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Building a Trans-Inclusive Speech and Debate Team

by Jessica Kurr

What does it mean to have a trans-inclusive speech and debate team? Depending on who you ask, you are likely to receive a different response. Based on my experience mentoring various trans students, I hear that well-meaning teams, coaches, and judges who want to promote inclusivity often forget and overlook simple acts that can be taken beyond the usual pronoun circle. This happens because cis coaches, students, parents, and judges take certain things for granted that their trans counterparts cannot. For the International Transgender Day of Visibility, I want to highlight various acts that often go unnoticed, so trans students do not feel forgotten and let down.

Situational awareness: Cis individuals are generally comfortable in more situations than trans individuals. Talk with your trans students and coaches about when it is okay to use their name and pronouns (e.g. with their parents and other teachers, at tournaments, or just the squad room).

Travel logistics: While NSDA has recommendations for gender neutral restrooms, that does not mean every tournament or restaurant will. So, make sure to call ahead to know about restroom access at restaurants and to ensure that tournaments are following best practices and providing information about all gender restrooms.

Argument/piece selection: Do not assume every trans student wants to make arguments about gender issues or give speeches about their identity. While some might, trans competitors should not and cannot be reduced down solely to being trans. Make sure you follow their lead and support the direction they want to take.

Team climate: Building inclusive teams requires everyone being on board, both students and coaches, and making sure there is a climate of shared responsibility. Students should feel comfortable correcting coaches without recourse. Community building events can go a long way toward creating the foundation for a positive atmosphere.

In short, take initiative and do the work so that building a trans-inclusive team does not rest solely on trans students, coaches, judges, and parents. While pronouns are important, you should not forget other acts that could make trans individuals feel forgotten.

Editorial Note: You can find the NSDA’s Gender Neutral Restroom Guidance, Harassment and Discrimination Policy, Pride Month resources, and more on our Diversity and Inclusion page.