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June 12, 2019

image of peace sign with rainbow flag background

I was in walking to my Sunday School class after church the morning of June 12, 2016. Still out in the hallway, my friend Jill tapped my shoulder and asked if I’d seen the news. “There was a shooting at a gay club in Orlando. Over a dozen have been killed.” During the next hour I watched outlet after outlet publish updates. Eventually that initial dozen became the forty-nine. We would learn that most of the victims were Latinx. We would learn most of them were young. We would learn their names; we would learn about their families of origin and their families of choice. And, for many LGBTQ Christians, we would learn that our pastors, thought-leaders, and fellow believers struggled to understand how their theology was linked to the massacre.

I attended four different vigils in Atlanta the week following the tragedy. Three of these were at churches. The largest of them somehow made it through the entire hour and a half service without once mentioning the homophobia, prejudice, and implicit biases that would lead to an act of targeted violence. The liturgy instead addressed gun violence and domestic terrorism. The bishop who preached the service made sure to mention how he had spent plenty of nights out in D.C. with gay friends at gay clubs because “even a straight guy like him can appreciate good music when he hears it” and went on to declare how their upstanding, “ancient and progressive” tradition has proudly supported and affirmed LGBTQ persons since 2004 to which end I couldn’t help but think, “then why are we still dying?”

What the bishop didn’t say was that what happened at Pulse was a most explicit and violent display of anti-LGBTQ ideology, and it was far from the only time or the only way our bodies have been harmed. What he didn’t say was that there is a clear link between non-affirming religious belief and emotionally and spiritually devastating practice. What he didn’t say was that one of the reasons LGBTQ people, both Christian and not, find themselves routinely at clubs for sanctuary is because of all the ways we’ve been marginalized and or held at an arms-length by conservative and neo-liberal faith communities alike.

Almost a year after Pulse, the LGBTQ Christian organization I work for partnered with a large, moderate to conservative Evangelical church in Orlando for a community dialogue event. The goals were to humanize various theological views on sexuality and gender, to model civil discourse, and to legitimize Christian disagreement on that matter, which is the first and farthest step many conservatives often take in positively shifting their beliefs. During the event, we screened Love the Sinner, directed by Jessica Devaney and Geeta Gandbhir. It is a film that uses a first-person approach to exploring the relationship between non-affirming beliefs and the violence the LGBTQ community faces in general.

I sat in the dark sanctuary preparing to moderate the conversation among three pastors and I wept silently. I wept for the 49 and their families. I wept for the tens of thousands of LGBTQ people still riding out the residual effects of being connected to a targeted hate crime. I wept for the compounding ways in which our ethnicities and genders regularly intensify our proximity to danger. I wept for all the queer friends and family I have who have endured and or still live in spiritually traumatizing spaces. I wept for all the Tyler’s, the Daniel’s, and the Dee’s who spent their lives among Christian communities that saw no harm in teaching their congregations to “love the sinner and hate the sin.” I wept for myself. I wept for all the years that I believed how I give and receive love to be irredeemably broken. I wept for the chasm between the intention of non-affirming belief and its systematically devastating impact. Love the Sinner, with precision and clarity, grounded for me the idea that the personal is political, is theological. What we believe God believes about anyone has tremendous bearing on their bodies and souls and if we, as people of faith, are not actively interrogating our belief systems, we are complicit. “Progressive” or not, despite what that bishop at the vigil I attended seemed to think, I do believe that the blood is on our hands and we must do something about it.

Whether you’re in a classroom teaching or learning, a Church leader or other community member, we have to recognize the connection between religious teaching (or silence) and the violence the LGBTQ community experiences. Whether you’re a person of faith or not, being able to point students of religious background toward affirming teachings within those traditions can save lives and create a safer, more inclusive society at large.

I’ve used these three points to ground me in talking to students:

  • all faith traditions are rooted in love

  • everyone deserves love and respect

  • as a community, regardless of spirituality, we have a responsibility to care for each other

For free streaming of the 15-minute documentary, Love the Sinner, and its educational resources, email educators@glsen.org.

-Myles.

Image of the author, Myles Markham

 

Myles Markham is the Programs & Organizing Coordinator for The Reformation Project, a seminary student, and is based in Atlanta, Georgia.

