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Gender Inclusion

Gender Inclusion Guidance


The Milwaukee Public Schools Gender Inclusion Guidance was created to provide information about how to best ensure the protection of students and staff in terms of gender inclusion.

The topic of gender inclusion continues to be an evolving issue. The guidance is based on best practices and will be updated as we continue to receive guidance from the courts and other government agencies.  This guidance does not duplicate district policies and procedures but is intended to supplement them.

Frequently Asked Questions

The follow questions were submitted by district staff, students, and families.  This list will be updated as more questions are submitted.  Questions have been modified to provide clarity.  If you have a question that is not present in this list, please email

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  Can you offer some general guidance for talking with parents of students who are not supportive of their gender identity?

​One of the first steps in dealing with unsupportive parents or guardians is to check in with students and ask them what name should be used when talking to parents, guardians, or siblings.  This will help you to avoid accidentally outing a student before they are ready to talk with their family.  The following advice comes from Gender Spectrum:

  • “A parent’s initial negative reaction to indications that their child might be transgender is likely based on inaccurate or incomplete information about gender identity or out of fear for what this will mean for their child’s future. Such reactions often come from a place of love and protection, and are not intended to harm their child — rejection can be a misguided attempt at protection. Learning that transgender youth experience these behaviors as rejection, and that these behaviors can have serious consequences for their children, often helps families change their behaviors. Schools can assist the process of family acceptance in a myriad of ways, including arranging a safe space for the student to disclose their gender identity to their parents, providing counseling services for the whole family or connecting them to local resources or other parents of transgender or gender-expansive youth. As part of this effort, it is important to educate the student’s family members about the serious consequences of refusing to affirm their child’s gender identity. Sharing observations from school personnel that highlight the effects rejection has had on the student may also help encourage parents to begin moving toward acceptance.”

If you require support in planning or having these conversations with families, we would be more than willing to work with you and potentially come to your school to help facilitate this process.

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  Why are parents not always included with these gender identity conversations?

When it comes to conversations around a student’s gender identity, there is not one way that they will play out.  For some students, parents or guardians may be the ones to initiate the conversation, especially if the student is younger.  For others, the first person they talk to about their gender identity might be a staff member at their school.  Just like each individual’s experience with their gender identity is unique to them, so too is the support system, or lack thereof, that they may have.  For those students who don’t initially involve their parents or guardians, there is also a spectrum of reasons for this decision.  For some, they may need to practice having that conversation with people who they’re close to, but don’t necessarily carry the same emotional weight as someone like a parent, guardian, or sibling.  These students may find a great deal of support in their parents or guardians when they do talk with them, but the decision to share that information is theirs alone.  On the opposite end, there are students who may know that information about their gender identity will not be received in a positive way by their parents or guardians and could potentially lead to trauma.  These students may see school as a safe place to live authentically and may require a greater deal of time and independence before they are ready to talk to their parents or guardians.  In these cases, it is especially important that we do not purposefully or inadvertently “out” a student.  We would not want to cause a student to potentially be harmed or “kicked out” of their home as a result.

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  What if parents do not support the student and we do here at school and the parent does not agree with us giving the child that freedom?

In this kind of a situation, the best thing we can do is be advocates for that student.  We can provide information about the ability of the student to succeed socially and academically when they are able to live as their authentic self.  We can also provide information to parents about what trans or gender nonconforming youth go through when they are in an unsupportive environment: Increased rates of suicide ideation and suicide attempts, diminished mental health, diminished physical health.  

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  How do we handle the use of public facilities?

When it comes to facilities usage, the MPS Gender Inclusion Guidance states, “Individuals are allowed to have access to restrooms and locker rooms that correspond to their gender identity.” This means that the only piece of an individual’s identity that may influence the facilities they choose to utilize is their gender identity as defined by them. We are currently working with facilities to identify private restrooms and changing facilities that will be accessible to all students. However, we cannot force a student to use a private facility because of their gender identity. If a student is uncomfortable with another student using a public facility just because they are transgender, we cannot restrict the transgender student from using the bathroom. If they are not participating in conduct that makes others unsafe, then there is no reason for them to be restricted from using the facility of their choice. We have to focus on conduct and not identity. Just like we would not restrict a student from using a public facility because of their race or sexuality. If a student is uncomfortable using a public facility with another student who is transgender or gender nonconforming, they are more than welcome to use available private facilities.

