Back To School: Four Ways Educators Can Support LGBTQ Youth
Post submitted by HRC Welcoming Schools Project Coordinator Charles Girard
As educators across the country prepare for the upcoming school year, some students, especially LGBTQ students and students with LGBTQ families, wonder if they will be safe, seen, heard and represented at school this year. How can teachers and school staff ensure that their LGBTQ students and their families feel welcome?
1. Integrate LGBTQ Topics into the Classroom
Including LGBTQ people and topics in the classroom teaches children that being LGBTQ is “normal” and another form of diversity. LGBTQ topics can be integrated into everyday lessons in the following ways:
- Creating word problems? Rather than asking students to calculate the speed of a car carrying “Gabby and her mom and dad,” ask them to calculate the speed of a car carrying “Gabby and her two moms.”
- Assigning students to write reports on historical figures? Make sure that you suggest some LGBTQ people that your class can study such as Harvey Milk or Alan Turing.
2. Allow All Students to be Themselves
As with all students in your classroom, everyone has their own set of unique interests and personality traits. Sometimes it can be easy to make assumptions or to believe stereotypes about LGBTQ students. All students--LGBTQ students in particular--may feel uncomfortable following their interests if they do not match culturally prescribed gender roles within the gender binary.
For example, a gay student who is bullied for acting “too feminine” may want to join the cheerleading squad but may be too nervous about his safety. Let all of your students know that they can follow their interests, and make this especially clear when your students are picking between activities that are often gendered. This can be simple:
- “If you’re interested in joining the cheerleading squad, let me know by Friday. This goes for boys, too; not only girls can join cheerleading! Good cheerleading squads have a mix of genders on the team, so I’d encourage every single student in this class to think about it if they are interested.”
- “During recess today you have a choice between learning a dance or playing soccer. Remember that girls can play soccer and boys can dance, so do whichever you’d like to do more.”
3. Develop Classroom Values that are LGBTQ Inclusive
Be specific and inclusive of LGBTQ students when developing a respectful classroom culture this year! Consider what values would help LGBTQ students feel welcome. Should your class agree to check-in on each other’s pronouns twice a year? Do you think your class can agree to never use anti-LGBTQ slurs like “that’s so gay”? Should your students agree together that students of all genders can follow their interests?
Work with your students to create a list that you can post in the classroom. Posting the list will increase accountability among students and you can always add more values as the school year progresses.
4. Take Anti-LGTBQ Bullying Seriously
Oftentimes, educators avoid addressing anti-LGBTQ language and comments because they do not know how to respond or worry about backlash from parents or administrators if they do respond. It is the right of all students---including LGBTQ students--- to feel safe at school. As you begin your school year, check-in with your principal to be sure that they know that you will be actively be supporting LGBTQ students and that you are grateful for the administration’s support of you if there is any resistance. More resources on anti-LGBTQ bullying can be found here.
Looking for more ways to create LGBTQ-inclusive classrooms? Head over to welcomingschools.org for plenty of resources to start off the school year. For the beginning of school, check out our page on challenging questions. What do you do when a student says that girls can’t play basketball? Or when a student asks you what “gay” means? You’ve got questions and we’ve got answers.
HRC Welcoming Schools is a comprehensive approach to creating respectful and supportive elementary schools with resources and professional development to embrace family diversity, create LGBTQ-inclusive schools, prevent bias-based bullying and gender stereotyping, and support transgender and gender-expansive students.