May 30, 2019

student sitting on the floor in a classroom

Coming out isn’t an easy thing to do, especially to the medical clinic you’ve been going to all your life, or the health care center at your school. Even though I came out almost three years ago, I still get called by my birth name and misgendered. Over those past three years I have changed my name preference in my charts, verbally explained how I identify, and made sure my diagnosis and pronouns are clear in my chart.

For school-based social workers, counselors, and psychologists, or really any adult in school, using a student’s chosen pronouns is so beneficial. If you are unsure whether someone is female, male, or nonconforming, it is a lot better to politely ask what pronouns they identify with than assume and risk being incorrect. From personal experience, getting misgendered in front of others makes me want to disappear. It makes me feel like less of the human I am and more of a different person that I don’t identify with. This isn’t the same for everyone though, and I can’t be the voice for the whole trans community, but truly believe that being referred to in a way that makes you feel the most comfortable should be a basic human right. It may not be easy to use everyone’s correct pronouns, but it isn’t hard to try.

There was a doctor I saw at the time I came out as transgender, he was not the most accepting doctor I’ve come across. He told me that my transition was an obsession and told my mom the same. This didn’t help me whatsoever; it just belittled me and made me feel bad for trying to find myself. After seeing him a few different times, I realized that I needed to find a doctor who better suited my needs.

Recently, all of my healthcare providers have been exceeding my expectations. The providers I’ve most recently seen have been kind, accepting, and have been able to give me the care I need without making me uncomfortable. They are able to do this by using my pronouns and name, talking to me as if I am just a boy, being respectful, and building trust.

Even though I’ve recently had good providers, a medical assistant I’ve seen didn’t make me feel the best. They did their job and acted nice enough, but outside of the door referred to me as my birth name to others and misgendered me several times. It was very unprofessional and disrespectful to me and made me very distrustful of that person. Caregiving professionals should be more sensitive to others feelings, whether or not they are in the same room. They should be more aware that the patient may be able to hear them.

All the people who provide medical and mental health support should be educated on how to treat trans youth. They can go to www.glsen.org/trans to watch videos, read blogs, and find tools like GLSEN’s Pronoun Resource. Then they can begin to treat every patient with equality and respect.      

-Student Blogger, Age 16, Eugene, Oregon

Find more information on School-Based Mental Health Providers in our latest report, “Supporting Safe and Healthy Schools for LGBTQ Students.”

April 26, 2019

Poetry to me is the freedom of expression, snapshots of experiences, and a boost of encouragement.

Why is poetry more than just words?

When the verbal use of words didn’t work for me, I found my passion for writing to tell my stories. It didn’t matter if it was excitement, bitterness, or pain because storytelling through poetry, and even poetic performances brought light for others to better understand me. They also helped me to better understand my own self.

The most beautiful thing about poetry is that anyone can utilize it. Whether you are physically writing on paper or vocalizing, no one is doing it wrong. I find myself striving for in the area of art. To articulate one's emotions better, creative writing is a tool and a gift to share with others; a  tool that can unite young folks, adults, and communities. The power of words and wisdom that come from each other cannot go unheard. You cannot silence one’s gift of art, as it is the arts that speaks the loudest, because of the demonstrated ability to allow an audience to feel and empathize with someone else, that perhaps one couldn’t before.

Back then, I would’ve said I found myself, but I didn’t. I just began to expose myself and being able to explore my own identities is then when I found my passion for poetry.

Many people find it shocking when I tell them I love to read and write poetry, but I tend to hate reading most books. It is poetry that grabs my eyes, because poetry is rather different from most texts because it allows self-reflection and freedom to gather and intake from the work written by the author. There is usually not a direct guide, but leeway for interpretation, unlike many novels, and other styles of reading.

Poetry does not have to look only one way. In fact, my poetry started from a couple words to a couple lines, to a couple bars. As an author, a poet, and musician, I know that poetry is for everyone, and can be used to highlight and amplify the voices of folks that can’t find their outlet. Poetry has how I feel in my true element when I am reading and writing--something I incorporate into my daily routine. It allows us to connect with others and our own inner self. This is it, make writing affirmative.

How can you incorporate poetry in your normal school day?

