Utah educators advised not to ask students their ¨preferred¨ names and pronouns, contrary to state training.

The Utah State Board of Education´s new stance on pronouns puts transgender students across the state at risk.


Since the beginning of September, Utah educators have been circling the same question – “Can teachers ask students for their pronouns, or does that infringe on the rights of parents?”


Proceeding their meeting on September 3rd, the Utah State Board released a policy draft addressing students´ ability to use their pronouns at school. The main message of the policy is as follows: educators must have a parent or guardian consent before referring to a student by something other than their legal name or using pronouns that don’t ¨match up¨ with the student´s AGAB (assigned gender at birth) binary. However, the policy draft proclaims ¨they¨ and ¨them¨ pronouns to be gender-neutral, allowing teachers to freely use them for all students as an alternative. Students who use a nickname derived from their legal name are exempt from the policy. 


The majority of students affected by this policy are transgender, specifically those who are not out at home. For these kids, being deadnamed or misgendered can be life or death, as 89% of trans youth have contemplated suicide and 72% have self-harmed at least once (Stonewall,). Depression and suicidal thoughts of trans youth often stem from their identity, whether it be dysphoria or transphobia from others.


One Herriman High student states, “Being misgendered can cause extreme anxiety and stress, especially when it is done in front of other people. It leaves you with an uncomfortable feeling and suddenly you just can’t focus on what’s happening in class. It is even harder to speak up and correct people when they make mistakes, as that also draws attention to yourself. Either way, it’s humiliating¨. 


Lin Flores, one of Herriman High´s GSA advisors is a self-proclaimed queer teacher who strives to provide a safe environment for LGBTQ+ students at school.


¨I think the biggest thing that I can do as an individual is to make my kids feel safe. The fact is, I’m not going to use a pronoun they don’t want me to use- I’m just not going to. I would have to be fired first. My biggest workaround is using a name that they feel comfortable with or neutral pronouns.¨ 


¨Our biggest objective as teachers is to make safe learning environments. If I’m not making a safe learning environment then I´m failing, so I’m going to do whatever is necessary to make sure my kids feel comfortable.¨


For transgender students in Utah, this new policy may risk their safety, both at school and at home. However, there have been many educators in the state who have expressed their desire to support and learn from their trans students. The Board has not voted on the policy, so it is possible that with enough support from students and teachers, they may be able to sway the Board’s decision.