Gender Identity in Schools Among Topics at Connecticut School Health Issues Conference

The keynote address “When Boys Will be Girls: Getting A Grip on Gender” will greet attendees – school nurses and school health officials from across Connecticut - attending the 38th Annual School Health Conference on Thursday in Cromwell. “Critical Issues in School Health 2016,” a two-day conference, will have expert presentations on issues ranging from absenteeism to infectious diseases, food allergies to mental health.  But no issue has grown in attention and interest recently than how to respond to LGBT students in the school setting.

The conference is coordinated by the Connecticut chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics with the assistance of the Association of School Nurses of Connecticut.  school-health

The keynote will be given by Robin McHaelen, MSW, founder and executive director of True Colors, a Hartford-based non-profit organization that works with social service agencies, schools, organizations, and within communities to ensure that the needs of sexual and gender minority youth are both recognized and competently met. McHaelen is co-author of several books and articles on LGBT youth concerns, and has a national reputation as a thought leader in LGBT youth concerns, programs and interventions.

In her presentation, titled “When Pink and Blue Are Not Enough,” McHaelen offers suggestions on working with LGBT students, and seeks to increase “understanding, knowledge and cultural competency regarding LGBT students,” while identifying issues of “risk, challenge and strengths specific to LGBT youth.”  She also will point to “opportunities for intervention that will ensure appropriate care within a safe, affirming environment.”

Among the recommendations:  offer gender-neutral bathroom options, always use the patients’ chosen name and chosen gender pronouns, and “recognize that there are additional stressors (and that there may be significant feat on the part of) transgender patients.” logo

McHaelen will be offering a similar presentation at the New England School Nurse Conference, to be held in late April in Mystic, hosted by the Association of School Nurses of Connecticut.  The president of the Association is Suzanne Levasseur, Supervisor of Health Services for the Westport Public Schools.  The New England affiliates include Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine.  The conference theme is “Waves of Change, Oceans of Opportunity.”

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender students are the targets of bullying, harrassment, and disproportionately high discipline rates at school, researchers have pointed out. But without consistently collected, reliable, large-scale sources of data, it's difficult to track the extent of those problems or the effectiveness of proposed solutions, a group of researchers at Indiana University said in a briefing paper released this week.

Expanding existing federal surveys on youth safety and well-being to include more questions about gender identity and sexual orientation could provide a clearer picture, according to the researchers, noting that “if you don’t measure it, you can’t improve it.”  They suggest addressing the data gap by adding discipline and harassment items to existing health surveys that currently include measures of sexual orientation and gender identity, such as the Youth Risk Behavior Survey, collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.logo

“Although these measures provide more specific information about sexual orientation and in some cases gender identity, they do not provide sufficient information about the specific negative outcomes experienced by LGBT students,” the research paper points out.  They conclude: “the availability of data documenting the experiences of LGBT students is a civil rights concern, and the expansion of data collection efforts to include sexual orientation and gender identity is a critical next step in ensuring the rights of LGBT and all students to participation and protection in school.”

The mission of the Association of School Nurses of Connecticut is to support, assist and enhance the practice of professional school nurses in their development and implementation of comprehensive school health services that promotes students' health and academic success.  The Connecticut Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics has over 600 active members committed to both improving the health and safety of Connecticut's children and supporting those who provide care to these children.