George Lucas Educational Foundation

Supporting LGBT Students in Your School

Supporting LGBT Students in Your School

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Educators know that in order for meaningful learning to take place, students must feel safe and supported at school. This is especially true for students who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT). Schoolwide anti-discrimination policies provide a decent framework, but individuals must be the ones at the forefront of their implementation. A teacher who acts as an advocate, or simply avails himself as a safe person to talk to, can make a tremendous difference for a student who is struggling.

I participated in a Twitter chat hosted by Education Week (#EWedchat) on the topic of supporting LGBT students. The chat addressed issues that LGBT students face and ways in which curriculum, community, and professional development could improve the school experience. Check out the Storify to read some thoughtful responses:

So, what can we do to support LGBT students? Here are three places to start:

Be an Advocate

In the current age of prevalent social media and technology usage, bullying and harassment are no longer restricted to school sites. Harassment can frequently occur outside the classroom and off campus, where it’s out of sight of teachers and administrators.

However, bullying is just one slice of the greater issue: discrimination and unequal representation as a whole. So what can educators do to be more supportive of LGBT students?

It’s important to be concise in both language and purpose when discussing student-advocacy. Being an advocate means more than just preventing bullying. It means never tolerating derogatory or belittling language in the classroom. It means recognizing the struggles of students, listening and displaying empathy, and providing them with a safe space for self-expression. And lastly, it means constantly examining your school’s climate to determine how the faculty and staff can improve inclusiveness for ALL students.

Professional Development

One vital step towards LGBT student advocacy is building empathy and understanding amongst not only students, but teachers and administrators as well. Edchat participants suggested that professional development training should be expanded to better equip them for understanding and helping their students be happy and successful. One example is to help educators examine their personal implicit or unconscious biases surrounding LGBT issues. PD could also include education on transgender issues and respecting gender identity and expression. The more information educators are armed with, the better they can help advocate for their students.

Build an Inclusive Environment

While adolescents often ostracize their peers who are "different," LGBT students sometimes feel excluded and isolated at school. One way to combat this is to help build a sense of inclusiveness and community. If your school doesn’t already have a GSA (Gay-Straight Alliance) club enacted, the GLSEN (Gay, Lesbian Straight Education Network) has some great resources for getting started. Programs like Rachel's Challenge also help engrain the idea of creating safe and supportive learning environments.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this: how can teachers be more inclusive and help support their LGBT students? What changes to policy and/or curriculum do you think would improve the educational and social outcomes for these students?

Helpful Resources

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Laura Bradley, MA, NBCT's picture
Laura Bradley, MA, NBCT
Middle school English/Digital Design/Broadcast Media teacher

This has always been so true: "Being an advocate means more than just preventing bullying. It means never tolerating derogatory or belittling language in the classroom."
We teachers have such a great responsibility to establish and maintain a high level of respect in our classrooms. But we have to stay on our toes, tuned in to everything we say and how we say it. Is there a note of scorn in our voice, a smirk on our face, when correcting a student? Without meaning to, do we embarrass students with our humor? As a middle school teacher, I know how tempting it can be to return their adolescent attitude with a little sarcasm of our own. But it's not OK. We need to model respect (not just tolerance!) at all times. It's not easy. And this is not just for our LBGT students -- it's for all of them.
Thanks for reminding us of just how influential we teachers are!


Laura Thomas's picture
Laura Thomas
Director, Antioch University New England Center for School Renewal, Author of Facilitating Authentic Learning, Director of the Antioch Critical Skills Program; Elementary Library Media Specialist

I think part of being an ally (be it for LBQT kids, kids of color, poor kids, etc) is in being absolutely clear that negative remarks about ANYONE are not allowed in your presence. We simply don't do put-downs (of ourselves or anyone else) and we don't use non-inclusive language EVER. If we hear one kid say something inappropriate to another whether in our classrooms or on the bus or the playground or in the hallway, the whole world has to stop while we deal with it publicly or kids get the idea that we agree. If they think we agree with them, then the behavior will escalate. #SeeSomethingSaySomething right?

Holly Jarrett's picture
Holly Jarrett
Student, Intersectional Feminist, Socialist, Artist, Poet, Musician

I love your thought about *truly* preventing bullying from happening in the classroom. When students make ignorant remarks, the easiest route to take is to say "Now Tommy, don't say mean things to Brittany," but that doesn't actually teach the student why their remark is wrong. Students need to be educated on the intricacies of LGBT identities to prevent this, but teachers do as well. In fact, I wrote a piece about it :)

Lina Raffaelli's picture
Lina Raffaelli
Former Community Engagement Intern at Edutopia

Thanks for your thoughts Holly. I totally agree, kids need to be taught tolerance and acceptance, not just reprimanded for their remarks. I'm looking forward to reading your piece!

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