Making schools safe for Queer, LGBT & Trans Students

The Need for Safe Spaces For LGBTQ Students

Being a teenager is hard enough, but for LGBTQ students, daily harassment and threats of violence severely impact their well-being. They are twice as likely to experience harassment such as name-calling and verbal and physical abuse than their non-LGBTQ classmates. LGBTQ students face unique challenges that negatively affect their mental health and education.

It’s only natural that parents would want to ensure their child’s safety in school. This is no different for parents of LGBTQ youth. But this proves to be quite the challenge, as bullying is an issue in most schools and school districts, and even the Department of Education fails to protect LGBTQ students.

A recent reinterpretation of the Title IX law, which protects students from sexual discrimination at federally funded schools, does not protect transgender students. The erasure of transgender students from Title IX is seen as a significant shortcoming by parents and LGBTQ supporters depending on state and federal leaders and lawmakers to protect marginalized students.

The constant bullying deeply affects LGBTQ students’ mental health, so much so that according to Mental Health America, they are four times more likely to commit suicide than their heterosexual classmates. It’s clear that there is a need for a focus on the safety and wellbeing of LGBTQ+ students.

What can charter schools do to help LGBT students?

Both district schools and charter schools alike can create a safer learning environment for their students. Anti-bullying training for students and staff, school clubs for LGBT students, and establishing clear, comprehensive bullying and harassment policies are a few measures schools can implement to support LGBT students in charter schools and traditional public schools.

Here are some steps that charter school leaders can take to ensure the safety and well-being of LGBTQ+ students:

  1. Teach kindness, tolerance, and understanding
  2. Have strong anti-bullying policies in place
  3. Embrace visibility and representation
  4. Make school facilities safe for LGBTQ+ students
  5. Make school language safe for LGBTQ+ students
  6. Invite diversity, equality & inclusion consultants (DEI consultants) to educate school administrators, teachers, and staff on LGBTQ+ issues
  7. Embrace Diversity as a core value

1 – Teaching kindness, tolerance, and understanding

School curricula are often stacked high on knowledge, stacked low on empathy and values. Way too often, a teacher will overhear a mean comment toward a student, some mean snickering, and just hush for silence rather than encourage kindness. Teachers should actively teach and encourage kindness.

In the book “Dare to Lead,” Brené Brown shares a story of how her daughter’s teacher keeps a jar with marbles on her desk. Marbles go in when the class, collectively, makes good, kind choices. Marbles go out when students are unkind to one another. This is one example of a great, visible metric that teaches kindness.

2 – Implementing Anti-Bullying Policies

Setting up systemic measures that work toward curtailing, re-channeling, and reducing bullying sets the tone. It signals to students and teachers alike that your school actively discourages bullying. It allows for protocols to follow when students engage in bullying rather than leave teachers to pursue ad-hoc measures.

3 – Embracing Visibility & Representation

We take comfort in the familiar, and we may be uncomfortable – or even apprehensive – about the non-familiar. This can become a vicious circle. What is represented most is familiar; what is familiar gets represented most.

Intentional diversity invites us to choose to represent a wide prism of human experience. You can invite visibility and representation by allowing students to describe their life experiences. You can bring in guest speakers from various walks of life. You can highlight historical figures that represent diversity.

For example, during Black History Month, educators often speak of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. – but few ever mention Bayard Rustin, the gay civil rights activist. He organized the historic 1963 march where Rev. King delivered his iconic “I Have a Dream” speech. Many schools teach about Anne Frank, but few acknowledge her as an LGBTQ+ figure. When we speak of transgender people, we hardly ever see a reference to people like Alan L. Hart, the prestigious scientist whose ground-breaking work with x-rays helped save millions from tuberculosis.

A simple way to promote visibility and representation is to honor Pride Month, National Coming Out Day, Transgender Day of Visibility, and Transgender Day of Remembrance. Some schools establish a GSA (Gender & Sexuality Alliance). Some schools adopt an LGBTQ+ Charter. Some charter schools have implemented an LGBTQ+ curriculum. There are even schools that make the safety of LGBTQ+ students their primary focus.

4 – Making School Facilities Safe for LGBTQ+ Students

There are currently more than a dozen state-level Bills attacking the rights of transgender youth. Your charter school can take a strong stand for diversity by ensuring your LGBTQ+ students can experience your school building as fully as heterosexual, cisgender students. This means having a non-gendered bathroom option for non-binary students. This means having decisive policies that ensure LGBTQ+ students can use school bathrooms, lockers, and changing rooms without fear or anxiety.

