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  • Jeff Baierlein

Supporting Gender Expansive Learners on Outdoor, Travel, Experiential and Adventure Programs

Every person deserves access to educational and recreational opportunities free from unreasonable risk to their physical and psychological well-being.

This includes young people of any gender and gender identity who participate in experience-based learning programs like outdoor education and environmental education programs.

In the USA, the Department of Education of the state of Oregon has recently developed guidance for schools to help them support gender expansive learners in the state’s public schools.

This follows a court case in which a 15-year old nonbinary learner, Lior Onaly-Kelsey, was awarded USD 317,353 in a case against an Oregon school district alleging misgendering, bullying and exclusion from extracurricular activities. The jury found that the school district had discriminated against them.

It also came after a school district in the state pulled their learners out of an outdoor school program, minutes after learning that the camp employed nonbinary staff.

In January 2023, the Oregon Department of Education (ODE) published Supporting Gender Expansive Students: Guidance for Schools, containing well-developed guidance for supporting the civil rights of students to be free from gender identity-based discrimination when pursuing their education.

(ODE also published additional guidance and resources to assist in the development of policies and programming to support gender expansive students.)

Oregon is a leader in providing outdoor education experiences to all public school students at no additional cost to students and their families, through a network of outdoor schools across the state. The District’s excellent guidance is being adapted to help outdoor schools in Oregon foster a safe, welcoming and inclusive environment for all learners.

The guidance has been adapted into a checklist format to help outdoor education and related organizations evaluate the extent to which their programs successfully support gender expansive participants.

The adaptation, shared below, was developed by Annie Linhart of Viristar. Viristar gratefully acknowledges the Oregon Department of Education for its development of the material from which these assessment criteria were developed.

Every experiential, adventure, travel, environmental education or outdoor program has its own unique context. The assessment standards below, which were developed from material designed for public schools in the U.S. state of Oregon, may not be equally applicable to every program in any location, and would require further adaptation for use outside the Oregon, USA public school context.

However, the criteria can provide an opportunity for youth-serving and other organizations to build awareness around how they might be successful in fostering and sustaining an inclusive and welcoming environment for all persons, regardless of their gender or gender identity.

Cover imagery from ODE’s recent publication. Oregon Department of Education

Supporting Gender Expansive Students

1. The organization does not unreasonably differentiate treatment based on race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, national origin, marital status, age, gender, gender identity, or disability.

2. Student Identity and Expression

2.1 The organization respects and affirms a student’s gender expansive identity by adopting a flexible approach that accounts for each student’s unique identities, needs, strengths, and social supports.

2.2. Students are referred to by the name and pronouns that affirm their gender identity.

2.3. The organization protects the rights of students’ freedom of expression. For example, the organization does not engage in actions such as: threatening to out students to their families, overlooking bullying, forcing students to wear clothing inconsistent with their gender identity, or barring LGBTQ2SIA+-based attire.

3. The organization protects and encourages the creation of welcoming environments for gender expansive students through the use of inclusive and welcoming policies and practices. This includes training staff as well as proactively messaging to students and families those policies and practices.

4. Discrimination and Harassment

4.1. The organization responds to all reports of discrimination by acting to end the discrimination, remedying any impacts, and preventing discrimination from occurring again.

4.2. The organization, if receiving federal funding, has a designated Title IX Coordinator who is responsible for ensuring the organization’s compliance with Title IX, including but not limited to coordinating the organization’s response to all sex discrimination, including discrimination based on gender identity.

4.3. The organization is in compliance with the Every Student Belongs rule, including but not limited to prohibiting symbols of hate (any noose, swastika, or confederate flag) where the program is financed in whole or in part by moneys appropriated by the Legislative Assembly except where used in teaching standards-aligned curriculum.

4.4. The organization has policies in place for the reporting of and responding to bias incidents.

5. The organization supports the implementation of any student's support and safety plan, and appropriately protects the confidentiality of those plans.

6. Student Privacy

6.1. The organization has policies in place on parental notification when a student either experiences or commits an act of harassment, intimidation, or bullying.

6.2. The organization understands the conditions in which they may opt out of parental notification if they reasonably believe notification could endanger the student who was the subject of the act of harassment, intimidation, or bullying.

7. The organization has policies that are adaptable for gender affirming care including but not limited to: complying with scheduled medication administration requirements; social affirmation through gender marker, name, and pronoun use; access to facilities, athletics, programs and activities, and mental health services and supports.

8. Student Records

8.1. The organization offers students and new staff the ability to select from at least three sex/gender marker options (M, F, and X), as well as offer existing students and staff the ability to update their current records.

8.2. The organization supports gender expansive students by securely storing the legal name and using the asserted name in consultation with the student.

8.3. The organization assures the student’s legal name or deadname is stored confidentially.

9. Facilities Access

9.1 The organization takes reasonable steps to help ensure that students have the right to use facilities such as restrooms, locker rooms, and showers in a manner consistent with their gender identity.

10. The organization’s instructional materials promote respect for all identities covered by the protected classes defined in applicable law, including gender identity.

11. The organization allows gender expansive students to participate in accordance with their asserted gender identity when single-sex or gender-based activities are offered.

12. Staff Training and Support

12.1. The organization has a process for the prompt resolution of complaints of discrimination.

12.2. The organization’s staff receive training or information on what constitutes gender identity discrimination and how to report it.

13. Complaint Processes

13.1. The organization has complaint processes for when a student experiences bullying or harassment that is based on gender identity or other protected class.

13.2. The organization is prepared to accept complaints of discrimination from any student, parent or caregiver, or school district community member.

14. Complaints

14.1. The organization has a process in which they are able to identify and follow the complaint policy of the sending institution.


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