For those who are able- try to write something every day, even if it is something short and sweet.

Next time you find yourself waiting between school and sports practice, or while you have some downtime during lunch - try writing for a bit. Instead of going on social media, take out a pen and start writing for a couple of minutes, or pull up notes on your phone if that is accessible.  A good way to ground yourself and take a breather is to describe everything in your surroundings (e.g What can you See? Hear? Touch? Taste? Smell?)

One could have lines of poetry, and the other could have half-complete thoughts, my advice to both authors: Don’t stop writing. Beautiful words are often released when there are no set of rules, when you find your own rhythm, and especially when you think you have the least to say or write. In spaces like classrooms, or study halls this is a good tool and way to utilize what’s enjoyable to do some creative thinking and reflection. Whether it’s a coping skill, or a breather, this helps me decompress from my stressors in my environment. Grounding yourself by writing is always peaceful.

March 21, 2019

A picture of GLSEN National Student Council member Darid smiling
I listened…  the sound slowly crept into my ear, triggered my reaction, and confusion started to consume my mind. “What’s your name?” the teacher questioned. My heart raced as I tried to search the blankness of my memories and whispered, “My name is Sovandarid Prom.” I was ten when my family and I immigrated from Cambodia – an underprivileged country in Southeast Asia – to the United States with dreams of new life and fresh opportunities. Upon arriving, I met a society that was rooted in more racial bias than I was prepared to confront.

In America today, immigrants are constantly detained and deprived of their basic rights. We live in a society where people’s survival and existence is criminalized. The criminalization of immigrants in this country has contributed to a surge in anti-immigrant views and bias. Over the past several years, I have been constantly reminded through the eyes of the government and the media that I am not welcomed here; that I need to go back to my country, and that even if I learned English, I will never be accepted. This type of bias and hostility towards immigrants in our society has filtered down into our school systems resulting in greater discipline for immigrant students, an increase in dropout rates and incarceration, and lower educational outcomes. The issue of immigrant rights are sewed into the fabric of this country and we can’t turn a blind eye to this issue any longer.

As a queer immigrant coming from a traditional Asian family, home was never a place for me to fully express my queer identity. As a child, I thought school would provide some of the safety and freedom that I did not have at home, but I later found out that wasn’t the case.  In school, I listened to classmates make dehumanizing comments about immigrants and queer folks far too often. Xenophobia and queerphobia were ingrained into the minds of these students as they joked about invasions, crimes, deportation, trans identity, and so much more. The nastiness of comments from my peers about immigrants and queer people catapulted me into an isolating darkness of self-doubt and self-hatred, yet educators did little to nothing to aid the struggles of students like myself who held these multiple marginalized identities.

Racial and queer biases in our society have been integrated into the environment of many schools across the country, as it normalizes the aggression in which young people interact with their peers from different countries and cultures. According to the GLSEN 2017 National School Climate, 87% of LGBTQ students experienced harassment and assault based on their personal characteristics, including their race and ethnicity. We need to realize that our society will improve only when we breakdown the boundaries that are stacked among people of different races in schools. Boundaries create rejections that lead to the lack of opportunities for the growth of relationships and diversity. Let’s build relationships and solidarity, NOT walls and boundaries within our schools!

One of the best ways to support queer immigrant students is to build a more relationship-centered school; meaning, educators must promote a sense of belonging and diversity in classrooms. Fostering an environment of connectedness plays a huge role in students feeling respected, accepted, and supported by teachers and peers. Simple practices such as identity activities can dismantle individuals’ feelings of isolation and helps build conversations about commonalities in classrooms. GLSEN’s Identity Flowers are a great tool in increasing familiarity with differences; which ultimately, can alter perspectives, facilitate acceptance and diminish the misconceptions and prejudices that fuel discrimination. 

In addition, by simply creating policies that enable students to properly address students of a different identity, we can tackle issues like name calling. Having a proper layout of what words are okay to use will allow for a more efficient and inclusive learning space. By doing so, it will provide the appropriate outlets to encourage students’ voices and action in celebrating diversity. Immigrant students deserve to feel a sense of safety and community in school, and GLSEN’s resource for anti-slur policy can be the first step in helping to make this a reality. 

