Supporting LGBTQIA+ Students During Distance Learning
Being separated from trusted peers and teachers can be particularly challenging for these students, but educators can take steps to help them feel cared for and safe.
At school, students do much more than learn a curriculum—they make friends, share meals, feel loved, have meaningful discussions, find mentors, and more.
The community aspect of school is especially important for many LGBTQIA+ students, who, studies show, benefit greatly from having at least one supportive adult in their lives. During this pandemic, these students might be feeling unsupported or alone.
To support LGBTQIA+ students in middle and high school, schools can create virtual networks of trusted staff who can provide support, guidance, and resources.
Supporting LGBTQ+ Students
Direct your students to the school’s Gay-Straight Alliance advisor: Gay-Straight Alliances have been proven to make schools safer—not just for LGBTQIA+ youth but for everyone in the community. Hosting GSA meetings online can decrease students’ feelings of anxiety and allow them to interact with people who accept them. Enable the chat feature or encourage the students in your club to start a virtual group chat.
If your school doesn’t have a GSA or similar club, work with your school’s support professionals to up a network specifically for LGBTQIA+ students who might be struggling at home.
Respect your students’ names and pronouns: If you need to get students’ attention during a video call, and using their correct names or pronouns verbally isn’t safe, try using the chat feature or email. Keep in mind that you might be the only person who uses their correct name or pronoun that day, but that doing it overtly might create an unsafe situation for them.
Become familiar with emergency housing and other services in your area: Given the statistics on LGBTQIA+ youth homelessness, having solutions at the ready for students who need temporary housing or food could be an enormous help. Research community housing and mental health services in your area. Most local crisis centers have anonymous text and messenger chat lines set up, so students can be directed to a supportive professional without being overheard by others. Ask students if they need or would like these resources, as unsolicited referrals may not be welcome.
Ask questions, but also respect boundaries: If students feel able to be honest with you about who they are, they’ll also likely be honest about how they feel. Remind them that it’s OK to not be OK at a time like this—everyone’s struggling with close proximity to their families, and many factors are beyond our control. Stress is normal. Listen and validate their anxiety about being home, and check in with them frequently.
Recommend books or movies featuring characters like them: Representation helps people feel less alone. Maybe you can recommend a show, book, film or series, and offer a writing prompt that allows them to talk about the media they’ve been engaging with.
Watch for signs of distress while respecting students’ confidentiality: LGBTQIA+ students may be experiencing more than just stress or academic fatigue right now, and it may be necessary to reach out to other professionals in the school community to support them. However, keep in mind that there’s a possibility that doing so may make the student feel more isolated or exacerbate their lack of support. If they feel like they can’t talk about their experiences, the Crisis Text Line is a great source of support and can be reached at 741-741.
If students are exhibiting crisis-level signs—such as telling you they are hurting themselves or are contemplating hurting themselves or others—making a call to their counselor, psychologist, or social worker might be necessary. If you must do so, it’s important that students know that these steps are going to be taken and why, and that your ultimate objective is to protect them.
If you need to report signs of a crisis a student might be experiencing, do all that you can not to out them to their families or to school personnel who are not already aware of their identity. Be transparent with the student about your role in having to discuss their crisis situation with someone, tell them who should be informed, and find out if that person knows about their LGBTQIA+ identity.
For students with limited internet connectivity, build on existing relationships: It will help to know other adults or students that your LGBTQIA+ students are close to so that you can reach out on their behalf. If your district allows it, sending handwritten notes to students is another way of letting them know that you’re thinking of them and that they’re not alone.
It’s wonderful that the rainbow, which has often been associated with LGBTQIA+ visibility and acceptance, has become a symbol of hope in this pandemic. I’ve been encouraged to see drawings of rainbows hanging up in peoples’ windows in my own neighborhood—I hope it means that LGBTQIA+ youth who’ve felt isolated in the past are finding ways to be hopeful.
Educators who work with LGBTQIA+ young people might encourage them to go for a walk and quietly look for rainbows in their own communities. It’s a simple, powerful activity—and there’s no internet required.
And you might even share pictures of ones that you’ve found yourself. Small actions can make a huge difference for LGBTQIA+ youth, especially now.