Making Our Schools More Gender Inclusive and Affirming

By: August Stockwell, PhD, BCBA-D and Jennifer Klapatch, PhD, BCBA-D
The Chicago School of Professional Psychology


Both the American Psychological Association (APA) Ethical Guidelines and Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB) Ethical Code specify that practitioners should not engage in unfair discrimination against individuals based on their gender during work-related activities (APA 3.01; BACB 1.05 d).  In addition, according to the BACB, behavior analysts should obtain “training, experience, consultation, or supervision necessary to ensure the competence of their services, or they make appropriate referrals,” when differences in gender affect behavior analysts’ work (BACB 1.05 c). Therefore, it is up to behavior analysts to maintain competence with regard to gender-related topics in order to be ethical in the services they provide.


Put simply, gender identity is a person’s sense of their own gender, whereas gender expression involves how people communicate gender to others through their behavior, clothing, haircut, voice, and other forms of presentation.  Although many people may have a gender identity that matches the one they were assigned at birth (i.e., cisgender), many other individuals have gender identities that are different from the label assigned to them at birth (i.e., transgender).  These identities can include labels like male and female, as well as others like genderqueer, nonbinary, agender, genderfluid, and many others.


Only 6% of dollars allocated to LGBT services goes to transgender issues (LGBT Grant Making Tracking Report, 2013).  In addition, half of all transgender students seriously consider dropping out of their courses during their time at university, and 1 in 3 transgender students report experiencing some form of bullying or harassment at school (National Union of Students, 2014).  As behavior analysts working in school settings, there are many actions that can be taken to support students of all genders through policies and daily practices.  Below are several key examples for organizations as a whole, for researchers, and for instructors and advisors:


At the Organizational Level

  • Establish a nondiscrimination policy that is specific to gender identity and expression (rather than covering gender more generally)
  • Establish policies that affirm student and employee use of bathrooms corresponding to their gender identity
  • Include an “other” box for gender on admissions and other documents rather than only “Male” and “Female” options, or allow individuals to write in their gender
  • Provide gender neutral bathroom(s) in every building
  • Safe Space training for all faculty and staff members
  • Designated staff member(s) that individuals can go to in the case of gender-related threats, harassment, and other concerns
  • Diversity courses should address gender identity as a topic in its own right, rather than combining it with discussions of sexual orientation
  • Option to change name and gender marker on academic record and attendance sheets without evidence of gender confirmation surgery or legal transition
  • Heath insurance that covers medical and surgical expenses related to gender


Actions for Researchers:

  • Conduct research focused specifically on LGBT individuals, and/or specifically include them in your participant pool
  • Include an “other” box for gender on demographic forms rather than only “male” and “female” options, or allow participants to write in their gender
  • Use inclusive language (e.g., “partner” rather than “husband/wife,” “individual” rather than “him or her”)
  • Ask participants for their preferred pronouns (e.g., him, her, them, etc.) and use them in manuscripts when describing each person’s data


Actions for Instructors and Advisors:

  • Attend trainings on gender and sexuality and other diversity topics, and learn as much as you can about the needs of your students
  • Immediately stop transphobic comments and behaviors when they occur
  • Ask for and use students’ and fellow employees’ names and preferred pronouns (e.g., him, her, them, etc.), rather than using a name assigned at birth and an assumed pronoun
  • Include trans women, trans men, and nonbinary people in your clinical and instructional examples, including examples that are not specific to gender identity
  • Recognize and discuss events like Pride, National Coming Out Day, and Transgender Day of Remembrance
  • Use language that includes “people of all genders,” rather gender specific phrases like “men and women,” “ladies,” etc.
  • If you are interested in gathering more information about gender identity and how to make your school a safer and more affirming place for people of all genders, you can visit:
  • PFLAG (,
  • Lambda Legal (, and
  • Campus Pride (
  • References
  • American Psychological Association (2010). Ethical principles of psychologists and code of conduct. Retrieved from
  • Behavior Analyst Certification Board (2014). Professional and ethical compliance code for behavior analysts.  Retrieved from
  • Funders for LGBTQ Issues (2013). LGBT grant making tracking report.  Retrieved from
  • National Union of Students (2014). Education beyond the straight and narrow: LGBT students’ experience in higher education.  Retrieved from










This piece was originally published as a part of the Summer 2015 SBRP SIG Newsletter.

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