President's Message

Gender Identity Matters

By Todd A. Savage

Volume 44 Number 5

As a part of the theme to drive my year as NASP president (i.e., School Climate: #ConnectTheDots), I have emphasized matters of diversity and inclusiveness as two essential elements that contribute to a positive school climate. I have highlighted sexual and gender diversity as areas requiring particular consideration in our efforts not only to be aware, sensitive, and responsive practitioners, whatever our roles may be, but also as advocates. Gender identity has received much attention as of late, both in the broader culture and in schools. From the dramas Orange Is the New Black and Transparent, to Caitlyn Jenner living authentically in the public eye, to the growing numbers of youth declaring transgender or gender queer identities, gender diversity is certainly a part of our cultural consciousness at the present time. While greater visibility is piquing people's awareness, many are confused as to what gender diversity entails.

So what is it we're really talking about when it comes to sex, gender, and gender identity? Very basically speaking, while sex has to do with anatomical and other biological markers to which humans have ascribed meaning, gender is a social construct that follows from the sex assignment made at birth. The concept of gender is culturally bound and based on social agreement. Gender identity, however, is at the individual level and it has to do with how each one of us sees ourselves in a gendered way. For many people, their gender identity aligns with the assignments of sex and gender others made for them at birth; persons for whom assignment and identity align are termed cisgender. For other people, their gender identity does not align with that which others assigned them. Some people identify as transgender (e.g., assigned one way at birth but identifying as the "opposite" gender in a binary system), and others identify as something else along the gender spectrum (e.g., gender fluid or gender queer, among a whole host of other gender identities). Clearly, our understanding of the complexities of gender identity in relation to sex and gender is deepening; however, we are still learning about the breadth of gender diversity within our human family.

As more gender diverse students are expressing their gender identities at earlier ages, schools are scrambling to find ways to best meet the various academic, social, emotional, and behavioral needs of this unique population in a culturally sensitive and responsive manner. School psychologists are ideally situated to be go-to professionals assisting our colleagues and school communities in the process of supporting gender diverse students. A critical first step is to examine our own personal thoughts, feelings, and beliefs around gender and gender diversity. Just as we approach all aspects of cultural competence and meeting the individual needs of each student, we sometimes need to take intentional actions to enhance our understanding of the issues at hand in order to enhance our abilities to provide appropriate supports.

NASP is here to assist each of us optimize gender diverse students' potential for success in school. As you have seen on the pages of this publication, various people in the field with expertise on the topic have written a series of articles on gender and gender diversity. Furthermore, I have been afforded many opportunities to present on how to support transgender and gender diverse students at school and at home at various state conferences. Finally, the annual NASP convention in New Orleans in February will offer sessions through which participants can heighten their knowledge and hone their skills. Drs. Jill Davidson, Colt Keo-Meier, and Kris Varjas are conducting a workshop on making schools safe for transgender and gender diverse students, and Heidi Springborg and Leslie Lagerstrom will be presenting a documented session focused on systems-level change strategies conducive to creating inclusive school environments for this population of students. And to set the tone for the entire conference, Ms. Janet Mock, an accomplished journalist and a trans advocate, will serve as the keynote speaker. She will share her journey as a trans woman of color through the power of storytelling, accentuating what we, as school psychologists, can do to meet the needs of these students. You can get more information at

Thank you for all you are doing on behalf of gender diverse students in your role as a school psychologist! I appreciate that there are challenges and hurdles that may hamper your abilities to fulfill effectively and easily your calling in this regard, but I have every confidence that you are working arduously to elevate transgender and gender diverse students on their schooling journey. As alluded to above, please know that so many members of the NASP family and I are here to provide the support and resources you need in your endeavors to do right by gender diverse students.

Gender identity matters. Tell us what you do to support and to advocate for transgender and gender diverse students at #ConnectTheDots and @nasponline. 

Todd A. Savage, PhD, NCSP, is the president of the National Association of School Psychologists