LGBTQ students face attacks and discrimination daily in our schools. A student says to another, “That’s so gay!” An adult tells a student that being gay is a sin. A coach chides a male student athlete, “You throw like a girl!”
Statements like these are distressing and harmful. In the United States, 60% of students feel unsafe at school because of their sexual orientation (Kosciw, et al., 2018).
Over time, educators have become more sensitive to gender and gender identity issues, yet many challenges remain. Boys perceived as unmanly and effeminate are bullied, harassed or assaulted by their peers. Girls who identify as “butch” are sometimes ridiculed by peers and counseled by adults to look more “normal.” A gay boy “comes out” to a counselor and pleads that he not tell his parents. Same sex couples cause a scandal when choosing to attend their prom. Some quote their religious faith to defend discrimination and abuse of LGBTQ students.
Students have a right to be safe in school and to have the support of educators to learn and grow toward their potential. Students and teachers alike should have schools that are safe places, free from bias and discrimination. Educators have an ethical mandate to value every student as they present themselves and a legal mandate to support each student’s learning. But many educators are ill-equipped to challenge bullying and harassment and proactively support victims.
A school’s culture affects the success and socio-emotional status of students and teachers. Whether explicit or implicit, bias impacts people’s thoughts, emotions and behaviors. Policies and practices must challenge homophobia and support acceptance of all students exactly as they are and how they express themselves.
Useful Resources for Schools
The National Center on Safe Supportive Learning Environments Safe Place to Learn resource affirms, “Every school should be a safe place to learn, and every school should exert multiple efforts to that end” (2016). Making this real requires diligence from multiple sectors within the school community. A serious effort to transform a school must go beyond an isolated training session for staff.
Instead, educators can create an anti-bias and safe learning environment through focused and strategic planning, professional development and follow-up activities. In the process, school administrators and teachers can strengthen their abilities to appreciate differences, unique individualities and lived experiences of their students.
Teachers can model being strong listeners who are sensitive to students’ experiences with trauma. Adults in a school can learn to recognize biases, and teachers can teach critical thinking that deepens compassion and acceptance for students by students.
The implementation guide of the Safe Place to Learn package organizes the resource to help three groups: (1) administrative leadership, (2) building staff, and (3) staff responsible for interceding with and responding to students. The authors suggest that district- and school-based leadership study the guide in preparation for disseminating the general staff training series. The IDRA EAC-South can work with school districts and schools that are in its 11-state service area (Get details).
Four key areas to address follow.
Reframe communication – School leaders can provide guided opportunities for staff to critically and honestly examine their own attitudes and evidence of implicit bias. Teachers can promote and model healthy relationships and behaviors. Teacher communication holds the power to increase respect, positivity and empowerment for today’s youth.
Analyze school policies – School leaders may need to remove policy language, such as in codes of conduct, that is not clear or penalizes students on issues covered in this article. For example, some schools prohibit students from wearing clothing supporting LGBTQ issues. IDRA recently cautioned the Texas Legislature on this issue. IDRA National Director of Policy, Advocacy and Community Engagement, Morgan Craven, J.D., shared, “Even for the exact same behaviors, students of color, students with disabilities and LGBTQ students are more likely to be punished – and punished more harshly – than their peers” (2019). It is vital to critically analyze school policies to examine underlying assumptions and make revisions to ensure equity.
Confront myths and stereotypes head on – Materials exist that help educators understand the issues that harm LGBTQ students, help disprove myths and point out the damage stereotypes does to students (see resource list in box at right).
Prevent and eliminate harassment and violence – Safe Place to Learn is a good, free resource package by the National Center on Safe Supportive Learning Environments that is designed to help establish and maintain a safe, supportive learning environment and mitigate factors that interfere with learning. This implementation guide confronts sexual harassment, implicit bias and the presence of trauma. All three of these areas are crucial for all schools to address for all students (Aldebot-Green, et al., 2014).
IDRA EAC-South carries out an important mandate for justice and equity in all our schools, including technical assistance and training for Title IX, an act that includes protections and support for students based on gender, including LGBTQ students. From school district administrators in Georgia and Texas to teachers in Virginia, the IDRA EAC-South provides training for school districts to ensure a safe and equitable school environments for all students. We can respond to a request that is within the mandates of the program and conduct onsite assistance tailored to the needs of a school.
It takes hard work and planning, but it can be done. Schools can be safe learning havens for LGBTQ students.
Aldebot-Green, A., Rojas, A., Oster, M., Hickman, S., Gooze, R.A., & Brown, E. (2014). “5 Things to Know about LGBTQ Youth,” Child Trends.
Craven, M. (2019). “Use Effective Discipline, Not Zero Tolerance – IDRA Testimony Against SB2432,” testimony of IDRA presented for the House Education Committee. San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association.
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: GLSEN.
Montemayor, A.M, Yahir Márquez, B., Guadalupe Guzmán, A., & Castro, L. (2017). “Community Projects, Youths and Academic Learning – Student Voice in Solutions to Challenging Problems,” IDRA Newsletter.
National Center on Safe Supportive Learning Environments. (2016). Safe Place to Learn. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Education, Office of Safe and Healthy Students.
Stephanie Garcia, Ph.D., is an IDRA education associate. Comments and questions may be directed to her via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Aurelio M. Montemayor, M.Ed., is IDRA’s family engagement coordinator and directs IDRA’s Education CAFE work. Comments and questions may be directed to him via email at email@example.com.
[©2019, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the October 2019 IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]