Supporting transgender and gender non-conforming participants at residential programs
This guide is designed for organisers of Rotary residential programs, like the Rotary Youth Leadership Award (RYLA), Rotary Youth Program of Enrichment (RYPEN), Model United Nations Assembly (MUNA), and other camps and residential conferences. This is best-practice to support trans, gender diverse, or non-binary (TGDNB) participants and the Fellowship can also provide advice and support as you go.
If this is the first time you have had a transgender and gender non-conforming (TGNC) participant in your program, don’t be alarmed. This document is here to help. It covers the basics and provides guidance on how you can best support this participant and affirm their identity within your program.
The fact that this participant has disclosed their identity to you is both a great privilege for you and an incredibly courageous move by them. No TGNC person invites you into their life or asks for your support without a lot of deliberative thought. This is because outing themselves to other individuals puts them at a potential risk for harm, questioning, and harassment. There are still many people in the world who do not believe in transgender and gender diverse identities, and who make their beliefs known to those around them. This can be especially harmful for TGNC people and put them at risk for being targeted or harmed.
It is important to understand that things you might not consider significant can cause a TGNC participant a great deal of distress but, if done properly can be lifesaving and enable them to fully participate in your program. An example of this is the importance of using affirming gendered language for your participants and asking them what terms they use to describe their own identity.
This guide gives general advice based on current thinking, however, it’s always best to ask someone how they describe themselves, want to be treated and use these terms. When we use the pronouns and name that a participant identifies with instead of using their former name (also know as a dead name) and pronouns (which they may not identify with), it shows them that we not only support them but even more important shows that we see them for who they are. If you are not familiar with a particular identity or how their identity shapes their experience of the world around them, do your research and seek out additional support if needed!
Definitions - Gender, sex and sexuality are all separate concepts
Gender is part of how you understand who you are and how you interact with other people. Many people understand their gender as being female or male. Some people understand their gender as a combination of these or neither. Gender can be expressed in different ways, such as through behaviour or physical appearance.
Sex refers to a person’s biological sex. Biological sex is a medical label used to categorize people according to their chromosomes, genitalia, hormones, and secondary sex characteristics. This has historically been understood as either female or male. However, we now know that some people are born with natural variations to sex characteristics, often known as intersex. A cis (pronounced ‘sis’, short for cisgender) person is someone whose gender identity aligns with the sex they were assigned at birth – someone who isn’t trans or gender diverse.
A trans (short for transgender) person is someone whose gender identity does not exclusively align with the sex they were assigned at birth.
Gender diverse generally refers to a range of genders expressed in different ways, i.e., not in the binary of male or female. There are many terms used by gender diverse people to describe themselves. Language in this space is dynamic, particularly among young people.
Pronouns are a word or phrase that is used as a substitution for a noun or noun phrase. The gendered words in which people use to refer to themselves and refer to others. Common examples include: he/him/his, she/her/hers, they/them/theirs. An individual can choose to use a single gendered pronoun for themselves, or multiple, depending on their gender identity.
Gender affirming language refers to using gendered language that affirms and supports an individual’s gender identity.
All Gender language is language that avoids bias towards a particular sex or social gender.
Misgendering occurs when someone intentionally or unintentionally refers to a person, relates to a person, or uses language to describe a person that doesn’t align their with affirmed gender identity.
Sexuality or sexual orientation describes a person’s romantic and/or sexual attraction to others. This is unrelated to one’s gender identity.
A person’s gender identity does not necessarily mean they have particular sex characteristics or a particular sexuality, or vice versa.
There are many other terms people in LGBT+ communities use to refer to their identity. If you come across one that isn’t here, take a look at the Victorian State Government’s (Australia) LGBTIQ+ inclusive language guide or contact the Fellowship for advice.
Privacy - don’t ask if you don’t have to.