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  How do you make conversations about gender identity not get railroaded by questions of orientation?

While the two categories do inform each other, it is important to understand that they are two separate identities.  If sexual orientation does come up when you are talking about gender identity, it is important to make this distinction clear.  Remind those involved in the conversation of the differences and continue to remind them if the terms continue to be mixed up.  You could also to explain the importance of understanding the difference using an unrelated example such as, “We know that we can’t assume to know someone’s interest or hobbies based on where they live.  While they may inform each other, they are distinct from each other.”  You can also utilize resources like the Gender Unicorn to help explain the distinction between the many different identities that are referenced in these conversations

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  Is there an approximate chronological psychological age when students are able to identify gender-specific identities of their own?

Younger children often engage in gender nonconforming behaviors and activities as they begin to figure out who they are and define their own identity.  Often between the ages of two to four, children may start to become conscious of their gender identity and begin to identify with specific characteristics or behaviors they believe fit that identity.  However, this does not mean that children will have a complete or final idea of who they are, even when it relates to their gender identity.  This means that just because a child is participating in gender nonconforming activities or behavior, that does not mean they will identify as a transgender person.  For children who do end up identifying as transgender or gender nonconforming they might be more assertive about their identity in a variety of ways.  For example, they might clearly say something like “No, I am a girl,” when told they’re a “boy who likes to wear dresses.”  However, we know that people’s personalities differ and not every child is comfortable being that assertive. There also is not one exact point of time in everyone’s life when this becomes perfectly clear to them.  Ultimately, it is best practice to allow children to explore and define their own identities without placing arbitrary restrictions on them based on gender, race, class, etc.  This means allowing students to wear whatever colors they want, play with whatever toys they want, and not restricting their participation in school-based activities.

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  How often do transgender individuals seek surgery to anatomically match their gender identity?

There is not a concrete number of individuals who do seek gender-confirming surgery.  While there are some estimates, for many people this surgery is not necessarily a top priority when it comes to their transition.  For others, though, there is an access issue present due to the fact that these types of surgeries are often expensive and might not be covered by the individual’s health insurance. 

It is important to remember that not all trans people desire to undergo a gender-confirming surgery.  For those who do, this is a private and personal decision and not something that we should ask them to explain.  When wanting to inquire more about this issue, ask yourself, “Would I ask this question to a cisgender person?”  If you desire information about this topic, it is best to utilize resources like these:

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  Will students list/identify, with administration, gender need or exclusivity?

Students are not required to list/identify their gender identity with any staff member.  If a student trusts a staff member with information about their gender identity, that staff member should not share this information with anyone else unless the student has approved.  That staff member can ask a student if they would like to be connected to another staff member in the building who may be able to support them.  While transgender or gender nonconforming students may have specific needs, many of them also would like to just go through their days in as normal a manner as possible.  For some, only having a few people know is all they will want.

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  If a student is given a hard time with peers more than once throughout the school year what needs to be done?

Per Milwaukee Public Schools Administrative Policy 8.52, bullying in all its forms is prohibited.  All bullying incidents should be documented and investigated in accordance with the district policy, regardless of possible motivation. It is important to set the standard for your students that bullying is not acceptable, and that includes bullying based on an individual’s actual or perceived gender identity.  There are a variety of ways for you to set this standard.  Teaching Tolerance has a good amount of information and resources that may help you.  A district resource that is also available to you is Violence Prevention.  They have specific programs that focus on bullying prevention and could connect you to additional sources of support.

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  What is the protocol for staff members that create unsafe space in and outside the classroom?

It is important to stand up to practices we know are harmful and that disrupt the safe spaces we are aiming to create for students. In this area, it is most important to lead by example.  Model the practices and procedures as outlined by the guidance and ensure that you are creating an inclusive environment within your sphere of influence.  Depending on the severity of their refusal, you should reach out to your school’s administration and let them know of potential harmful practices.  If you plan to have a conversation with a colleague about this issue and want some additional support before doing so, we encourage you to reach out to us. As state in Milwaukee Public Schools Administrative Policy 1.04, no person may be discriminated against because of their “gender, gender identity, gender expression, gender nonconformity.”

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  What does sex assigned at birth mean?

