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[WATCH] ‘The norm is changing’: schools to address needs of transgender students

During a gender diversity-themed seminar, educational professionals were urged to remain sensitive to the needs of transgender students, as empowered by the Gender Identity Act. 

teodor_reljic
Teodor Reljic
26 February 2015, 3:16pm
MGRM Coordinator Gabi Calleja:
MGRM Coordinator Gabi Calleja: "More than a quarter of transgender students find the scholastic experience problematic". Photo by Ray Attard
MGRM Coordinator Gabi Calleja addresses needs of gender variant students • Video by Ray Attard
Schools will have to adapt to realities of gender variance, with both administrative and pedagogical staff being now legally empowered to clamp down on all forms of gender discrimination.

This was brought up during a seminar organised by the Malta Gay Rights Movement (MGRM), entitled ‘Inclusion of Trans and Intersex Persons through Legislation and Policy’ and held at the Victoria Hotel in Sliema on Thursday.

During the seminar, MGRM Coordinator Gabi Calleja outlined the key priorities of the ‘Scope and Implications of Including Trans, Gender Variant and Intersex Students Policy’, which will seek to address issues pertaining to gender variance in schools in the wake of the Gender Identity Act inaugurated last October.

Addressing an audience which included local educational professionals, Calleja said that the policy – which will be primarily applied to state schools – aims to push forward for infrastructural changes within schools, such as the availability of gender variant-friendly toilets, as well as empowering students to identify as whichever gender feels right for them, secure in the knowledge that their confidentiality will be respected.

Read more: Civil liberties minister launches Gender Identity Act

Calleja said that “more than a quarter” of transgender students find the scholastic experience problematic, both in terms of how they are treated by their peers, as well as school staff. The policy – which Calleja described as being built on a ‘value base’ of “equality, social justice, diversity and inclusivity”, and which is currently at draft stage – will suggest that gender segregation should only be applied in schools if there is a “sound and objective pedagogical reason for it,” and that male students should not be separated from their female counterparts simply because it was “traditional” to do so.

Claiming that “gender segregation is being addressed gradually” in schools, Calleja however added that certain key issues remain that impact transgender students in particular.

“Installing gender-neutral toilets would be one good step forward. Why not? When we think of our home contexts, it never crosses our minds to consider gender-segregated toilets. Somehow it only becomes an issue when we venture outside,” Calleja said, explaining how this suggestion – borne out of a need to give transgender students a ‘third option’ when they feel comfortable in neither male nor female toilets – should be kept in mind by schools.

“No transgender student should be reduced to using a facility that doesn’t conform to their gender identity. And if a school deems a gender-neutral toilet inappropriate, they should at least consider a non-stigmatising alternative,” Calleja said.

Read more: Newly-minted NGO in push to raise awareness on Malta’s transgender community

Calleja reminded that the Gender Identity Act would ensure students are supported by schools during their ‘transitioning’ phase.

“The details pertaining to this are of course open to debate. How should schools, for example, take the timing of the transition into consideration? Should it be left for the summer recess, so that the student can make a ‘clean break’ and return with their desired gender identity the following scholastic year? These are all things that we can discuss,” Calleja said.

Outlining the key parameters of the Gender Identity Act, Human Rights policy coordinator with the Ministry for Social Dialogue Silvan Agius said that the “norm is changing” even on the administrative level, as those on the gender variant continuum will now be able to change previous official documents to conform to their new gender – including youths applying for their new ID cards, at age 14 and onwards.

Agius said that these legal and bureaucratic developments will give further support to gender variant people in their fight against everyday discrimination.

“The problem very often doesn’t lie with the diverse person themselves, but with the people around them who make their lives a living hell,” Agius said. 

teodor_reljic
Teodor Reljic is MaltaToday's culture editor and film critic. He joined t...