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. 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.
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?
This piece was originally submitted to our community forums by a reader. Due to audience interest, we've preserved it. The opinions expressed here are the writer's own.