During the past school year, two different people told me they decided to become teachers in part because they hoped to support LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer/questioning) students. The odds are that all classrooms include LGBTQ students, although many aren't yet comfortable being open about their sexualities or gender identities.
It's important for schools to be welcoming places for all students. After all, as the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) notes, "public schools often lead the way for the broader society in modeling inclusiveness and pluralism." Here are some steps teachers can take to ensure LGBTQ students feel safe, welcome, and included in their classrooms.
1. Post Safe Space Signs
You can designate your classroom a "safe zone" through stickers or posters on your classroom door. This lets students know that you're LGBTQ-friendly, and are willing to challenge anti-LGBTQ language or harassment. In addition, the AFT states that safe zone stickers let students know that teachers, counselors, and administrators are "open to discussion of LGBTQ issues in the context of classwork or just in conversation."
Further reading: New Types of Extracurricular Activities: The Culture Club
The Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network's (GLSEN) biennial National School Climate Survey revealed that "the safe space campaign, like enumerated antibullying policies, makes a tremendous difference in LGBTQ students' perceptions that their schools are safe and that their teachers are adults they can trust." My students have told me that seeing the sticker on my door just makes them feel better. Teaching Tolerance notes that a safe zone sign posted in your classroom or office "signals to LGBTQ youth that you've got their backs."
2. Start an LGBTQ Organization at Your School
The AFT points out that school-based extracurricular groups have the "potential to shape school climate, address inequality, and affect student performance." LGBTQ student organizations show great promise in "reducing discrimination against LGBTQ students, promoting their well-being, and fostering safe and affirming school environments." These groups provide support for LGBTQ students, and they can help create awareness in schools and help to counteract discrimination. They can also ensure that school policies and curriculum are inclusive. Offering to start such a group at your school or becoming an advisor for an existing one can help ensure that students have positive experiences at school.
3. Stand Up Against Homophobia
GLSEN reports that research has shown "LGBTQ youth face bullying at significantly higher rates than their peers, and the consequences, such as increased rates of suicide, can be heartbreaking."
Educators can help change that. GLSEN provides lesson plans on bullying, bias, and diversity that teachers can use to help educate their students. Students of all ages sometimes use homophobic words or expressions in the classroom. It's important for teachers to let students know that such speech is unacceptable. Teaching Tolerance provides an activity guide to help teachers handle remarks like this in the classroom.
4. Integrate LGBTQ Topics into the Curriculum
The Human Rights Campaign suggests that teachers integrate LGBTQ people and topics into the classroom. When assigning topics for science, history, and art, be sure to include LGBTQ people like Harvey Milk (politician) or Alan Turing (computer scientist). GLSEN also provides an LGBTQ-inclusive curriculum so that students can see themselves in their lessons, and so all students can have an authentic understanding of the world around them.
5. Pursue Professional Development
Workshops and professional development with experts can help to ensure that your school is inclusive, safe, and affirming for LGBTQ youth. Effective professional development can help to educate staff on how to handle harassment and bullying, and it can provide a place to share resources and best practices to ensure safe and respectful schools.
Further reading: Creating an Engaged and Positive Classroom Culture
Schools should be a safe and welcoming place for all students. These steps provide a great starting point for ensuring LGBTQ students are well-supported in schools so that their experiences are happy, healthy, and educational.