June is LGBT pride month, a time for the LGBTQ community and its allies to celebrate milestones and rally together to demand equity for all. In the grand scheme of the LGBT rights movement, students are often caught in the midst of national reform efforts and local attitudes; all too often, students in conservative localities are under supported when it comes to LGBT education. Many educators in these communities risk expulsion or suspension for coming out in the classroom, as many states do not explicitly list sexual orientation in their discrimination policies.
If you're an educator living in one of these states, supporting LGBT youth can seem hopeless -- but there things you can do. If you're not protected by anti-discrimination laws, you may still be able to select a few of these strategies. If you're teaching in a school district that takes a stand to protect all youth, these may be just the beginning of what you're able to accomplish.
1. Reword your classroom rules to include language that is accepting.
When I first began teaching, my classroom rule was be tolerant and respectful of everyone in the learning community. While I understand words have a nuance, I later decided to revise tolerant to accepting 10 clued a more positive connotation. Your classroom rules provide the basis of what is expected of students. Communicate your expectations that your classroom is a safe space.
2. Start an anti-bullying club or support your school's GSA by posting fliers and signs in the classroom
Many states allow the formation of a GSA, and staff, students, and sponsors are protected by policies that outline explicitly that GSA's may not be rejected by the school's administration; however, the harsh reality is that some school administrators will not allow the formation of a gay straight alliance at their schools due to personal bias, prejudice, or fear of retribution by the local municipality. If you live in a state or district where your administrator does not support the formation of a GSA, propose to form an anti-bullying club or a social justice league of some sort. I know a teacher at a middle school who chose to name her GSA Ubunto, which means "human kindness," and marketed it as a social justice club, which allowed her to focus on topics that are deeply connected and routed to a GSA. In the end, her students were able to receive similar supports and scaffolds, even without the acronym GSA.
3. Respond to insensitive comments about gender and orientation
One of the most important things we can do is to respond to insensitive comments about gender orientation and bling when they happen. All too often teachers turn a blind eye to the bling that happens in their classrooms and sometimes teachers implicitly support gender norms. Consider the ways that you can respond to students when they may insensitively say things like "fag" or "no Homo" in your classroom. Have clear consequences for the use of these words, but try to rely more on reflective practices like reflection journals, rather than harsh consequences that leave no dialogue for growth.
4. Implement LGBTQ voices in your curriculum
Implementing LGBTQ voices in your curriculum may be a slippery slope for some. I'm extremely privileged that I was able to work over the summer with district representations to implement LGBT voices in the ninth grade district curriculum for DCPS. DCPS has come out in support of its transgender and LGBTQ students and their teachers, which empowers me to include diverse texts that serve as both windows and mirrors. Today's youth are radically diverse and we need curriculum that speaks to their diverse perspectives and backgrounds; however, if you are working in a school or state where you could be fired for using curriculum such as this, it is advised to select texts that focus on bullying, name-calling, teen depression, and other topics that are directly related to LGBT youth.
5. Model acceptance in thought, words, and actions
Kids are always watching us. The most important thing we can do as educators is to model acceptance and thoughts words and actions. If we implicitly support gender stereotypes or norms in our classroom, then we are part of the problem and not the solution. While self-reflection is sometimes difficult to accept, deeply reflecting on the ways we perpetuate gender stereotypes is the only way we grow. By eliminating arbitrary gender dividers wherever possible, and modeling radical acceptance in our thoughts, words and actions, we can begin to see the same behaviors in our students.
This list is by no means exhaustive: if you've found other ways to support LGBTQ youth in your school, please share in the comments below!