Together, our differences can make a strong and beautiful community. Even in the face of intolerance, discrimination, and violence, we must not forget to spread the words about the importance of inclusion and diversity and to respond to hatred with love and a celebration of our differences.

Darid is a member of GLSEN's National Student Council.

February 21, 2019

For No Name-Calling Week 2019, we encouraged students and educators across the country to create artwork using the theme of #KindessInAction in K-12 schools, because artwork has the power to change school climates for the better. 

Cole Mendelsoh, Milton Terrace Elementary

A drawing of a rainbow hand with a heart on it with a rainbow background.
How does this submission show #KindnessInAction in schools? This drawing shows love for all.

Elizabeth Keating, St. Luke's School

A poster that says "Friends Come In All Different Sizes" A pink and yellow poster that says "People Come In All Different Shapes" A poster that says "Love Comes In All Different Colors"

How does this submission show #KindnessInAction in schools? Our submission is a compelling series of Posters, which are a call-to-action and awareness building on behalf of No Name-Calling Week. It highlights the school's support of the initiative and showcases the school's various activities throughout the week. 

Mary Uribe, Minarets High School

A poem is pictured. It reads: A Woman: She is judged, She is labeled, She doesn't like her skin color or her curly hair. She is a woman. She walks around school, Not knowing if it will be a good day. She wants more than the thoughts that consume her. She is a woman. We will rise to apperciate each other. Not be judged by culture, religion or race. we will support our fellow women and not be sexualized or treated As items...we are women.
How does this submission show #KindnessInAction in schools? 
My submission shows the support of women and human rights as a whole. We are all individuals of power and sacrifice. We are the future and the strongest people in the world.

February 20, 2019

A photo of author and GLSEN National School Council member Jessica holding out a hat that says RESPECT on it.

Jessica Chiriboga - 2018-2019 National Student Council Member

LOVE.

Love. Love. Love. Love must be the thud that drives LGBTQIA+ asylum seekers with each step forward.

While my newsfeed’s coverage of the migrant caravan has largely featured reports of gross xenophobia and rhetoric, November 17 brought a heart-warming, yet sobering story to light. In the city of Tijuana, Mexico, just two hours from my hometown, seven LGBTQIA+ couples who journeyed miles upon miles from Central America for the mere right to love freely were wed. This mass-wedding was beautiful, a hopeful juxtaposition in the wake of bigotry.

Yet the wave of pride and joy that swelled up inside my chest was soon replaced with a deep irrevocable sense of grief. The grief that engulfed me stemmed from the bleak reality that so many LGBTQIA+ people face around the world. These seven couples do not only face some of the highest levels of violence, extortion, poverty, corruption, drug trafficking, and gang violence, but also must contend with rampant homophobia, transphobia, and biphobia that seeks to erase their identities.

It’s altogether disconcerting, and even that word disconcerting is an understatement. People across this world fight for their mere right to live, their mere right to exist. As much as I have fallen in love with the earth, this is a moment where my heart runs over with disgust. As a student in a progressive southern California school, it seems unfathomable to me that a transgender student wouldn’t be allowed to use the restroom of their choosing. But yet, I am aware that in other states and other countries this is, unfortunately, a daily reality. 

73 of the countries in our world criminalize homosexuality; in eight of these countries, homosexuality is punishable by death.

Since the 1979 Iranian Revolution, 5,000 LGBTQIA+ persons have been executed in Iran.

In 2017, the brutal abduction and torturing of around 100 male residents in Chechnya (Russia) because of their perceived sexual orientation came to light.

In 2018, conversion therapy in unlicensed clinics, where victims were subject to atrocities ranging from rape to beatings, were exposed across Ecuador.

It’s important to note that because I am primarily exposed to American media, these stories were not ‘uncovered’ by Western media for several months and years, even with the cries of local activists and coverage by local organizations/media.

This reality rips my heart out. It grips my beating organ in its iron-clad hands and refuses to release its grasp. It is an all too familiar reminder that I have so much more work to do in my own activism.

IGNORANCE.

In the bubble of my Southern California school, I’ve witnessed a great deal of ignorance, intended or unintended, displayed by my fellow out LGBTQIA+ peers.

