Human Rights Campaign: Don’t Say “Boys and Girls”; Say “Friends” or “Students”

The Human Rights Campaign wants to make sure teachers don’t identify students by the gender the students were born with. In other words, when a teacher is talking to all the students, he shouldn’t address them with the usual “boys and girls.” That separates the students by gender stereotypes. To avoid that, teachers should address them as “students,” “friends,” or “scholars.”

Whatever the situation, teachers should never utter the words “boy” or “girl.” For instance, telling the girls to line up first is not appropriate. Instead of focusing on the students’ outward or perceived gender, focus on something more educational. “Anyone wearing a green shirt can line up,” or “If your name has an ‘E’ please line up.” The Human Rights Campaign, which according to their website, works for “Lesbian, Gay,

Bisexual and Transgender Equal Rights,” continued with more advice:

For generations teachers have separated students according to their gender for activities or to line up for lunch. However, this can leave some students feeling out-of-place, making them distracted or isolated and not able to focus on learning.  


Similarly, instead of addressing your class using “boys” and “girls,” try something new. Words like “friends,” “students” or “scholars” allow all students to feel included, expand student vocabulary and model inclusive language and behavior for other students and teachers.

Their advice column started with a heartwarming story about the author, presumably a transgender male today, who as a young schoolgirl was given a pink notebook by her teacher with her name on it in cursive and decorated with flowers and hearts. The young schoolgirl noticed the boy students had blue notebooks decorated with soccer balls and footballs. The author continued:

My first day of school that year, I cried. How could someone have made this choice for me? Did my teacher care about me at all?

My teacher had no way of knowing that I would come to identify as male after learning the word “transgender” when I was a teenager, but I’m sure I wasn’t the only student that would have preferred a color that wasn’t so gendered, like green or yellow.

So, to avoid all that drama, let’s just not bring gender into this whole scenario at all. Let’s pretend gender doesn’t even exist. Here are a few choice excerpts from Welcoming Schools, a project under the Human Rights Campaign:

  • Help students expand their possibilities – academically, artistically, emotionally – and see that there are many ways to be a boy or a girl.
  • Use inclusive phrases to address your class as a whole like “Good morning, everyone” or “Good morning, scholars” instead of “Good morning, boys and girls.” You could also choose and use a name for your class that brings to mind positive attributes – like the Dolphins or the Owls.
  • Group students in ways that do not rely on gender such as: students whose last names begin with A-H or  I-Z, or students who are sitting in a particular part of the room, etc. Avoid situations that force children to make gendered choices, such as boys line up here and girls line up there.
  • Develop classroom messages that emphasize “All children can…” rather than “Boys don’t…, Girls don’t…” Increasingly put more emphasis on the inclusive term “children.”
  • Provide role models for all children that show a wide range of achievements and emotions for all people. Review the books in your classroom to ensure inclusion of good role models. Read books that encourage discussion of gender assumptions. Have students write biographies or create posters for hallway displays featuring people who have moved beyond traditional roles and have excelled in their chosen fields.

This is the kind of stuff that’s considered important in today’s schools. When I was a kid, which wasn’t all that long ago, we learned to read normal English in normal books and do normal math.

Today, maybe a 5 doesn’t actually “identify” as a 5. Maybe it identifies as a brown, leather couch. Who are we to impose our own biased and presumptuous numerical stereotypes on those concepts?