How Can Educators Support LGBTQ students in K-12

Josh Duke

By Dr. Eunhui Yoon Most people hope that schools can be a safe place for all students so they can grow academically, socially, and emotionally while being protected from violence, aggression, abuse, and fear of being hurt. Even though there is no perfect place, however, I believe most educators, school counselors, admins, and staff members are willing to do their best to build a safer school for all students. Then, is school a safe place for LGBTQ+ students? Or at least, is it a generally safe place for them? Sadly, the statistics show that the answer is no. According to the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network’s (GLSEN) national climate survey, more than 87% of LGBTQ+ students experience school bullying and harassment (Kosciw et al., 2018) and their school victimization is strongly associated with mental health issues and substance abuse (Birkett et al., 2009; Higa et al., 2014; Russell et al., 2011). While at school, most LGBTQ+ students (98%) heard negative remarks due to their sexual/affectional orientation and gender expression/identity. Moreover, more than half of LGBTQ+ students and 71% of Transgender-Gender Nonconforming and Expansive (TGNC/E) students reported that they heard the negative remarks from adult figures in school, such as teachers and other staff (Kosciw et al., 2018). Students report that they are absent from school and classes because of lack of affirmative school policies and a safe atmosphere (Kosciw et al., 2018). As educators who love and support our students, we need to ask ourselves what we can do to build safer classrooms and schools to better support LGBTQ+ students. Below are some suggestions:

  • Trust your good intentions. Maybe you are not a perfect advocate and you might feel that you are lacking knowledge to support LGBTQ+ students. You might hesitate to step in because you do not want to make a mistake or do not want to look like an insensitive person. However, an imperfect advocate is much better than a silent bystander.
  • Post a Safe Space Sticker, a Pride flag, the rainbow poster, or any other LGBTQ+ inclusive materials in your classroom, office, or on your personal belongings, like a laptop or a water bottle. This simple act can show your willingness to support and advocate for LGBTQ+ students. More than 50% of the LGBTQ+ students reported that they feel more comfortable to talk with educators and counselors who present those pride flags (Kosciw et al., 2018).
  • Educate yourself through professional development, inclusive workshops or trainings, and any other personal or professional growth opportunity.
  • Increase your awareness, especially in regards to gender-role stereotypes, gender-expression stereotypes, and possible internalized heteronormativism in your mind. Based on the awareness, you can reduce unintentional harm and create a safer and more inclusive classroom.
  • Use more inclusive language in the classroom. For example, you can call your students as “students” or “class” instead of “boys and girls.”
  • At your first class, tell your students your preferred name and the pronouns and ask their preferred name and pronouns as well. Then, respect your students’ preference. More than 42% of TGNC/E students reported that they had been prevented from using their preferred name or pronouns in school and it was distressing (Kosciw et al., 2018).
  • Confront any homophobic or negative remarks from students and from adults in your school. Many students use slurs without thoughtful consideration for those they are offending. From the beginning of the semester, express your clear expectation that such terms are unacceptable in the classroom. Also, teach your students not to use terms that they do not fully understand because the incorrect use can result in harm.
  • Volunteer as an advisor, contribute to or just attend meetings of LGBTQ-oriented clubs or Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA). If there’s no LGBTQ+ organizations in your school, you may offer to organize one.
  • You can include LGBTQ-inclusive books to your classroom. Books about LGBTQ+ historical figures like Alan Turing or written by LGBTQ+ authors and poet like Audre Lorde will also promote inclusivity. Without proper role models and historical figures, LGBTQ+ students have a harder time envisioning their futures.
  • Integrate LGBTQ+ related topics and LGBTQ+ historical figures into the curriculum and lessons. Whether it’s social justice issues, literature, or family studies, LGBTQ+ topics have a place in the classroom. Your LGBTQ+ students can see their issues and themselves being included in the world.

Suggested resources by Dr. Yoon include:

Books

Heather Has Two Mommies by Leslea Newman

Love Makes a Family by Sophie Beer

Julián Is a Mermaid by Jessica Love

Pride: The Story of Harvey Milk and the Rainbow Flags by Rob Sanders

Zenobia July by Lisa Bunker

When Aiden Became a Big Brother by Kyle Lukoff

Troublemaker for Justice: The Story of Bayard Rustin, the Man Behind the March on Washington by Jacqueline Houtman, Walter Naegle, and Michael G. Long

Queer Heroes: Meet 53 LGBTQ+ Heroes From Past and Present! By Arabelle Sicardi

Website resources for inclusive schools 

  1. Human Rights Campaign (HRC) Foundation’s welcoming schools: https://welcomingschools.org
  2. Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN): https://www.glsen.org
  3. Teaching Tolerance (TT): https://www.tolerance.org

References used in this article Birkett, M., Espelage, D. L., & Koenig, B. (2009). LGB and questioning students in schools: The moderating effects of homophobic bullying and school climate on negative outcomes. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 38(7), 989-1000. doi:10.1007/s10964-008-9389-1

Higa, D., Hoppe, M. J., Lindhorst, T., Mincer, S., Beadnell, B., Morrison, D. M., Wells, E. A., Todd, A., & Mountz, S. (2014). Negative and positive factors associated with the well-being of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and questioning (LGBTQ) youth. Youth & Society, 46(5), 663-687. doi:10.1177/0044118X12449630

Kosciw, J. G., Greytak, E. A., Zongrone, A. D., Clark, C. M., & Truong, N. L. (2018). The 2017 National School Climate Survey: The Experiences of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Youth in Our Nation's Schools. New York, NY: Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN).

Russell, S. T., Ryan, C., Toomey, R. B., Diaz, R. M., & Sanchez, J. (2011).  Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender adolescent school victimization: Implications for young adult health and adjustment. Journal of School Health, 81(5), 223-230. doi:10.1111/j.1746-1561.2011.00583.x