dress code policy that does not match their gender identity and/or expression
  • Transgender/gender non-conforming youth face increased harassment from peers/adults

The Solution: In order to ensure learning environments where all students can thrive, schools must add explicit language to their non-discrimination policies stating that all students are protected on the basis of gender identity and expression.

Next steps: In order for these amendments to impact school climate and student achievement, we propose formulating a volunteer task force in the school district to follow-up with implementation of policies and procedures including educator trainings to facilitate better understanding about the issue.  The Department of Public Instruction has partnered with GSAFE to provide trainings in schools working with LGBTQ youth.  GSAFE can tailor these trainings to advise best practices for providing safe and inclusive schools for transgender and gender nonconforming youth.

Why should gender identity and expression be included in district non-discrimination policy? Non-discrimination district policy provides comprehensive coverage to protect students in schools, not only in particular bullying situations, but in overall school climate. This policy provide protections against any action, policy or practice of the school or school board affecting a person or group, including bias, stereotyping, and harassment.

Why enumeration? Broad prohibitions against discrimination that exist without enumeration do not provide adequate protection.  The Supreme Court has explained, “Enumeration is the essential device used to make the duty not to discriminate concrete and to provide guidance for those who must comply.”  Explicitly including gender identity and expression protections in school policy will provide teachers and staff with the direction they need in order to effectively respond to harassment.

What is GSAFE doing about this? GSAFE is working with local school districts to expand existing non-discrimination policies for students to include protections based on gender identity and expression. Such policies provide clear protections not only for transgender students, but also for those students who get harassed because they are perceived as being not masculine enough or feminine enough.  A number of states have moved ahead of Wisconsin by adding these protections to state law including Minnesota, Iowa, and Illinois. GSAFE regularly partners with and provide consultation to districts that are looking to change local policy.

Do any Wisconsin school districts have this protection? There are now more than 170 Wisconsin school districts that have modernized their nondiscrimination policies to provide clear protections for transgender and gender expansive students and staff.  Additionally, more and more districts are considering and passing procedure to provide guidance for district staff on how to implement the updated policy on a day to day basis.  If your district prohibits this kind of discrimination please let us know.


Helpful links for advocating for and implementing transgender-inclusive nondiscrimination policy and procedures can be found here.

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amy-testimonial“GSAFE’s LTI helped me become the person and activist I wanted to be, and helped me hone my skills so I could be a better leader.  I discovered myself in ways I never imagined.” – Amy, Former GSAFE Youth Activist