We all have a right to privacy. We should only have to bring as much of our private selves as we want to and feel safe doing so, please also allow and expect this of your participants – meet them at their level. Allow yourself to be led by how someone talks about themselves, their family and their relationships. If you’re not sure what pronouns someone uses, it’s okay to ask them! You can easily do this by leading with yourself and starting an introduction with “Hi my name is ____ and I use ________ (she/her, he/him, they/them) pronouns, what pronouns do you use?” This not only encourages us to ask what language people use for themselves instead of assuming, but it also shows the participant that you are an ally to the community. Ask or be guided by them about who to share this information with – most people won’t need to know, and you must not ‘inform’ other participants/families that a TGNC person is attending unless the TGNC person requests that you do that. When an individual discloses someone’s identity to someone without participant approval or consent, that is called “outing”. Make sure that you keep the participants identity confidential, but you can suggest the participant to come out to other people if and when they feel comfortable to do so, and you will support them in this.
Proper preparation prevents particularly poor performance
Time should be made prior to the program to discuss with the participant, and their parents/carers if they are a minor, any extra arrangements that need to be made. Before approaching parents if the participant is a minor, make sure to ask the participant if they are out to their parents and if they are supportive. There may be some instances in which the participant is not out to their family members for fear of unacceptance and discrimination. If this is the case, it is extremely important to ask what terminology they would like you to use when talking to their parents and if that is appropriate. It may be difficult to have to change your language depending on who you are talking to, but it is important that you take the extra time to think before you speak when talking with the parents of these youth. If the young person does not want you to approach their parents, the program organisers should ensure the young person’s psychological safety is protected by respecting their affirmed identity and meeting with them to discuss what they need to be safe.
Some changes that the participant requests and needs will be site and activity-dependent; different venues have different set ups, so you should contact the venue facilitators or visit the site to find out what options are available. This will help prevent any potential problems arising when you arrive. You may also need to have several meetings with the participant to prepare.
Toilet and changing facilities may need to be discussed. The participant’s requirements of where they wish to sleep must be respected. If the dorm rooms are separated by gender, the participant should be permitted to be accommodated in the dorm room which aligns with their gender identity or which they tell you they would like to stay. You should consider, with the participant, if they have friends they wish to share a dorm with, which may help maintain their privacy, comfort and safety. Sometimes the request might be to have a room on their own, which may be particularly important for a person who does not identify as either male or female – the priority should always be in protecting the psychological and physical safety of the participant.
Ideally, your venue will have all gender bathrooms and changing facilities. The ‘gold standard’ facilities are those that provide all gender, single person, and lockable facilities – i.e., not a group showering or changing area. Signage should indicate a space labelled ‘all gender’ to make it clear that everyone is welcome to shower, change and use the facilities in that location, no matter how they identify. Providing all gender individual bathrooms will allow for all participants to feel that they have a safe place to go in which they won’t have to fear questioning or harassment from others. If there is no all gender bathroom, it is appropriate that the participant use accessible/disability bathrooms as the anxiety caused by not having facilities that meets their needs is in itself an access need.
Sometimes there are also activities where participants are required to wear wet suits or harnesses for things like high ropes or abseiling. This can be anxiety inducing because of the way this equipment can emphasise body contours. You might need to get imaginative about how you work some of these things out. For example, if the activity involves a wetsuit, the program staff could ask for a larger wetsuit and a rash vest/large t-shirt to wear. A quiet word with the instructor beforehand such as: “I know wetsuits are meant to be tight fitting, but can this participant have one size up?”
Consider the language you use throughout the program – both that of your staff and any external facilitators. Start with forms – are they inclusive of all diverse sexes, gender identities and sexual orientations, and do they only collect the information that you absolutely need? If you don’t use it, don’t collect it. Next, think about the spoken language avoiding terms like “Chairman”, “ladies and gentlemen”, “boys and girls”. The use of non-gendered language reflects the reality that gender is not a binary concept exclusive to man and woman. By making these changes you are also removing stereotypes associated with certain roles which suggest that one gender is more powerful than another. Examples of inclusive language include: “chairperson” and “friends and family”.
The key to all of this – talk to the participant! Be person-centred, making sure the environment is welcoming to them and their individual needs (as you should do for all participants anyway). Understand the basic considerations and terminology outlined in this document (so that you don’t need to ask too many of the more ‘basic’ questions), and then build on that by having open and solution focused conversations. Nothing should be too hard – find solutions together and be open to meeting the participant at their level.
What if someone doesn’t want to share a room with a TGNC person?