Why does it matter that I learn about our history? Why does LGBTQIA+ activism matter if we can marry already? Why does it matter, students in California can already use the restroom of their choosing? Why does it matter what the world faces?

As silly as it sounds, I hear these questions all too often. These questions are rooted in a lack of LGBTQIA+ historical education, the privilege of wealth, a liberal locale, greater access to certain opportunities, and of being out and having a voice but not using it. 

People often refuse to involve themselves in politics and activism when the issues don’t affect them directly. For some in my area, the ‘liberal’ bubble and the legalization of gay marriage is the end of the journey. Sure, they are not completely immune to discrimination, but the likelihood of damage done is insignificant enough that they can still educate or fight for others.

What I hope to communicate is that even when issues don’t directly affect us, we need to recognize our role in this community. This community is a beautiful one, drawn together by struggle and a common goal. It’s a community that has relied on coming together in trying times, regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity, to achieve equality for all members of the community. 

Unity has been lost over the last few years in my particular area, perhaps because the urgency is no longer there. Perhaps because my generation is unaware of what it was like to exist merely a decade ago.

Like with all things, we call all do our part to help remedy this lack of awareness…   

  1. Research the state of LGBTQIA+ rights in your state, country, and the world.

    1. How does your area differ from others?

  2. Recognize the needs of your community.

    1. Is there a particular sexual orientation or gender identity at your school or in your community that seems to be facing stigma and discrimination?

  3. Reflect on the issue.

    1. What seems to be rooted in this discrimination? (i.e. misogyny, cultural values, etc.)

  4. Respond to this issue.

    1. Holding an educational meeting with your GSA and then come up with a plan of action to address the issue (i.e. educating staff on use of pronouns)

    2. Create posters to educate school campus

    3. Hold a protest or talk on your school campus

    4. Make an announcement, video, or story in the newspaper to appear on campus to spread the word about your issue

    5. Meet with administration, school board, or non-profit to coordinate your efforts 

LOVE.

I hope the migrant caravan and their beautiful story of marriage is a reminder that our siblings spread across the earth. We all stand together, country by country, state by state, town by town. Over miles of countryside and ocean, from the depths of the sea to the highest peak, we are united by love, whether that be a love for justice, for a partner, or for our community.

We must not forget our siblings. We must not forget to educate ourselves to advance our activism. We must not forget all the work we still have to do. We must not forget our goal. 

Love must be the single unifier that brings us together in search of a safer, more beautiful earth. Love must be the answer.

Jessica is a member of GLSEN's National Student Council

February 06, 2019

 

A headshot of National Student Council member Jessica

Jessica Chiriboga - 2018-2019 National Student Council Member

 

Bounce. Bounce. Bounce. Breathe. Racket up. Extend through the serve. Follow through.

I repeat those words in my head like a mantra as sweat rolls down my forehead. It’s a hot summer morning in 2017, the type of day where the sun beats down incessantly on the green and blue court. Days like this always make me jokingly reconsider why I’m out on the court, why I’m running after a small green ball with a netted circle on a stick.

My coach snaps me out of my inner monologue, asking me what corner of the box I decided to aim at. It provides direction, he says, to have a position or corner in mind before I start my backswing.

“Down the service line”, I answer. That’s a lie. But certainly not as big of a lie that I felt I lived everyday.

You see, often on those summer days we spoke of social issues and general news, freely and uninhibited, unleashing our opinions, our disappointments, and our hopes. I was always quite comfortable speaking with my coach due to his open mind and good heart, but whenever our discussions approached my community, my mouth shut close.

“The LGBTQIA+ community,” he would start, “is facing ... and it’s a disgrace that they have to face that everyday”. “Yes”, I’d respond, “I wish that community didn’t have to face that. It’s unfortunate.”

During that summer, never once did I refer to that community in the first person. My community remained in the shadows of third person, an entity removed from our dialogue because of my fear and deep sense of shame.

There was always uncertainty then around disclosing a part of me. Actually, that’s not completely true. When meeting new people I was unabashedly clear about my identity. If they didn’t agree with who I am then they just left or didn’t pursue a friendship. Fine with me, I thought, spares me the effort.

It was the people I deeply cared about, the people I truly loved and respected, that I had hesitancy around. It was my coach, the man who has helped me through so much, that I feared would judge me (even though deep down a seed of hope knew he wouldn’t).

