As teachers, finding ways to incorporate LGBTQ revolutionaries into your lesson plans is one way to ensure that you are validating the life of the queer or questioning teens in your classroom. By doing this you are giving an accurate representation of how many different identities have influenced and continue to influence the world. You can emphasize where LGBTQ people are showing up in the media, social justice movements, and in the government, just to name a few. Representation is needed to ensure that your youth are feeling safer and visible. Homeless queer youth are even more at risk of feeling invisible because narratives do not include the lens of homelessness and shelter insecurity.
Education is the only way to ensure that youth are receiving valuable lessons of acceptance, inclusion, and visibility. There are dozens of LGBTQ+ icons you can include in your lessons, like Audre Lorde, a black lesbian feminist Poet, James Baldwin, a black gay writer and civil rights activist, Sylvia Rivera, a trans Latina who, alongside Marsha P. Johnson, a black trans woman, was a pioneer in our trans and queer rights’ revolution, and Desmond the Amazing, one of the youngest contemporary drag queens. Also, include contemporary young queer activists experiencing homelessness in your work.
Share these stories to give the youth a foundation, so they can build self-esteem, affirmation, and love. Also, make sure your students are aware of resources available to homeless queer youth without outing their status. This access to resources can empower them, and also help with those who may feel uncomfortable speaking about their homelessness.
Learning curriculum that centers their identities or learning that different identities exist can help all students to build understanding and acceptance. This can also provide a learning environment of growth, compassion, healing, and love. Never forget the power of folks being able to see themselves as people who are part of a community, part of humanity. This is how we start the healing process. Whether your individual students will influence the world has a lot to do with whether they can even conceptualize the idea of change or mold a world they want to see without even seeing themselves represented as change makers or agents for change. And as a caretaker of the youth and their brains for 8 hours a day 5 days a week, you can make the most direct impact for them. You can teach them, open their eyes, and influence their growth. For many homeless queer youth, school can be a safe haven from the trauma they are experiencing while navigating through homelessness and to have a safer space. Be loving, inclusive, non-judgmental, and affirming through policies and lessons; these changes can improve the life of that youth significantly.
Abena Bria Bello is an Ali Forney Client Liaison. This blog is part of a GLSEN partnership with the Ali Forney Center. Visit their website to learn more about what school-based resources and actions can be done to support LGBTQ youth experiencing homelessness.