There may be occasions where a cisgender person expresses that they do not wish to share a facility with a TGNC person. In this occasion the psychological safety of the cis person should also be considered, and alternate arrangements should be made for the person/people expressing the concern, rather than changing the arrangements you have already put in place with the TGNC person. In many cases the discussion and some education about TGNC people and affirmation that Rotary supports TGNC individuals will resolve the issue. This process should not be any different to the process you would take when you have a bullying complaint or conflict between participants, where you might put a plan in place to ensure the safety of all participants.
There are differing privacy and discrimination laws around the world but generally speaking, in most western nations, refusing to accommodate a TGNC person is unlawful discrimination.
- In Australia the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth) prohibits discrimination on the grounds of gender identity which includes a person to using a bathroom and sleeping quarters (amongst others) that align with their gender identity, and the Privacy Act 1988 (Cth) prohibits sharing of personal information like gender identity, unless someone has specifically agreed to it.
- In Canada all provinces have enacted laws to prohibit discrimination based on gender identity.
- In Brazil on 13 June 2019, the Brazilian Supreme Court ruled that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity is a crime akin to racism.
- In Switzerland discrimination based on gender identity is forbidden under the Swiss Criminal Code.
- In the United Kingdom discrimination based on “gender reassignment” is unlawful under the Equality Act Under the act “A person has the protected characteristic of gender reassignment if the person is proposing to undergo, is undergoing or has undergone a process (or part of a process) for the purpose of reassigning the person’s sex by changing physiological or other attributes of sex.” This definition includes non-binary gender and genderfluid identities.
- In the United States antidiscrimination laws vary by state but in twenty-two states, plus Washington, D.C., discrimination based on gender identity or expression is outlawed. The Equality Act, which is currently proposed in the United States Congress, would outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity nationwide.
The countries above have been selected for inclusion in this document as the majority of LGBT+ Fellowship members come from these countries.
Regardless of the legalities, the Four-Way Test should also be considered: Of the things we think, say or do;
- Is it the TRUTH?
- Is it FAIR to all concerned?
- Will it build GOODWILL and BETTER FRIENDSHIPS?
- Will it be BENEFICIAL to all concerned?
With this in mind, you should consider the best way to support each individual under this key Rotary guiding principle. This document has been designed and developed with the Four-Way Test in mind.
Suggested checklist and key questions
- Read this document understanding key terminology and considerations
- Understand your venue; what are the sleeping arrangements, and changing, showering and bathroom facilities?
- Map out your program; are there any activities that might make a TGNC person feel uncomfortable or that they’d have difficulty accessing?
- Consider who will need to know about the arrangements you make with participant; who might need to support them through the program? It’s unlikely that you will need to inform the other participants unless the TGNC participant requests that.
- Have a conversation with the participant and their parents/carers if they are a minor and if given explicit permission to do so from the minor themselves; this might be a phone or video call, a visit to the site, or meeting over coffee to understand their needs and requirements – covering all the items listed above and possibly more.
- Consider how the participant is being treated by others. Make sure that everyone is using gender affirming language, and if someone is misgendering the participant, make sure to correct them.
- If you accidently misgender a participant, it’s okay. Everyone makes mistakes. What’s important is that you correct yourself, quickly apologise and continue the conversation.
- Put your discussions in writing and send them to the participant and their parents/carers if they are a minor and if that’s appropriate, outlining the commitments and plans you made together to ensure a clear and shared understanding.
Guide designed for schools in supporting TGDNB students
Victorian State Government (Australia) inclusive language guide
Information on the importance of all gender bathrooms and how organisations can support/what signage to use
Rotary LGBT+ inclusion tool
The importance of inclusive language and terms, including examples
Trans 101 website with free videos and booklet resources – gender diversity crash course
UN Effective Inclusion for LGBT Persons
Global LGBTQ Justice Organizations & Initiatives
Human Rights Campaign Tools for Equity and Inclusion
It Gets Better Project: Pronouns & Neopronouns
The Trevor Project: A Guide to Being an Ally to Transgender and Nonbinary Youth
The Trevor Project: Understanding Gender Identities
If you have any more specific questions or need some more help, the LGBT+ Fellowship’s Education team is here to assist. Feel free to contact the education team with your questions or ask for a quick chat with one of our team over the phone/zoom.