Being a teenager is tough, but being a teen who identifies as LGBTQ is even tougher. Not only do LGBTQ students face the challenges of young adulthood like the rest of their peers, but they also experience higher risks of bullying and more difficulties sharing their feelings and experiences.
According to the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS), more 5 percent of high school students identify as LGBTQ. Research also suggests that children are coming out (identifying as LGBTQ) at younger ages, sometimes as early as elementary school.
So how can you best support students who are still exploring their identities and create a classroom culture where all students can grow academically, socially and emotionally?
While there is never a wrong time to teach the importance of equality, there are a couple of times during the year when LGBTQ issues step into the spotlight. One of these is the month of June, Pride Month. Later in the year, National Coming Out Day falls on October 11, and regardless of your level of experience, this day provides an excellent opportunity to learn more about your LGBTQ students and how to help them thrive both inside and outside the classroom. Read on for several strategies and resources you can use to help you create a safe and inclusive learning environment.
Identify the Needs of Your LGBTQ Students
A great place to start learning more about your LGBTQ students is to join the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network(GLSEN). As a member of the GLSEN, you will receive monthly newsletters that showcase new research findings, policy initiatives and other resources that can help you plan curriculum that supports LGBTQ students.
You can also visit your local LGBTQ center for information on training, events and community forums you can attend, as well as a wide array of free resources you can use in your classroom. If your town doesn’t have an LGBTQ center, check out more online resources such as Advocates for Youth, It Gets Better, and The Trevor Project.
Create a Safe Space in Your Classroom
Set classroom expectations that cultivate respect for all students, regardless of how they may identify sexually. Classroom expectations, also known as ground rules, create a safe space where students can share openly about their experiences, listen actively and refrain from disrespecting or dismissing each other’s ideas and feelings.
When setting expectations, ask students for their input about what is and is not acceptable behavior and language in the classroom. Getting students to participate creates buy-in and encourages them to accept and self-enforce the rules they set for themselves.
Incorporate LGBTQ-Themed Materials into Your Curriculum
According to the GLSEN’s National School Climate Survey, most students report that none of their classes address LGBTQ-themed topics. You can make a difference by incorporating LGBTQ texts, videos, authors and researchers into your curriculum.
When students can relate to the content they are learning about, they tend to be more enthusiastic about learning and are more likely to retain the information. Moreover, if students feel like they have an adult they can trust, they may feel safe sharing and asking questions about their identities.
Incorporating LGBTQ-related materials into your curriculum will also expand your students’ perspectives and help them develop the critical-thinking skills they need to be well-informed, civically engaged students and citizens.
Display LGBTQ-Inclusive Materials in Your School
If you have a classroom library, be sure to use this space to showcase LGBTQ-inclusive materials, media, and books. Making these materials readily available is a great way to engage and support students who may still be exploring their identities and are not ready to talk about their feelings or experiences. In addition, encourage your school librarian to expand LGBTQ authors, texts and coming-of-age novels in the library.
Support or Start the Gay–Straight Alliance in Your School
If your school has a Gay–Straight Alliance (GSA) or other LGBTQ student organizations, support their efforts by attending events and learning more about LGBTQ students and their allies’ needs. A GSA is usually operated as a student-run club that provides a safe space for LGBTQ students to meet and support each other, organize events and work with non-LGBTQ-identified allies to address homophobia and transphobia.
Your school’s GSA can have a lasting impact and help to shape positive experiences not only for LGBTQ students, but for all members of the student body. If your school doesn’t have a GSA, consider starting one.
June is Pride Month, a celebration of how far the LGBTQ community has come and a reminder that every human being is entitled to kindness and respect. Many classrooms have let out for Summer break, but if you’re still in contact with your students, then this event provides a great excuse to further instill social-emotional learning. While there is never a wrong time to teach civil rights and the struggle for equality, June also creates a call for reflection on the ways in which we can serve the students who may feel alienated and unheard. Whatever you come up with, whether it’s a history lesson or classroom discussion with circled desks, know that some of your more vulnerable students will appreciate it.
Recognize National Coming Out Day
This year, set aside time to focus on the well-being of your LGBTQ students. As a teacher, you have the power to make changes that will positively impact your LGBTQ students for life.