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How can schools support trans and non-binary students?

New data questions how well schools safeguard trans and non-binary  students.

This article features in our Term 4 issue: check it out now!

The community report asks students about bullying, their sense that people care about them at school, and if their school had a range of positive policies or practices such as gender-neutral bathrooms or dress codes, peer group support and more. 

The first comprehensive national survey of the health and wellbeing of trans and non-binary people in Aotearoa New Zealand, Counting Ourselves, confirms very high levels of discrimination and bullying for those at secondary school. The report surveys how well school policies and practices support trans and non-binary students.

Counting Ourselves was conducted between June and September 2018, completed by 1178 people aged between 14 and 83 from all regions of the country. Of these, 93 (eight percent) were currently attending a New Zealand secondary school.

Bullying and discrimination

More than one-in-five (21 percent) of trans and non-binary students in Counting Ourselves had been bullied in school at least once-a-week in the last year. This is similar to the level of bullying experienced by transgender students (19 percent) at the same age in the Youth’12 survey seven years ago: more than four times the rate for cisgender students (five percent).

More than a third (35 percent) of trans and non-binary students said they were discriminated against at school in the last 12 months. This rate was more than two-and-a-half times higher than for 15 to 19-year-olds in the general population (13 percent) in the 2016 General Social Survey.

School policies and practices

In recent years, there has been long-overdue advice available about creating a safe and inclusive learning environment for trans and non-binary children and young people at any stage of their education.

Much of that material, including in Te Kete Ipurangi’s Guide to LGBTIQA+ students, is built around the priorities identified by students themselves. Counting Ourselves provides a reality check of how much progress has been made putting that advice into practice.

There were some positive findings. Most student participants (80 percent) said they had a safe space to meet other trans and non-binary students and could bring a partner of any gender to a school ball or formal (73 percent). About half of the students reported policies or practices that were inclusive of trans and non-binary students. Just over half (52 percent) said trans and non-binary students at their school could change their name on school records, had the option of a gender-neutral clothing option for sport (53 percent) and could choose to wear the girls’ or the boys’ school uniform (50 percent). Less than half (45 percent) said their school had a gender-neutral uniform or dress code.

The picture was less positive for other vital indicators. Most of the school participants (59 percent) did not think it was safe for trans and non-binary students in their school to use a toilet or changing room that matched their gender. The Guide to LGBTQIA+ students provides details about creating gender-neutral toilets to ensure students have an option that is safe for them. Yet less than half of these students reported that unisex toilets were available at their school (43 percent).

Less than one-third of student participants reported students could change their gender marker on school records (30 percent), with a further 42 percent not knowing their school’s policy on this. In terms of the school climate, less than a quarter of participants (23 percent) agreed that students at their school were educated about what it means to be trans or non-binary.


We asked students about the level of support they received when their classmates knew they were trans or non-binary. All of these students had at least one supportive classmate and more than half (59 percent) had support from most or all of their classmates.

However, fewer than one in five (18 percent) 14 to 19-year-old students reported that adults at their school cared about them a lot, confirming similarly lower rates in the Youth’12 survey for transgender students (20 percent) compared to cisgender students (28 percent) at this age. Almost a quarter of the trans and non-binary students (24 percent) in the Counting Ourselves survey felt that adults at school did not care about them at all, higher than transgender students (19 percent) in the Youth’12 survey and more than three times the rate for cisgender students (seven percent).

Families and whānau are filling in the gaps. Participants under the age of 25 were the age group most likely to report that family/whānau had researched how best to support them or had helped them to change their name or gender on their identity documents.


To help schools to be safe and inclusive for trans and non-binary students, , the report recommends resource initiatives that assist schools to deliver high-quality; comprehensive sexuality and gender diversity education; undergo staff training on gender diversity; and establish rainbow diversity groups. Counting Ourselves also recommends that schools address bullying against trans and non-binary students; and adopt inclusive policies and practices for trans and non-binary students, especially around access to sports, bathrooms and changing rooms and; gender-neutral or unisex uniform, bathroom and changing room options.

These recommendations can easily be implemented with the supports available; however, findings show that they are still out-of-reach for the majority of trans and non-binary students. Delays place huge pressures on individual students and their families. This can be seen in the alarming mental health inequities faced by trans and non-binary youth, outlined in the Counting Ourselves report.

Schools do well supporting trans and non-binary (and other LGBTIQA+ students) when there is a co-ordinated and comprehensive series of initiatives, across all levels of the school and curriculum, with strong leadership from the Board of Trustees and principal. This work is ongoing and needs to involve parents and whānau with the support of community organisations who can help where needed.

We hope that sharing this data and existing resources spurs on greater levels of collaboration between all of us committed to the health and wellbeing of trans and non-binary students.


Trans or transgender: Someone whose gender is different from their sex assigned at birth.

Non-binary: Someone whose gender is not just male or female. They may be both male or female, neither, or an alternative gender.

Cisgender: Someone who is not trans (or non-binary) because their gender is the same as their sex assigned at birth


Guide to LGBTIQA+ students:

Counting Ourselves community report and Executive Summary:

Sexuality and gender video teaching resource:

‘Starting and Strengthening Rainbow Diversity’ groups:

Authors: Jack Byrne is the Research Officer for Counting Ourselves, University of Waikato. Dr Jaimie Veale is the Senior Lecturer and Principal Investigator for Counting Ourselves, University of Waikato

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