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Support LGBTQ+ Students With These Four Strategies

It has never been more important to support LGBTQ+ students than it is now. Across the United States, LGBTQ+ students have been subjected to increasing scrutiny and discrimination. In its review of 2023 to date, the Human Rights Campaign found that 45 anti-LGBT laws have been already passed between just January and early May of this year. Several of these laws may impact student well-being, such as restricting the use of students’ preferred pronouns or banning books that discuss LGBTQ+ content in all age groups. Others impact specific groups of students indirectly; for example, 13 of the laws passed restrict reversible gender-affirming care which negatively impacts people who have made the (already difficult) decision to transition.

These challenges may impact students’ mental health and performance in school. LGBTQ+ students often experience higher rates of bullying, dating violence, and rejection from family members than their heterosexual and cisgender peers. It is well known that the struggles LGBTQ+ students face lead to worse mental health outcomes, such as depression and high rates of suicide. But less well-known is that these struggles also lead to lowered academic performance. The CDC finds that LGBTQ+ students are more than twice as likely to miss school due to personal safety concerns. To succeed academically, LGBTQ+ students need to feel accepted and secure in schools.

Here we share five ways educators can support LGBTQ+ students and create an inclusive and equitable school environment.

support lgbtq+ students

Educate Yourself

Many teachers may feel overwhelmed by the prospect of working with LGBTQ+ students, as they each have their own serious and diverse needs. Even if you, as a teacher, are already a member of the LGBTQ+ community, the way you approach your identity is likely different than how your students perceive their identities. To create a supportive environment for LGBTQ+ students, the CDC has recommended guidelines for professional development courses for teachers. These programs encourage educators to look at all the risk and protective factors in the current school environment and to find ways to strengthen their understanding of what LGBTQ+ students need to thrive.

Create a Safe Space

The classroom environment is one place in school where you, as a teacher, have control – so use it wisely. The Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) recommends that teachers openly support LGBTQ+ students by making the classroom a safe space for expression. This can include placing LGBTQ+ supportive materials on classroom walls, using inclusive gender-neutral language in the classroom, and intervening immediately if you notice students bullying or harassing an LGBTQ+ student. For lesson plans, incorporating relevant LGBTQ+ history, literature, and culture into the classroom is also a good idea. Students may learn about the impact of civil rights movements surrounding topics like the AIDS crisis and Stonewall, create pride-themed items in art classes, or read LGBTQ+-centered books and analyze them.

Start An LGBTQ+ Student Group

While broader school policies can help immensely, an effective way to support LGBTQ+ students is to foster friendships and support networks among them. A 2014 study found that LGBTQ+ students who went to schools that had fully established gay-straight alliance networks had a much lower risk of suicidal ideation. Students who may not have support from family can especially benefit from a space at school to explore their identities, connect with peers, and share their struggles with supportive voices.

While it may seem challenging to begin a school club dedicated to LGBTQ+ support, there are many tools to help. Websites for organizations such as the ACLU and the GLSEN provide downloadable resources and instructions for advocating for, setting up, and running LGBTQ+ student groups in high schools. Because some students may be unable to physically come to meetings due to a lack of support, make sure that they also have online resources and options to connect with other LGBTQ+ students locally. A Discord or GroupMe server can help you share this information in an easily accessible manner.

Maintain Confidentiality

It may be tempting to discuss LGBTQ+ students’ struggles openly with administrators, guidance counselors, and others who you believe may be able to help. But as stated in a collaborative manual between the ACLU and several other human rights organizations, transgender and non-binary students may not wish to disclose their status to others. Keep in mind that a student’s legal name, transgender status, sexuality status, and sex assigned at birth are confidential according to FERPA laws. If this private information is shared, it may subject students to discrimination from other students or even from school faculty. 

If a student wants to come out or transition publicly, a plan should be made with educators, administration, and the student’s family. Help the student set boundaries with others about what questions are appropriate. For example, questions about pronouns may be okay, while questions about medical history or assigned gender at birth may not be appropriate. Help educate staff and peers on the student’s new pronouns and name, if applicable.

Unfortunately, students may not be able to come out to their families as the gender or sexuality they present themselves as in school. In those cases, caution should be taken to balance the student’s needs for acceptance with the fact that their parents do not support their identity. For example, if a student is dealing with homophobia at home, be cautious when discussing related problems with parents. For instance, perhaps do not mention sexuality-related concerns without the student’s consent.  Over time, you can support these students by helping them explain their identities to their parents or guiding them toward outside services as needed.

support lgbtq+ students

Final Thoughts

To support LGBTQ+ students, it is most important that you make it clear to them that your classroom is a safe place. Whether it’s helping a student navigate coming out or starting an LGBTQ+ – support club on campus, make sure that your students always feel welcome, supported, and connected. Inclusive policy and practice are key to ensuring that LGBTQ+ students can study and build meaningful relationships at school. 

Another way to encourage equity in learning is to support Educate. Radiate. Elevate. As a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing underserved students with high-quality education support, E.R.E. is uplifting communities. Our holistic approach to teaching skills in academics, metacognition, and executive functions is evidence-based and proven to increase student success. To support us on our mission, donate to our organization, partner with us to amplify our services, or volunteer to serve our community.

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