Our Commitments

Gender Inclusion FAQs

List of 22 frequently asked questions.

  • Why is it important to talk about gender inclusion, and why now?

    Simply put, we're talking about this now because it's an inevitable question: What happens at our single-gender school when a student transitions?

    Beyond that, gender-­based discrimination is illegal under Title IX, and 
    gender is a protected class in many states and cities (just like race, religion, or disability). These protections are necessary because transgender and other gender-­expansive students frequently face a great deal of discrimination from other students, staff and community members. Organizations such as the PTA, the NEA, the California School Board Association, the National Association of Independent Schools, the National Coalition of Girls’ Schools, and many other associations for administrators, counselors, and other educational professionals have written clear guidelines about the need to make sure that transgender and other gender-­expansive students are safe at school.

    If one of our students transitions, we not only want to be ready for it, but we want to ensure that the student feels supported and seen.
  • Does gender inclusion mean Burke's is becoming coed?

    No. Burke’s continues to be a school whose mission is to educate, encourage, and empower girls.
  • What if, while at Burke's, a student no longer identifies as a girl?

    During a student's time at Burke’s, it is quite possible they may identify as a boy and not as a girl. If and when this happens, Burke’s will work with families on a case-by-case basis to determine together a plan to best support that individual student as well as honor the family's wishes in handling the student's privacy. There is no one path for this kind of situation.
  • What is the difference between gender and sex?

    One of the most prevalent misconceptions about gender is that it is based solely on a physical understanding of sex, and that everyone fits into one of two opposite categories, male or female. This misconception in turn, leads many to incorrectly assume that the body one is born with determines an individual’s gender. Though related to one another, both gender and sex are much more complex. Gender is comprised of a person’s physical and genetic traits, their own sense of gender identity and their gender expression. Given the numerous combinations that these factors can create, gender is better understood as a spectrum. While many people fall into strongly masculine or feminine categories, others fall somewhere in the middle and are more androgynous. Ultimately, each person is in the best position to define their own place on the gender spectrum.
  • What is the difference between gender identity and sexual orientation?

    Despite the tendency to conflate sexual orientation and gender identity, the two are very different. Sexual orientation describes a person’s sexual or romantic attraction, while gender identity refers to someone’s own personal sense of being male, female, both or neither. Everyone has both a gender identity and a sexual orientation.
  • What was the process of crafting this statement?

    The Gender Inclusion Subcommittee of the Diversity Task Force began its work in 2016 with a great deal of research. Those efforts uncovered informative resources and statements from organizations such as the National Education Association, the National Coalition of Girls Schools, and the National Association of Independent Schools. Guidance from those documents as well as Burke's mission statement and commitments directly influenced our Gender Inclusion Statement.

    What also helped to steer this process was a tool that Burke's teachers use to develop curriculum: Understanding by Design. The members of the subcommittee approached their work by identifying outcomes that they wanted to see (such as, a transgender parent or student comes to Burke's and thrives) and backtracked to find ways to make those outcomes possible.
  • How do we continue to maintain a student-centered approach when it comes to gender inclusion at Burke's?

    Our continued expectation for all of our students is that they respect the privacy and physical boundaries of other students. If the behaviors of one student are making another student feel unsafe, that is an issue we take very seriously and want to know about.
  • How does this statement fit into the Burke's experience?

    Our work in educating, encouraging, and empowering young women is something we do in an inclusive, welcoming environment, but we are also preparing our students to head out into a world that is defined by a binary understanding of gender and still oftentimes values women less than men. As such, it makes sense at this point in history to affirm that we are teaching students who identify as girls, no matter their biology, as well as students who have empathy for the experiences of others. This statement is another milestone in Burke’s ongoing journey to become even more accessible to girls from all backgrounds.

    Gender identity is something that we begin to discuss with students in Lower School, especially in regards to activities and hobbies they may enjoy that are stereotypically for boys. This exploration of each student's personal identity continues throughout their years at Burke's as they're asked to consider how the unique individual they are might interact with a world that's defined by the gender binary. 

    Beyond that, one aspect of the Burke's experience is inclusivity and learning about people who are different than we are. Most of our students will not be directly affected by this statement, but it speaks to the culture of empathy we aim to provide on our campus and instill in our girls.
  • Which other single-gender schools have taken this step?

    While Burke's is one of the first independent schools in San Francisco to publish a statement of this kind, we are certainly not the only ones in the Bay Area or the country to do so. The Girls' Middle School in Palo Alto recently released its own gender inclusion statement. Seattle Girls School similarly accepts students who identify as girls regardless of their biological sex — and that school's Outreach Specialist, Rosetta Lee, has led our faculty and staff in several trainings on the gender spectrum. And The Spence School, a K-12 school for girls in New York City, just made public a statement similar to the one that Burke's has put together.
  • What does this mean for the bathroom facilities at Burke's?

    All single-stall bathrooms at Burke's will be made gender-neutral, with the appropriate signage to be installed over the summer.
  • What if a student who identifies as male claims to be female just so he can enter the girl’s facilities?

    Restrooms and locker rooms can be a source of discomfort for everyone, not just transgender students, and it is incumbent on school officials to ensure that all students are safe in the school’s facilities. In schools that provide transgender students access to the facilities that accord with their gender identity, this has not been an issue. If male students do enter female facilities without permission (e.g., on a dare from a classmate), such behavioral issues are unrelated to and likely existed long before schools gave transgender students access to the facilities that matched their gender identity. More importantly, providing transgender students with access to restrooms and locker rooms based on gender identity does not hinder the school’s ability to address and prevent inappropriate student behavior.
  • Will my daughter have privacy when changing for sports?

