Back To School For LGBTQ Justice

It is incumbent on all of us to not let community progress be hijacked by a few, powerful voices who choose not to embrace the positive changes.

By now, students in our nations’ K-12 schools, colleges, and universities have settled into classes for the Fall. We’re also just completing LGBTQ History Month, and as a person who has dedicated my life to seeking equality for LGBTQ people around the world, I am concerned about how the most historically marginalized LGBTQ students — usually students of color — are faring in our schools.

Ideally, these students would receive a fair education free of hostilities and discrimination. They would feel that they belong in their educational communities, which would, in turn, stimulate and enhance their learning. But, more than ever before, discriminatory policies and unwelcoming climates have intensified these students’ pleas for a safe, high-quality educational environment where they can be their true selves.

Just over two months ago, the Supreme Court granted an “emergency” stay to stop Gavin Grimm, a transgender male student, from using the boys’ restroom at Gloucester High School in Virginia. When he began his senior year of school in September, Gavin could not access the bathroom that reflects his gender identity. The decision was a setback in the longstanding civil rights struggle for fair, desegregated access to public accommodations.

Grimm’s school is a public school, but LGBTQ students suffer the same abusive polices at private schools. At the beginning of last month, advocates discovered that the Catholic Dioceses of Little Rock, Arkansas had added a new addendum to the student handbook prohibiting the expression of “same-sex attraction,” and demanding that, “all students are expected to conduct themselves at school in a manner consistent with their biological sex.” Openly LGBTQ students are subject to expulsion, according to the handbook, which governs conduct for approximately 6,700 students in 27 K-12 Little Rock Catholic schools.

The good news is that there is still hope for our nation’s schools to implement inclusive, caring educational environments. Many schools and organizations are offering fresh resources to help students prosper. Here are just a few I’d like to highlight:

1. In August, the Family Equality Council released “Creating Transgender Inclusive Schools,” a new, pioneering guide to help parents, students, teachers and advocates navigate new federal guidelines for transgender access to education. You can learn more about this important resource here .

2. Schools communities have to work to combat microaggressions. Microagressions are brief, commonplace, daily, verbal, behavioral, or environmental indignities, slights or insults, whether intentional or unintentional. Messiah College provides helpful examples of how microaggressions play out in the classroom to help teachers and administrators create more inclusive and supportive school environments. This tool is available here .

3. Bullying and cyberbullying are particularly concerning for marginalized populations of students. OnlineSchools.org has released a comprehensive guide to help schools understand and prevent this behavior.

While these resources are important tools in the effort achieve greater awareness of biases and greater equality for LGBTQ students, community action must go hand-in-hand with better resources and better laws if we want to see real change. When Grimm originally came out as transgender with the support of his family, his school welcomed him and accommodated his request to use a bathroom that comported with his gender identity. It was not until other parents complained that the school district decided to create a policy that discriminated against him.

Likewise, the Catholic Dioceses of Little Rock did not decide to add new discriminatory policies to its student handbook until several LGBTQ students in Little Rock, who had prospered within their communities, openly attended prom and formed supportive networks in their school.

It is incumbent on all of us to not let community progress be hijacked by a few, powerful voices who choose not to embrace the positive changes that make our society equal and inclusive. That’s why, in the spirit of LGBTQ History Month, I urge communities across the nation to work together to realize true justice for our most disadvantaged students.

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