GSE Faculty Advance Transgender Rights in Education

With support from the Spencer Foundation, Dr. Melinda Mangin and Dr. Catherine Lugg are engaged in groundbreaking work that brings together scholars and activists to map a research agenda for the next five to ten years on transgender education. According to Dr. Mangin, “Most of the current research comes from psychiatry and medicine–where they situate transgender identity as a problem. We want to reframe that understanding so that holding a transgender identity is seen as an asset and an opportunity.”

To this end, they hosted a conference at Rutgers University, entitled “Transforming Education: A Research Agenda.”

“Conference is to generate substantial research projects so as to create a space for scholars at universities to advance research on transgender people in public education,” stated Dr. Lugg. “Being funded by the Spencer Foundation adds legitimacy to the current project. It also opens the gateway to inclusion for a greater body of funded research on the transgender identities in education and also for trans faculty to be hired by universities.”

Dr. Mangin was inspired to pursue this line of research due to her work with families of young transgender children and their schools. She observed that many experiences with school districts were negative and that sparked a desire to learn from elementary schools that had successfully supported transgender students. Sharing lessons from supportive schools may help all school districts develop affirming practices and policies so that transgender children feel a sense of belonging in school.

“These are human and civil rights issues. Children are entitled to public education, but trans students commonly experience mistreatment in schools that can have devastating impacts including school avoidance and increased risk for suicidal ideation,” stated Dr. Mangin. “Thus, the education of administrators and teachers on creating inclusive school communities is critical.”

Dr. Lugg’s commitment to this project is part of her broader research agenda on LGBT policies in education and her desire to ensure better outcomes for K-12 trans students, teachers, and administrators.

The collective vision of Dr. Mangin and Dr. Lugg is to cultivate senior trans scholars in higher education as leaders in the field and thereby push the envelope on research. They also hope to empower school districts, implement affirming policies, and practices that break the cycle of dehumanization that trans students presently encounter. And finally, they hope this work will result in the hiring of more transgender educators as transgender youth need role models in schools as well. 

“One of our biggest challenges is that the wider public doesn’t understand how this topic is relevant to everyone,” stated Mangin. “Gender stereotypes are harmful to everyone, including cisgender men and women. We, as a society, need to realize that gender doesn’t have to be the pivotal way in which we categorize people. Everyone has a story about being rebuked due to gender stereotyping and all of our bathrooms at home are gender-inclusive. Thus, we have precedents to move forward without gender as our primary organizing category. We hope to evolve society’s thinking on the subject with this line of research.”