Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Education

Transphobia and Cisgender Privilege: Pre-Service Teachers Recognizing and Challenging Gender Rigidity in Schools

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Education

Transphobia and Cisgender Privilege: Pre-Service Teachers Recognizing and Challenging Gender Rigidity in Schools

Article excerpt


The opportunity for teacher candidates to understand how to incorporate anti-discrimination work in their teaching practice is a key component of school and education reform. Social justice policies and procedures exist in many school settings, but unless new teachers have the opportunity to explore and apply knowledge learned from professional development, these well-meaning policies are often neglected or ignored. Building upon our ongoing longitudinal study, which investigates the impact of an integrated Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, Transgendered, Two-Spirited, Queering and/or Questioning (LGBTQ) awareness program (Kearns, Mitton-Kukner, & Tompkins 2014a, 2014b; Mitton-Kukner, Kearns, & Tompkins, 2015), we focus on five pre-service teachers who identified critical incidents related to transphobia and gender construction. These incidents, which happened during their first practicum, caused great concern over the enduring gender binary that presents itself in schools. Their experiences highlight the ways in which gender surveillance, both overtly and covertly, reinscribes heteronormativity, and contributes to genderism, homophobia, and transphobia.

LGBTQ and Gender in Schools and Society

Shaped by heteronormativity and rigid gender expectations, LGBTQ youth in schools and society have been vulnerable to harassment (Taylor et al., 2011). In such hostile climates, LGBTQ youth are unlikely to learn and may avoid schools (Palmer, Kosciw, & Bartkiewicz, 2012). Indeed, many learn that discrimination against the LGBTQ community is acceptable (Gender Public Advocacy Coalition, 2006; Haskell & Burtch, 2010), as transgender and gender non-conforming students experience ongoing acts of aggression in schools with little adult intervention (Guasp, 2012; Reis & Saewyc, 1999; Taylor et al., 2011, Wright-Maley, David, Gozalez, & Colwell, 2016). In the midst of increasing recognition that more supports are needed to fully include LGBTQ youth and their families in schools, is the topic of gender. Schools often serve as contexts where students come to narrowly understand gender roles and expectations, which limits the gender expression of all youth, since those who do not conform or perform their gender roles are vulnerable to harassment and bullying (Rands, 2009; Ryan, Patraw, & Bednar, 2013).

With this as the backdrop of teacher education in North America, teacher educators need to prepare pre-service teachers to understand their role in the development of inclusive spaces for sexual minority, transgender, and gender non-conforming youth in schools. Anti-oppressive work (Kumashiro, 2002) in teacher education that aims to support learners who challenge prevailing gender norms in school is complex and necessary (Clark, 2010; Goldstein, Russell, & Daley, 2007; Stiegler, 2008), yet largely under-researched in terms of how programs might proceed. For example, scholars note the lack of explicit LGBTQ education in teacher education programs (Grace & Wells, 2006; Kitchen & Bellini, 2012; Macgillivray & Jennings, 2008; Schneider & Dimito, 2008), as well as the resistance demonstrated by pre-service teachers to LGBTQ education as part of diversity work and curricular inclusion (Jennings & Sherwin, 2008; Robinson & Ferfolja, 2002, 2008; Wright-Maley et al., 2016).

In Canada, education is a provincial jurisdiction and the inclusion of LGBTQ in schools is widely varied; specifically, we found there is little legislative agreement about transgender learners in schools. For example, in Nova Scotia, the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development has released new guidelines to support transgender and gender non-conforming students and to affirm students' rights within the Canadian Human Rights Act (Willick, 2014). In Saskatchewan, the Ministry of Education has created a document to support LGBTQ students at a curricular and policy level: Deepening the Discussion: Gender and Sexual Diversity (Saskatchewan Ministry of Education, 2015). …

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