As we strive for a society that embraces diversity and celebrates individuality, it is crucial to ensure that schools become nurturing and supportive places for all students, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. In this article, we will delve into practical approaches that educators, administrators, and students can adopt to foster acceptance, understanding, and respect for LGBTQ+ individuals. By implementing these strategies, we can work together to build a more inclusive educational landscape where every student feels valued, seen, and empowered to thrive.
1. Provide Supportive and Knowledgeable Educators
Educators who are affirming can make a world of difference to struggling LGBTQ+ youth. Creating an inclusive environment (using preferred names and pronouns, initiating a zero-tolerance policy for bullying/harassment, seeking out teachable moments, etc….) increases an LGBTQ+ student’s ability to learn, lowers depression, and decreases anxiety and suicide ideation. A little goes a long way; the National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health discovered that the presence of just one accepting adult could reduce suicide risk by 40%.
2. Create Inclusive Student Policies
Implementing specific policies and procedures can not only make LGBTQ+ youth feel supported, it can also keep them safe. Anti-discrimination and zero tolerance for bullying and harassment policies are critical to advance equity and inclusion in schools. Students who frequently experienced harassment because of their sexual orientation had grade point averages that were more than 10 percent lower than those who did not. LGBTQ+ students who are frequently harassed are twice as likely to say they will not go to college as LGBTQ+ students who are less frequently harassed. Click HERE for a full list of policy recommendations from the advocacy group GLSEN.
3. Monitor the School Climate on a Regular and Ongoing Basis
Listening to students when they aren’t in the classroom (think hallways, courtyards, cafeteria and gym) can help inform the “tone” or “vibe” of a school. What are you overhearing? Disparaging or discriminatory remarks should be addressed immediately no matter where they are overheard. If it’s on school grounds, it’s fair game for correction or discipline as needed. Also pay attention to the physical locations of students. Are LGBTQ+ students hovering together in a corner of the cafeteria? Are they idling on the sidelines of the hallway? This can be an indication they are afraid to mingle with other students. Noting these “signs” and intervening sooner rather than later can go a long way toward making LGBTQ+ students feel safe and included.
4. Offer Supportive Student Clubs
Student clubs offer many benefits including meeting like-minded students, forming friendships, working together to advocate for the community and a sense of belonging. Even better, offer your classroom as a meeting place for GSAs or LGBTQ+ clubs. Student led GSAs (Gay-Straight Alliances) can make schools feel safer and more welcoming. GLSEN’s National School Climate Survey has found that compared to LGBTQ+ students without a GSA, students in schools with a GSA or similar student club:
- Reported hearing fewer homophobic remarks.
- Experienced less harassment and assault because of their sexual orientation and gender expression.
- Were more likely to report incidents of harassment and assault.
- Were less likely to feel unsafe because of their sexual orientation or gender expression.
- Were less likely to miss school because of safety concerns
- Reported a greater sense of belonging to their school community.
5. Build an Inclusive Curriculum
Seeing themselves reflected in what they learn can make a tremendous difference in the self-esteem of LGBTQ+ students. Does your curriculum include LGBTQ+ authors, theorists, psychologists, and artists? Is the history of the Stonewall Uprising in 1969 more than just one bullet on a Power Point slide? One student in Howard County, Maryland, Zach Koung, pioneered efforts for an LGBTQ+ Studies course. “Inclusive curriculum isn’t this feel-good, kumbaya kind of thing,” Koung said. “It’s a data-driven approach that saves lives and makes a difference. Having access to an inclusive curriculum substantially increases your ability to learn and your ability to thrive.”
6. Provide a Safe Haven for Students Facing High Levels of Rejection at Home
The presence of supportive staff regardless of a student’s situation at home contribute to a range of positive indicators amongst LGBTQ+ youth including fewer reports of missing school, fewer reports of feeling unsafe, greater academic achievement, higher educational aspirations and a greater sense of school belonging. LGBTQ+ young adults who reported high levels of family rejection during adolescence were over three times more likely to have suicidal thoughts and to report suicide attempts, compared to those with high levels of family acceptance. High religious involvement in families was strongly associated with low acceptance of LGBTQ+ children. In New York City in 2010, almost 4,000 homeless and runaway children slept on the streets. Many fled abusive family environments. Between 33 and 40 percent of them identified as LGBTQ+. Make it clear that you support your LGBTQ+ students regardless of any pushback from your administration.
7. Celebrate PRIDE month With Rainbow Stickers, Flags, and Other Rainbow Merchandise
Many communities are painting rainbow stripes on their crosswalks and sidewalks in high-traffic areas or hanging rainbow flags in place of or in addition to the American flag during PRIDE month or, in some cases, all year long. The rainbow flag is a multi-colored flag with stripes in the colors of the rainbow. It has a long tradition of symbolizing hope and inclusion. In Italy, the rainbow flag symbolizes “Peace.” Follow suit in your classroom by hanging a rainbow flag on your classroom door or bulletin board. Hand out rainbow stickers during PRIDE month. Use rainbow merchandise such as pencils, water bottles, or decals as giveaways and incentives for extra credit, group work, or to recognize a job well done.
By implementing these strategies and becoming an ally to the LGBTQ+ community, you can help alleviate the current mental health crisis in our schools. Now is the time to educate your students and community, become a champion for change and create a safe and welcoming environment for every student who walks through your doors.
For more resources and information on how you can best support the LGBTQ+ community in school, take a look at these websites and articles:
RESOURCES FOR EDUCATORS
GLSEN: Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network
The leading national education organization focused on ensuring safe schools for all students.
THE TREVOR PROJECT:
The Trevor Project (1-866-4-U-Trevor)
THE SAFE SCHOOLS COALITION
MENTAL HEALTH AMERICA
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
ADVOCATES FOR YOUTH
CDC: Center for Disease Control and Prevention
AMERICAN PSYCHOLOGICAL ASSOCIATION
GENDERS AND SEXUALITY ALLIANCE NETWORK