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LGBTQ Inclusive Schools: What US Educators Can Learn from the Netherlands

Students with their hands up in a classroom

In 2012, the Netherlands mandated the inclusion of sexual diversity in the Dutch curriculum. This past January, I visited fourteen schools and interviewed over thirty Dutch educators and advocates to synthesize best practices from the last six years of implementation. After moving back to the US I wanted to share my findings and their implications for teachers here in the US. I’m glad to connect with GLSEN’s to share my findings:

  1. Policies matter. Although the underpinnings of Dutch policy can be traced back to the Calvinist roots of the country, it was clear that the national call for inclusion made an impact. Teachers believed that speaking about LGBTQ topics was completely normal and part of their duty as Dutch teachers. What can US Educators do?  If your school does not have policies in place to protect LGBTQ students check out this resource https://www.glsen.org/article/modelpolicies

  2. We’re all in this together. New to the classroom? Nervous about backlash from parents? Lean on your community. Only 43% of educators in the Netherlands were employed full time, as a result, every school had multiple teachers for each content area. LGBTQ topics were frequently included in the sex education curriculum, and biology teachers had a community within their school to exchange lesson plans, stories, and troubleshoot instructional issues. Teachers shared that when they encountered a challenge, they just asked other educators! What can US Educators do? Tap into a network of teachers working towards the same goal by joining GLSEN’s Educator Network.

  3. Meeting at the intersection. There is a common misconception that the Dutch are a homogenous population. With large numbers of both western and non-western immigrants, there is no single image of “looking Dutch”. There were remarkable examples of culturally responsive teaching, including a teacher who called up the mosque prior to starting the sex education unit. What can US Educators do? Consider how being LGBTQ can intersect with other identities.  

  4. Empower youth. At a school outside of Amsterdam, I had the opportunity to witness student officers of the Gender Sexuality Alliance (GSA) facilitate a workshop with their peers during biology class covering the myriad of LGBTQ identities and answering questions. The school was intentional about making a place for inclusion during the day, and that students led the charge. As educators, we must make put the structures in place so that youth can organize and lead. What can US Educators do? Find resources for GSA support at www.glsen.org/gsa.

  5. Change is possible. In 2010, the Netherlands’ main LGBTQ advocacy organization initiated a campaign in schools to recognize Purple Friday— a day that raises awareness about LGBTQ people and fights homophobia. Purple Friday now reaches over 90% of schools and almost every teacher and student proudly shared their Purple Friday story. What can US Educators do? Keep the momentum going. Bring Ally Week, Day of Silence, and No-Name Calling Week to your school this year.

Despite political and cultural idiosyncrasies, the Netherlands provides a vision of what is possible in the United States— a future with policies that require inclusive curriculum, and teachers working together to empower students and craft schools that value all identities.

Amber Moore

Amber Moore is an educator and social justice researcher. You can read more about her work at: www.themooreyoulearn.com