Yet, for me, and so many LGBTQIA+ students, that fear of rejection lingers and stings, regardless of how supportive that person may or may not be. This exists because for me and so many of my sisters in the sports community, there is a warranted fear of homophobia, but beyond that sexism, racism, transphobia, ableism, xenophobia, and islamophobia. We fear being cast out by our teammates, belittled by our coaches, kicked off our sports teams, and not being seen the same way. As athletes who truly love and value the game, this scares us more than anything. Our lives are so intertwined with the game, the match, and the journey, that anything that could jeopardize that frightens us.

During the summer of 2018, I missed a Saturday pre-season practice for L.A. Pride. I told my coach, and he asked some questions and compared it to how he remembered it years ago. Even then, I doubted myself. Did he know I was gay? What if I was just an ally supporting the community? Did he care? Would this change everything?

Our next private lesson rolled around, and he told me about a new documentary he had watched, Alone in the Game, about LGBTQ athletes in the professional, collegiate, and Olympic levels.

My heart swelled in that moment. I knew he knew. But instead of dread, I felt nothing but welcome. I felt nothing but supported.

Thank you coach, thank you. You’ll never know how much that day meant to me. You’ll never know how much each email with the latest LGBTQIA+ news means to me. You’ll never know how much you mean to me Coach.

For more resources, check out…

GLSEN’s Sports Project, Changing the Game

GLSEN Massachusetts’ Sample Sports Presentation

And GLSEN’s research brief on The Experiences of LGBT Students in School Athletics

 Jessica is a part of GLSEN's 2018-2019 National Student Council.

February 04, 2019

A photo of students sitting in a hallway.
School-based mental health providers
– counselors, psychologists, and social workers – can often be some of the first adults that young people connect with regarding their LGBTQ identity. In fact, in the 2017 National School Climate Survey over half of LGBTQ students reported that they would feel most comfortable talking with school based mental health professionals about LGBTQ issues.  Unfortunately, a recent study shows that 76% of school mental health professionals received little to no preparation on working with LGBTQ youth (Supporting Safe and Healthy Schools). These providers can adopt some of the following best practices to best serve their students:

  1. Advocate with other teachers and administrators

LGBTQ students need to know that there is at least one adult who is supportive of them. This is, very importantly, a “show don’t tell” version of allyship. What this means is that it is not enough to simply say we are supportive of LGBTQ students, we need to show it through our actions. I recognize that because of different environments, locations, and administrations, we as mental health counselors might not have as much of a voice in our school system to be able to do some of these more public actions. However, take a look at this list and see if there are a few that you might be able to do, or alter to be able to fit within the bounds of your particular school. Here are several suggestions of public actions that you can take to show your support of the community.

a. Have pronoun buttons available in an obvious location in your office. Also, wear your own pronoun button if you’d like!

b. Display LGBTQ-affirming materials and signs while you work with youth. This can be done with books, safe space stickers, or posters to promote an inclusive space, or with notebooks or lanyards if you travel between spaces or schools.

c. Advocate for time and/or funding for your school to be able to have a GSA (Gender & Sexuality Alliance or Gay-Straight Alliance) group.

d. If a teacher or administrator is using bigoted language (whether in front of students or not), respectfully but firmly let them know that the language they are using is inappropriate.

e. If an adult or student in the school is using the wrong name or pronouns of a transgender student who is out publicly, correct them. Don’t make a big deal of it, as that can draw uncomfortable attention to the student. Instead, simply say the correct name or pronoun and then let the person continue speaking.

f. Find out from your school regarding their policies regarding bathroom use, and advocate strongly that your students can use the bathroom that matches their identity, or at the very least, for them to be able to use the gender-neutral staff bathroom. Refer to and share GLSEN’s Trans Model Policy for support.

  1. Explore LGBTQ-Community Resources

Take some time to do research in your own area regarding therapists and clinics that are LGBTQ-friendly, and compile a list of referrals for students who are looking for therapy outside of school. Granted, depending on where you are, those resources may be slim, but there are multiple vetted online support groups as well as national helplines for young people to be able to get support outside of school.

