4 Ways to Support LGBTQIA+ Students

Graphic created by Christina Avery

During Pride Month each year, resources and information are shared to help educate about the LGBTQIA+ community. Many people express their support as allies in a variety of ways, from wearing rainbow colors to attending LGBTQIA+ festivals and celebrations. Although Pride Month has now passed, there are ways to support the LGBTQIA+ community even beyond the month of June.

The classroom is one place LGBTQIA+ support is needed. According to a survey released in September 2020 by the Williams Institute of Law at University of California, Los Angeles, approximately 9.5 percent of youth ages 13–17 in the U.S. identify as a member of the LGBTQIA++ community. A survey from GLAAD estimates that more than 85 percent of LGBTQIA+ students have been verbally harassed while in school due to their sexuality. School should be a safe place for LGBTQIA+ students to learn with equal opportunity, and to express themselves free from prejudice and discrimination. Educators play a key role in the lives of their students, and being good allies to LGBTQIA+ students can give them an environment where they feel valued as people and have the ability to focus on their education.

Here are some ways educators and schools can advocate for LGBTQIA+ rights and support LGBTQIA+ students not only during Pride Month, but year-round.

Include Supportive Imagery in the Classroom

Having LGBTQIA+-friendly items around the classroom and on walls can show students they’re supported from the moment they step in. Hanging posters with educational resources, LGBTQIA+ icons and symbols is a way you can visibly show support, as well as items like Pride-themed buttons and ‘Safe Zone’ signs. You can also display a Pride flag. If you want to go the extra mile, display multiple; each identity — such as gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender — has its own unique flag and colors. However, just the standard rainbow flag represents most LGBTQIA+ identities and is recognized as a symbol of allyship when hung. Celebrating Pride Month in June and LGBTQIA+ History Month in October with discussions, events and displays is also a great way to foster equality in the classroom. While marked celebrations may only be a month long, keeping other LGBTQIA+ symbols and pieces of information on display year-long lets students know they always have an advocate.

Be Mindful of Language and Messaging

It’s crucial to not only show that you’re an ally, but to speak like one, too. Language matters and words carry weight — especially for children, some of whom are still learning social etiquette and how to appropriately address others. Some traditional ways of addressing groups can be harmful to the LGBTQIA+ community, specifically transgender people. Instead, try using nonbinary language that avoids “boy” and “girl” as the only genders. Rather than calling students “ladies and gentlemen,” or “guys,” work to replace these with “everyone,” “you all/y’all,” or other non-gendered terms. This is a way to represent and include nonbinary and transgender students. Remembering to use nonbinary language may take some time getting used to, but what matters is correcting yourself if you do slip up.

Similarly, adjust designs and activities to make sure they aren’t reinforcing the gender binary. For example, avoid color-coding items with blue and pink to represent “boy” and “girl,” and don’t separate groups by gender unless unavoidable. While these may seem like smaller changes to make, those small but conscious changes can make a difference.

Also, get students involved. Using the correct pronouns for students is perhaps one of the most impactful ways to be gender-affirming and show your support. Finding out which pronouns to use doesn’t have to be difficult or uncomfortable — ”Get To Know You” surveys are a popular and private way to know more about how a student may identify. It can be as simple as asking a student what pronouns they use, what name to call them, and when it’s appropriate to use the pronouns they specify (in front of the class, with family, etc). Furthermore, make your own pronouns visible in places like your email signature, social media, or even a button or other accessory.

Be an Active Advocate

It’s also important to show that you’re actively standing up for LGBTQIA+ rights — not just putting up Pride flags or using proper language. The Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network’s National School Climate Survey revealed that “the safe space campaign, like enumerated antibullying policies, makes a tremendous difference in LGBTQIA+ students’ perceptions that their schools are safe and that their teachers are adults they can trust.” Students will notice the difference between activism that’s only performative and activism that’s backed by real effort to make change. There are multiple ways to practice active advocacy:

  • Call out homophobia and transphobia when you see or hear it happening.
  • Hold those in power accountable. Meet with school faculty and staff to discuss what can be done to better support students.
  • Request books by LGBTQIA+ authors about LGBTQIA+ people for the school library.
  • Fight anti-LGBTQIA+ rules and legislation when possible, such as transphobic dress codes and homophobic prom date rules.
  • Consider hosting a GSA (Gay-Straight Alliance) club, or joining one your school already has.

Reevaluating your curriculum is another way to increase positive LGBTQIA+ representation and educate students about LGBTQIA+ people, histories and experiences. For example, one teacher connects the electromagnetic spectrum in chemistry with how gender and sexuality can be a spectrum. They also change word problems and drawings to be representative of all types of relationships, not just straight ones. When it’s reading time, consider choosing books that feature LGBTQIA+ characters and stories. There are many age-appropriate and diverse choices; check out this list of books for younger children, and this list for older kids and teens.

Continue to Educate Yourself and Others

Finally, provide resources and information outside of the school for students to learn, find community and get help if needed. Compiling a list of emergency numbers, helpful sites and local resources that support LGBTQIA+ people — especially youth — and keeping it in the classroom or other easily-accessible place can provide students with crucial, potentially life-saving support. The CDC’s LGBTQIA+ Youth Resources list is a good starting point, but it’s beneficial to research resources, organizations, shelters and numbers specific to your area as well. Also, make a commitment to educating yourself on LGBTQIA+ issues: consume LGBTQIA+ media, read books and articles, do your research, and be open to discussion with LGBTQIA+ students if they feel comfortable. Being a good advocate and ally shouldn’t be limited to what you do on the outside; sometimes the most important change starts on the inside.

Written By: Christina Avery

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