What legal rights do you have at school as a trans or gender diverse young person?

26 March 2021

A resource for trans and gender diverse young people and their families in the ACT

This fact sheet answers some common questions trans and gender diverse young people, and their families, have about their rights at school in relation to school uniforms, bathrooms, camps and sports teams.

By reading this resource you will get a better understanding of your rights at school in the Australian Capital Territory.

This fact sheet includes:

  • What counts as discrimination?
  • What can you do if you are discriminated against?
  • What laws protect trans and gender diverse young people?

  Not in the Australian Capital Territory?

This resource explains your rights in the ACT. We also have resources for:

VIC | NSW | QLD | SA | ACT | NT | TAS | WA

You have rights

As a trans and gender diverse student in Australia, you have the same rights and protections under the law which are afforded to all students. The Discrimination Act 1991 (ACT) and the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth) prohibit discrimination in public life on the basis of gender identity. 

Schools have a legal duty of care to protect students from risks of harm (that the school should be able to anticipate) and to do what is reasonable to ensure you are safe at school, so that you feel safe and protected when you are attending school. 

Despite these obligations, it can still be daunting to navigate the different gendered facilities and activities at school. For example, wearing a gendered school uniform, using gendered bathrooms, going on school camps and participating in school sports teams.

Further, many trans and gender diverse students have found their schools to be unsupportive of their gender status, and therefore fail to make the student feel safe at school.

What is discrimination at school?

Generally speaking, discrimination means treating (or proposing to treat) someone unfairly or less favourably than others because of one or more of their personal characteristics. This can happen in different places and contexts, and may be direct or indirect.

Discrimination is only against the law when it happens in an area of public life, including in education. This means it is against the law for schools and teachers to discriminate against you, either directly or indirectly, on the basis of your gender identity.

What counts as discrimination?

It is discriminatory, and therefore unlawful, for a school to treat you less favourably than other students because you are trans and gender diverse, such as by:

  • Refusing or failing to accept your application for admission as a student
  • Only admitting you as a student on certain terms (that would not otherwise apply)
  • Denying you access, or limiting your access, to any benefit provided by the school
  • Expelling or subjecting you to any disadvantage

The above examples are examples of direct discrimination. 

Indirect discrimination occurs where a requirement, condition or practice is applied to all students equally but its application is likely to have the effect of disadvantaging students with a particular characteristic (and it is not reasonable).   

Are there any exceptions?

Yes, there are some exceptions.

For example, it is usually not against the law to discriminate against someone in competitive sporting activities on the basis of their gender identity where some competitive advantage may be gained because of a disparity between relative strength, stamina or physique of competitors. This exception does not apply to sporting activities by children who are younger than 12 years old. This could involve refusing or failing to select someone for a sporting team or excluding them from participating in the sporting team.

There are also some exceptions that may apply to religious schools. Some discrimination laws allow conduct by religious schools that would otherwise be considered discriminatory. As a result of these exceptions, it may be possible for religious schools to treat students differently on the basis of their gender identity in some circumstances. If you have any questions about this, consider contacting the AHRC or Department of Education.

What can you do about gender discrimination at school?

If you are being discriminated against by a school and or teacher because you are trans and gender diverse, you have the right to make a complaint or take legal action. Take a look at our fact sheet on dealing with gender discrimination.

Are there any laws in Australia that protect the rights of trans and gender diverse students?

No, but education policies and guidelines exist which address aspects of schooling for trans and gender diverse students such as:

  • changing your name/gender used at school
  • school uniforms
  • bathrooms
  • school camps
  • sports teams

Policies and guidelines are important and do help protect transgender rights at school. Some states have started to implement policies in line with broader anti-discrimination legislation. However, they don’t carry the same authority as legislation.

The policies that guide schools vary depending on which state or territory you live in, as well as which school you go to.

 

What about in the ACT?

In its 2019 – 20 budget, the ACT Government recommitted to funding a ‘Safe Schools’ program. This helps schools foster a safe environment that is supportive and inclusive of trans and gender diverse students by providing access to resources, education and training for staff and students.

Schools are encouraged to access the program, particularly where they have trans and gender diverse students.

Where to get help and more information

  • Justice Connect has a fact sheet on ‘How to deal with gender discrimination’ available online.
  • Parents of Gender Diverse Children provides peer support nationally to parents and those parenting trans and gender diverse children. To access their resources or make an enquiry, visit the PGDC website.
  • A Gender Agenda provides information and an online community for gender-diverse people in the ACT. Information on support groups that you can connect with is also available via the A Gender Agenda website.
  • Twenty 10 provides a range of support services and social spaces for people of diverse genders and sexualities aged under 26, mainly in NSW but they also service ACT. To access their resources visit the Twenty 10 website.

This resource was published 26/03/2021. This is legal information only and does not constitute legal advice. You should always contact a lawyer for advice specific to your situation.

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