Teachers and staff at Yountville Elementary School are working to combat bullying by receiving training in children’s gender identity issues.
School employees received training earlier this year from Gender Spectrum, a group that provides education and support to create inclusive environments for all children and teens.
Gender identity refers to one’s personal conception of being male or female. Some people also consider themselves to be both male and female or, sometimes, neither gender.
The one-day training cost $407 and was paid for through the school’s community donations account. A follow-up training for Yountville’s teachers will be scheduled later this year.
Principal Tara Bianchi, who has discretion over the community donations account, said the purpose of the trainings is to create a safer school community.
“The training for staff is to help us in supporting students and making our campus more sensitive to students, no matter where they fall on the gender spectrum,” she said.
Dr. Louise Greenspan, a pediatric endocrinologist at Kaiser Permanente San Francisco who is not involved in the Yountville training, said many children fall into different places on the gender spectrum. On one end of the spectrum, for example, are boys who identify themselves as boys. On the opposite end of the spectrum are boys who identify as girls.
Children who fall into the middle of the gender spectrum are considered “gender nonconforming,” which has more to do with gender roles and behavior, Greenspan said. A boy who is gender nonconforming, for example, may like to play with dolls and dress up like a princess.
Greenspan said most kids start recognizing their own gender between the ages of 2 and 3.
“Ask a typical 2- to 3-year-old if they’re a boy or a girl, and they’ll know,” Greenspan said.
Sometimes children will identify as a gender different from their biological sex. Children who are fully transgendered often feel uncomfortable in their own bodies, Greenspan said.
“It would be like having a birth defect,” she said.
A transgendered child entering puberty has a high risk of developing depression and other mental health problems, especially if they don’t feel accepted by their peers, Greenspan said. For some kids, this can lead to problems including eating disorders or even suicide.
Bianchi did not cite any specific incidents of gender-related bullying at Yountville Elementary, but she said sensitivity to gender identification is an area that all schools can improve in.
Ian Stanley, the Napa LGBTQ Project program director, agreed that schools should be places where all children feel secure.
“If students feel welcome at school, they are more likely to feel part of school programs, more likely to connect with teachers and staff, and ultimately more likely to achieve higher academically,” Stanley said.
The Napa LGBTQ Project works with schools across Napa County to support safer campuses. They are not part of the Gender Spectrum group working with Yountville Elementary.
Stanley said it is “critical to note” that, at the younger grade levels, gender identity is not about sexual preferences.
“Generally at the elementary school level we are simply talking about family, respect, and increasing understanding across diversity or difference,” Stanley said.