Strategies to create safe havens for students

Kim Westheimer, Gender Spectrum’s Director of Strategic Initiatives, wrote an article for the May/June 2017 issue of the American School Counselor Association magazine that focused on how school counselors can help create safe havens for Transgender and Non-binary students in the current political climate.

It’s validating for students to be seen by one person, but considerably preferable to feel seen and welcomed by a larger community….Once a community has witnessed the power of being gender-inclusive, there is no turning back. Educators in these schools are reminded of why they joined the field in the first place – to have a positive impact on young people. 

These strategies include actions which an individual, adult or school counselor can take through direct communication with a student as well as actions that school counselors can take to in collaboration with others to foster school-wide change.

Seek knowledge and perspective by reading relevant books, watching online videos posted by transgender and non-binary students, and engaging in discussions with other adults and young people.

Create openings in conversations by using inclusive language that signals that you are approachable and are not making any assumptions about a student’s Gender identity.

Respect and affirm what students tell you about their gender and ask open-ended questions that allow them to share more.

Assure students their well-being and safety is your priority and ask them if they have concerns about how they are being treated by others.

Ensure confidentiality, letting students know that you will not disclose their gender identity to anyone without explicit permission to do so.

Work with allies to engage a small, diverse group of stakeholders to work toward creating a gender-inclusive school.

Connect gender inclusion to education objectives when reaching out to the larger school community,  including objectives on school climate, social/emotional learning, equity, and academic achievement.

Assess the current gender climate in your school by using Gender Spectrum’s  school assessment tool as a guide to chart your school’s progress and next steps toward being gender inclusive. 

Read the full article here!


Article References

Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. (2016) Transgender Youth In Colorado: Healthy Kids Survey 2015. Retrieved from:

Gattis, Maurice N. & McKinnon. (2015) Sara L. School Experiences of Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming Students in Wisconsin. Madison, WI: GSAFE. Retrieved from

Greytak, E. A., Kosciw, J. G., & Diaz, E. M. (2009). Harsh Realities: The Experiences of Transgender Youth in Our Nation’s Schools. New York, NY: GLSEN.

Holden, D. (2016). Why Loretta Lynch Told Transgender Americans “We See You”.  Buzzfeed. Retrieved from:

Travers, R. et. al. (2012). Impacts of Strong Parental Support for Trans Youth. Children’s Aid Society of Toronto and Delisle Youth Services. Toronto. Retrieved from:


Related Gender Spectrum Resources

Gender Spectrum Lounge
Bathroom Guidance
12 Easy Steps Toward Gender Inclusion
Gender-Inclusive Signs
Gender-Inclusive School Assessment Checklist

A full list of resources is available here.