The term “sex assigned at birth” referred to in the MPS Gender Inclusion Guidance document is defined as, “The sex determined by a physician, midwife, nurse, or individual delivering a baby based on inspection of the genitalia post-birth.”  Most often, this identity falls into the binary categories of male or female.  For some, though, their gender identity does not match this subjective decision by the individual who delivered them.  For those who identify as intersex, their “reproductive anatomy or genitalia does not seem to fit the socially accepted definitions of female or male. Often physicians will perform “corrective” surgery in order to make the child’s genitalia fit into either a female or male definition.”  This surgery is even performed even in cases where the surgery is purely cosmetic and has no relation to improving the individual’s health.  For many intersex individuals, they may be unhappy with the gender identity ascribed to them at birth and possibly will have to deal with a surgical change made to their body without their consent.  Another way to look at this topic is to expand our idea of what gender looks like through a Culturally Responsive lens.  The concept of two, binary genders is not necessarily a view held worldwide.  In fact, throughout the world and history, different cultures have come to define gender in many different ways.   This article provides some limited information about some of these gender categories. 

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  What is the gender binary?

The gender binary refers to the classification of gender and sex assigned at birth into two distinct, opposite, and disconnected forms of masculine and feminine.  Essentially this means that our current society categorizes people into two gender categories, male and female, and that with these categories comes beliefs about the characteristics and roles each gender should embody.  These rigid categories often leave many people out, such as those who identify as transgender, gender non-conforming, or gender non-binary.  It also leaves many cisgender people out, such as a cisgender man who is considered “too emotional” or a cisgender woman who doesn’t desire to get married and have children.  While we may already know that gender roles don’t need to define us, the continue use and acceptance of the gender binary reveals the ways in which expectations about gender regulate our every day.  Recognizing the limitations of the gender binary is also a culturally responsive practice when one looks at the many different ways gender is defined by other cultures.  This article provides some limited information about some of these gender categories. 

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  Where is the science behind the idea that there are more than two genders? Is this research-based?

This is actually an exciting time when it comes to scientific research around gender.  There are new studies emerging regularly that aim to understand the wide diversity of gender identity and its place in the scientific world.  The following is just one example of the emerging research on this topic:

However, we would caution the impulse to essentialize gender.  Gender identity, like other identities, should not be ruled by strict norms or stereotypes.  To put this into context, throughout history, and often in the present, many people wanted to conceptualize race in scientific ways.  However, this effort eliminated nuance, reducing entire populations to harmful and untrue stereotypes.  It is also important to remember that our life experiences affect how our bodies grow and develop.  An expansive view of gender not only allows transgender and gender nonconforming individuals to live authentically, but it also allows those of us who do identify as male or female to not be limited by strict categories and unrealistic expectations based solely on our gender identity.

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  Where are other Wisconsin districts on this? Other larger urban districts?

Many districts around the state have adopted some variety of a policy, procedure, or guidelines regarding transgender or gender nonconforming individuals. Here are some examples of Wisconsin school districts and organizations that we looked to as reference points for our own guidance:

  • Madison Metropolitan School District
  • School District of Shorewood
  • Verona Area School District
  • Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association (WIAA)

Regarding other large urban districts, we also looked to the following for reference when creating our guidance:

  • Chicago Public Schools
  • District of Colombia Public Schools
  • Los Angeles Unified School District
  • Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education
  • New York State Education Department
  • San Francisco Unified School District
  • St. Paul Public Schools
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  What curriculum is being developed to teach this sensitive topic to elementary classrooms?

Some of this work has already made its way into our district’s curriculum.  For example, Brett Fuller (Health, Physical Education, Safe and Supportive Schools Curriculum Specialist) has worked to infuse gender inclusion into the Human Growth Development curriculum.  As we work to develop additional curriculum, we can share some resources created by the Human Rights Campaign’s Welcoming Schools project.  When it comes to creating gender inclusivity in elementary classrooms specifically, it is best practice to allow children to explore and define their own identities without placing arbitrary restrictions on them based on gender.  Small changes to everyday practices can also help create a more inclusive environment.  For example, using creative ways to divide the class for activities instead of using “boys” & “girls.”  It is also important to discourage gender exclusion among your students.  This database provides some quick and easy responses to common gendered statements that students may say.

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