    Absolutely. Any student will be able to choose the space that makes her the most comfortable when changing, whether that's a single-stall gender-neutral bathroom or a girls' restroom with multiple stalls.
  • What if other students have privacy concerns about using a restroom with a transgender student?

    This is often based on the false idea that a transgender girl is not a “real” girl or that a transgender student wants access to those facilities for an improper purpose. Here at Burke’s, we remind students that behaving in a way that makes others uncomfortable is unacceptable and a violation of the school’s commitment to ensuring the safety of all students. A transgender student’s mere presence does not constitute inappropriate behavior. Any student who feels uncomfortable sharing facilities with a transgender student can use a single-stall restroom, but a transgender student will never be forced to use alternative facilities to make other students comfortable. Being uncomfortable is not the same as being unsafe, and Burke’s has a responsibility to ensure the safety of all students.
  • Why should my child learn about gender at school?

    School is a place where children are taught to respect one another and to learn to work together regardless of their differences. Learning about gender diversity is part of that work. Creating a more tolerant, inclusive, and accepting school environment teaches all children to recognize and resist stereotypes. We teach children to stand up for others, to resist bullying, and to work together.
  • Isn't my child too young to be learning about gender?

    Children are already learning about gender. Messages about gender are everywhere, and children receive very clear messages about the “rules” for boys and girls, as well as the consequences for violating them. By learning about the diversity of gender, children have an opportunity to explore a greater range of interests, ideas, and activities. For all children, the pressure of “doing gender correctly” is greatly reduced, creating more space for them to discover new talents and interests.

    Whether in or out of school, children will encounter other children exhibiting wide ranges of gender expression. This is normal and, with a little reflection, we can all recognize it as something we encountered during our own childhoods. Tomboys or shy, sensitive boys are commonly recognized examples of children who buck societal expectations of gender expression. These children, and all children, deserve a safe, supportive learning environment in which they can thrive and empower themselves.
  • How can children so young know their gender identity? Aren't the girls too young for this conversation?

    Children typically begin expressing their gender identity between the ages of two and four years old.2 Around this age, transgender children often express their cross-gender identification to their family members and caregivers through statements like “I have a girl brain and boy body,” or vice versa, and behavior like dressing in clothing and engaging in activities consistent with their gender identity. Even at that young age, transgender children are often insistent and persistent about their gender, differentiating their behavior from a “phase” or imaginative play.

    (American Psychiatric Association (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical of Mental Disorders, (5th ed). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing.)
  • Won't my child get confused if we speak about more than two gender options?

    Experience shows that, with enough information, children of any age are able to understand that there are more than the two gender categories currently recognized by our society. When it is explained to them in a simple, age-appropriate manner, gender diversity is an easy concept for children to grasp. When you discuss gender with your child, you may hear them exploring where they fit on the gender spectrum and why. This shows that they understand that everyone may have some variation of gender expression that fits outside of stereotypical norms. Their use of language or their personal placements along this spectrum may surprise you. We encourage all parents to approach these discussions with an air of openness and inquiry.
  • How does Burke's teach gender?

    Gender is a topic that Burke's begins to tackle in kindergarten, where students work to identify hobbies and pastimes that are stereotypically for "girls" or for "boys." Those kinds of lessons continue throughout a student's nine years.

    As part of our everyday lives at Burke's, we consistently make an effort to use a person’s chosen name and pronoun without asking whether that is the person’s legal name or gender. It is important to extend those same social courtesies to a transgender student.
  • Ideas about gender diversity go against the values we are instilling in my child at home. Are you trying to teach my child to reject these values?

    Absolutely not. Our children encounter people with different beliefs when they join any community. While one aim for learning about diversity is to become more accepting of those around us, not everyone is going to be best friends. That does not mean that they can’t get along and learn together. The purpose of learning about gender diversity is to demonstrate that children are unique and that there is no single way to be a boy or a girl. If a child does not agree with or understand another student’s gender identity or expression, they do not have to change how they feel inside about it. However, they also do not get to make fun of, harass, or harm other students whose gender identity they don’t understand or support. Gender diversity education is about teaching students to live and work with others. It comes down to the simple agreement that all children must be treated with kindness and respect.
  • I don't really feel like I know how to answer my child's questions. How can I correct or modify the impression I have already given my child about gender?

    It is powerful to let children know when we don’t know the answer to something, and to let them know that adults as well as children are always learning. Having conversations with your children that reflect your growing understanding is wonderful. It does not undermine your parenting. If you were to discover that you had unknowingly taught your child another form of misinformation about other people, you would correct the impression you had mistakenly given them. With gender it is no different. Gender diversity is something that both society and science are constantly exploring and understanding more deeply.

    It is important, however, to monitor and understand your own feelings before you initiate this kind of conversation. Children can pick up on your feelings towards a subject. So, if you are still feeling uncomfortable about the concept of gender diversity, then consider taking additional time to increase your understanding. Read, talk to others, and further educate yourself. When you have a greater understanding and increased awareness, then you will likely feel more confident to talk with your children.

    Answer children’s questions simply, and let them take the lead in how deep the conversation goes. Most children are satisfied with this approach. They will guide the conversation from there and rarely ask the complex questions that occur to adults. You may be surprised at how simply children navigate this terrain. Some parents have found responses such as “Hmmm, I am just learning about that myself. Let me tell you what I know, and then if you would like to learn more, maybe we could do that together” to be helpful in opening up pathways for further discussion.
Burke's mission is to educate, encourage and empower girls. Our school combines academic excellence with an appreciation for childhood so that students thrive as learners, develop a strong sense of self, contribute to community, and fulfill their potential, now and throughout life.


An independent K–8 school for girls
7070 California Street, San Francisco, CA 94121
Phone: 415.751.0177 Fax: 415.666.0535
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