Transgender People & Bathroom Access

Students learn the definition of "transgender," discuss the controversy over ensuring safe access to bathrooms for transgender people, and consider ways they can be allies or upstanders for transgender students.   


To the Teacher:

If you are not already familiar with current understanding about gender identity and related questions, some background reading will be helpful.

  • See this Teaching Tolerance post for a description of gender spectrum:
  • For guidelines on making your school safe for LGBTQ students and for further educating on these issues, please see resources available from GLSEN.

Before beginning this activity, think carefully about the maturity of the students in your class and about the level of trust that exists among your students. Review the lesson and consider whether students are ready to engage in the lesson in a way that is safe and respectful for everyone in the class. Be aware that you may have students in your classroom who are transgender or gender non-conforming, or have family members who are. Be sensitive to the needs of these students.  Allow them (and all students) the option of not sharing.

As always, it is helpful if your class has established community agreements about how they will treat each other. If you have these guidelines, review them. If you don’t, consider creating them. Please see these guidelines for other suggestions for teaching about difficult or controversial issues. 




Invite students to stand up if they agree with the assertions below.

  • All students have a right to a quality education.  Stay standing if you feel this includes a safe school environment. 
  • Schools should be safe, nurturing places for everyone - no exceptions.
  • It is a matter of cultural debate whether all children should be safe and supported in school.
  • Education outcomes can only improve if schools are inviting, supportive and safe for all.
  • A school that is unsafe for some, impacts everyone negatively.   

After every assertion, invite students to look around before they sit back down.  Consider asking each time, why students decided to stand up or stay seated.  Elicit a few comments before moving on to the next assertion. 

School Bathrooms in the News

Show students the following signs.  Ask them where a sign like this might be displayed.  Ask if students know of stories in the news that relate to these signs. 








Elicit and explain that on February 22, 2017, the Trump administration repealed federal guidelines protecting transgender students in public schools.

  • In May 2016, the Obama administration issued a directive instructing public schools across the country to respect students’ gender identity, even if that identity does not match the gender identity they were assigned at birth.  This includes allowing transgender students to use the bathroom that corresponds to their identity
  • The national guidelines state that transgender students are protected from discrimination under Title IX, the federal law that bars discrimination based on sex.
  • Many schools across the country, including New York City's public schools, have had similar guidelines in place for years, with few if any problems.
  • On February 22, 2017, the new Trump administration announced it was rescinding the directive. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said that questions about transgender students are best "solved at the state and local level." The directive does not require states or local school districts to change their current policies.
  • The debate over federal policy on this issue is now the subject of legal battle.

Going to a public bathroom is not something most people think twice about. That is not the case for everyone though. For transgender, people using a public bathroom can be complicated, anxiety-provoking and dangerous. In a 2013 UCLA survey, 70% of transgender and gender non-conforming people in Washington DC reported having been denied access, verbally harassed, or physically assaulted in public restrooms. Ask students:

  • What do you think the implications might be if you were scared to use public facilities because you knew the danger involved?
  • According to the 2013 UCLA survey, the experiences around public restrooms affected respondents’ education, employment, health, and participation in public life.  Why do you think this is?


What does transgender mean?

According to GLAAD, an organization that advocates for LGBTQ people:

Transgender is a term used to describe people whose gender identity differs from the sex the doctor marked on their birth certificate. Gender identity is a person's internal, personal sense of being a man or a woman (or someone outside of that gender binary). For transgender people, the sex they were assigned at birth and their own internal gender identity do not match.

People in the transgender community may describe themselves using one (or more) of a wide variety of terms, including (but not limited to) transgender, transsexual, and genderqueer. Always use the term preferred by the individual.

Trying to change a person's gender identity is no more successful than trying to change a person's sexual orientation -- it doesn't work. So most transgender people seek to bring their bodies more into alignment with their gender identity.

Many transgender people are prescribed hormones by their doctors to change their bodies. Some undergo surgeries as well. But not all transgender people can or will take those steps, and it's important to know that being transgender is not dependent upon medical procedures.

To further explore transgender and LGTBQ issues with students, please see resources available from GLSEN.


Video: Transgender Girls are Girls

Watch this 1-minute video on safe and equal bathroom access that was produced by the New York City Commission on Human Rights:

After showing the video, discuss it using some or all of the following questions:

  • What are your thoughts and feelings about this video clip?
  • How do you think the different girls in the video feel about going to the bathroom?  Why?  What is different about their experiences? 
  • How do the friends of the transgender girl respond to her hesitation to go to the bathroom?
  • How do you think the transgender girl feels about how her friends respond?  Why?
  • What are other ways we can be allies or upstanders for transgender students?



Ask students to share one thing they have learned or one thing they would like to learn as a result of today’s lesson.