Today’s youth are increasingly thinking about gender in a more expansive and revolutionary way. For many years a binary idea of gender and gender roles kept people in boxes, limiting who and how they could be, but young people are starting to break out of these boxes and are finding more freedom in how they express and describe their gender. In fact, a 2016 study surveying Minnesotan high schoolers found that nearly 3% of students identified as transgender or gender non-conforming.
As young people find more expansive ways to identify and express who they are, we as troop leaders and volunteers can also take some simple steps to ensure that gender-expansive kids feel safe and welcome in school, at home, and in Girl Scouts!
Before we examine the “how” of creating a supportive environment, let’s pause to review the language and concepts that we use to describe gender. This is just a brief overview of some of these concepts and words—head over to Gender Spectrum and Trans Student Educational Resources for a deeper dive:
Gender identity is one’s internal sense of being male, female, neither of these, both, or another gender(s). Everyone has a gender identity, including you. For transgender people, their sex assigned at birth and their gender identity are not necessarily the same. For cisgender people, their sex assigned at birth matches their gender identity. Non-binary people identify as a gender that is neither male or female.
We commonly use pronouns to refer to people and things without using names. Pronouns like “he” and “she” can correspond with gender, while other pronouns like “they” are gender neutral. Many non-binary people use “they” as their singular personal pronoun. Head over to Pronoun Island to see some examples of how to use different pronouns.
Listen and Learn
One of the simplest things we can do to ensure we’re creating welcoming spaces to people of all genders is to inform ourselves. Take some time to learn about the experience of trans and gender non-conforming people, but also remember that these experiences are not universal. Our Truth, a project of the Transgender Law Center and GSA Network, brought together trans youth and their families to talk about their experiences. Take a moment to check out their video stories here.
As trans and gender nonconforming people in your life choose to share their identities and experiences with you, listen to their stories, and make sure to ask only respectful and appropriate questions. Here is a resource that notes what questions are too personal to ask and gives more helpful tips on being an ally.
There are a lot of things we can’t tell about a person just from how they look, including their gender and pronouns. One way you can be sure that all members are welcomed into a space is by inviting people to share their pronouns along with their name during introductions. Sometimes people may choose not to share their pronouns—in that case, you can simply use their name! If you catch yourself using the wrong pronoun for someone, the best thing to do is simply correct yourself, and keep talking. However, if you notice that someone is intentionally using the wrong name and pronoun for someone, this is bullying/harassment and should be treated seriously. It’s also good to be conscious of the language you use to refer to a group of people. It’s easy to switch out gendered language like “ladies and gentlemen” or “girls” to “folks,” “learners,” or “friends.”
Remember What It’s All About!
For over 100 years Girl Scouts has been dedicated to creating an inclusive and welcoming environment for all its members. We pride ourselves on providing a safe space for those who need it. Trans and gender non-conforming youth face harassment and discrimination in school at high rates. It’s so important for youth to have spaces where they can be themselves, especially if that isn’t an option at school. By taking on these simple actions and dedicating ourselves to learning more, we can continue to offer Girl Scouts as a place where youth and volunteers can be themselves.
Leah Soule – Leah graduated from Gustavus Adolphus College where she majored in Political Science and Gender, Women, and Sexuality Studies. Leah is passionate about the political power of young people and likes spending her free time working for social justice in her community, baking bread, and going camping.