“Kids learn best when they feel like they’re accepted. And that’s a key element in making an intentionally diverse school work. The recognition of where the students are, so that they feel accepted and comfortable in the space, and that the staff feels that way too. And the leadership has to be mindful of those things.”
– Sonia Park, Executive Director, Diverse Charter Schools Coalition

5 – Making Language Safe for LGBTQ+ Students

In the absence of intentional diversity, it’s easy to engage in microaggressions that make marginalized students feel ‘othered,’ not seen, excluded. Inclusive language includes addressing each student by their chosen names and correct pronouns. It includes saying “your parents” rather than “your mom & dad.” It’s a collection of language choices that signify “I acknowledge the diversity of human experience.”

6 – Hiring Diversity Trainers

It’s not enough to have good intentions when it comes to diversity, equality, and inclusion. There are excellent trainers on this topic – educators with lived experience, academic and professional backgrounds in racial and gender diversity and social justice. These folks can deeply enrich your staff’s understanding and make your school a safer environment for LGBTQ+ students.

7 – Embracing Diversity as a Core Value

Building intentionally diverse schools take dedication. It requires constantly challenging one’s focal point and seeing the world through someone else’s eyes. Through the eyes of a student with two moms, hearing a teacher say, “remember to tell your mom and dad.” Through the eyes of a scared, closeted gay teenager. Through the eyes of a non-binary student who feels unsafe and out of place in both gendered bathrooms.

Embracing diversity in charter schools allows all students to benefit from the educational programs your charter school offers, undistracted by microaggressions, bullying, or unintentional signals that make a child feel like an outsider.

Embracing diversity allows each student in your school to feel like they belong in your school.


News:

EdSource: Gender, name changes could be required on California high school diplomas after graduation
EdSource: In California, lessons on transgender student access to facilities
EdSource: What schools and parents need to know to support transgender students
EdSource: In California, lessons on transgender student access to facilities
NorthJersey.com: New Jersey’s LGBTQ-inclusive curriculum a ‘mindset shift’ to help center diverse voices

LGBTQ+ Resources

ACLU: How to Start Your GSA
GLSEN: 10 Steps to Start Your GSA
GSAnetwork: 10 Steps to Start Your GSA
LGBT Network: Making School Safer
LiveOutLoud: Safe Schools
New York City Department of Education: Community-based LGBTQ Organizations
Vector Solutions: Making Schools Safe and Inclusive for LGBTQ Students

Anti-Bullying Resources

STOMP Out Bullying: Making Schools Safe for LGBTQ+ Community
The CyberSmile Foundation – preventing cyber-bullying
ParentingScience. – How to stop bullying in school: An evidence-based guide to interventions that work
Positive Action: Evidence-Based Bullying Prevention Programs & Curriculum
PBIS.org: Bullying Prevention
VeryWellFamily: 15 Ways to Prevent Bullying in Your Classroom
StopBullying.gov – Stop Bullying on the Spot
ScoolSafety.gov – Bullying and Cyberbullying
Lesley University: 6 Ways Educators Can Prevent Bullying in Schools
University of the People: Definition of Bullying
Today.com: How to stop bullying in schools: What works, what doesn’t
Crisis Prevention Institute: 10 Ways to Help Reduce Bullying in Schools
American Psychological Association: How parents, teachers and kids can take action to prevent bullying
University of Berkeley: What Are the Best Ways to Prevent Bullying in Schools?

Anti-Bullying Resources by State

California Department of Education: Bullying Prevention Training & Resources
Colorado Department of Education: Best Practices in Bullying Prevention and Intervention
Florida Department of Education: Bullying Prevention
Idaho Department of Education: Stop Bullying in Idaho 
Iowa Department of Education: Anti-Bullying/Anti-Harassment
Kentucky Department of Education: Bullying and Harassment
Louisiana Association of Public Charter Schools:
Maine Department of Education: Bullying Prevention
Mass.gov: Massachusetts law about bullying and cyberbullying
Minnesota Department of Education: Bullying Prevention and Help
Missouri Department of Elementary & Secondary Education: Bullying
North Carolina Department of Public Instruction: Bullying Prevention
Ohio Department of Education: Anti-Bullying: Strategies and Resources for Educators
Pennsylvania Department of Education: Bullying Prevention
South Carolina Department of Education: Bullying
Tennesee Department of Education: Bullying & Harassment
Texas Education Agency: Coordinated School Health – Bullying and Cyberbullying
Virginia Department of Education: Bullying Prevention
Washington State Governor’s Office of Education Ombuds: School’s Role in Prevention of Bullying
Wisconsin Department of Public Education: A Comprehensive Approach to Bullying Prevention

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