HRC’s ‘Gender Inclusive Classrooms’ Guide: Say ‘Friends’ or ‘Students’ Instead of Girls and Boys

Lauretta Brown | August 17, 2015 | 7:42pm EDT
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(AP Photo, File)

( – To help “create a classroom where students aren’t limited based on gender stereotypes,” teachers should address classes using words like “friends or “students” rather than girls and boys, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) advises in a new back-to-school guide.

The first tip suggested by the HRC’s Welcoming Schools Initiative is for teachers to avoid using gender to “divide and address students.” The guide claims that separating students for activities according to gender “can leave some students feeling out-of-place, making them distracted or isolated and not able to focus on learning.”

The guide recommends finding new, inventive ways of dividing students for activities. “When lining students up for lunch, rather than saying, ‘Girls line up first,’ try saying, ‘Anyone wearing a green shirt can line up,’ or ‘If your name has an E please line up.’”

The guide also advises teachers to “prepare for teachable moments” linking to suggested responses for questions that might come up in class such as: “How can a family have two moms [dads]? Which one is the real one?” and “Don’t you need a woman and a man to have a baby?”

The suggested responses to those questions are, “There are all kinds of families. Some have two moms or two dads,” and “Children come into families in many different ways, and the families that love the children may have a mom and a dad, some a mom, some a dad and some have two moms or two dads.”

The guide emphasizes allowing students and families to identify their gender or not as they choose, advising that “on paperwork, avoid asking students to identify as male or female unless it is absolutely necessary.”    

“If it is necessary for students and their families to do so, consider adding a third write-in option for those who have non-binary gender identities or to allow students to elaborate if neither ‘male’ nor ‘female’ fit.”

“Make sure that forms do not have specific spaces for ‘mother’ and ‘father,’” the guide cautions. “If a form requires the name(s) of legal caregivers(s), the form can just say ‘parent,’ ‘guardian,’ or ‘caregiver.’”

HRC’s guide concludes with advice to teachers to “be mindful of the ways you might be gender stereotyping students. For example, rather than only inviting girls to learn a dance during recess, invite all students, including the boys, to dance.  Show pictures and videos that challenge gender stereotypes.”

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