This need for referrals holds particularly true if you only have time to meet with students infrequently, or for short periods of time. Forgive yourself if you can’t be “The Person” that this student goes to for support regarding their LGBTQ identity. There are so many hats that a school mental health provider has to wear, and it is an honorable thing to recognize your limits. You can still have a positive impact, even if your primary role is connecting that student to an outside provider and being a safe space in the school environment for the time that you are able to give them.

  1. Be transparent with your students about what you can (or cannot) hold confidential

It is crucial when working with LGBTQ youth that we are forthcoming regarding what our obligations are regarding confidentiality. Every school is different regarding what is expected of their counselors in regard to sharing what a student has shared, be it with teachers, interns, administrators, or the student’s family members. In addition, it is important to be aware of how note-taking may happen after you see a student and of who might have legal access to those notes.

Personally, unless safety is a concern in any way, I believe thoroughly that it is our ethical duty as counselors not to share any information about a student’s sexual orientation, gender identity, or curiosity and exploration of gender expression, unless the student is ready to come out and wants some help with having those conversations. It is so important for young people to have a safe space, and have access to adults who value their privacy and respect their need to take their time with self-discovery. Remember that public school students have a right to privacy.  If this confidentiality is not possible due to the particular expectations in your school, you need to make that clear to any student who might want to share personal information with you regarding anything along the LGBTQ spectrum.

As LGBTQ youth are more likely to experience mental health concerns regarding suicide (YRBS 2017, Trevor Project), be very transparent with your students that you will have to break confidentiality if you are concerned about their safety either due to potential self-harm or harm from someone else. Depending on the situation, even with this necessary break of confidentiality, you may be able to keep the person’s LGBTQ identity out of the conversation if the student wants to keep that part of their identity private for the time being.

  1. Follow their lead with their coming out path

When we’re working in a school setting, we often have dual relationships with students. We see them privately in our offices, but we may also interact with them in other settings, such as in a group session, in mediation, in an Individualized Education Program (IEP) meeting, or even in classrooms. This can make it feel tricky to know how to keep confidentiality for a client while also respecting what they may have shared with you about their identity.

For example, let’s say a student comes out to you as being a transgender girl. Ask her how she would like for you to address her in public settings. It’s possible that she may, for now, ask you to continue to use her legal name or “deadname” and he/him pronouns in public, as she does not yet want others to know. You are not being disrespectful to then follow her wishes. When you are meeting with her alone, use her chosen name and her female pronouns. Furthermore, offer to help her facilitate conversations with her parents and/or the administration should she decide she is ready to come out publicly. Share GLSEN’s Coming Out Guide to help the student consider different aspects of this ongoing process.

There are myriad factors that play into a young person’s decision to come out or not, and potentially a student may feel that due to their individual circumstances it may not be safe for them to be out. All you can do is hold space for them, and allow them to safely explore their thoughts and feelings about their gender or sexual identity with you, without the pressure of feeling obligated to have to take everything to the next step of coming out.

  1. Remember that we will never be experts

One of the most important things I’ve learned as a therapist is that the moment we think we are an expert in something is the moment that we stop learning. Regardless of whether we may have decades of experience as a counselor, or if we are out and proud regarding our own gender identity and sexual orientation (I myself am as queer as a tea cozy!), that does not make us experts on a particular student’s experience. We have to do our own continuing education (on our own) to learn how the language is changing, and we have to do it enthusiastically. We have to allow our students to correct us, and not become defensive if we have made assumptions that are challenged.

More than anything, we have to hold an open, honest space where we allow each individual student to teach us about their specific experience. Just because I have worked with countless queer and trans teenagers does not mean that I automatically understand every emotion, hardship, or desire of a person walking through my door. What makes someone truly a professional is confidence in the acceptance of being wrong, and a genuine willingness to learn. You are here, reading this, which means that you already are on a solid path toward being the person that an LGBTQ student may need. In fact, you probably already are.

Kit McCann, LMFT, she/her, is a queer/gender therapist in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

February 01, 2019

Transgender teens need safe & supportive schools

On January 25, 2019, for the first time, the CDC released data on health behaviors and experiences of transgender youth from the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (YRBSS). Data collected by 19 CDC-funded sites (10 states, 9 large urban school districts) included a single-item question to measure the proportion of high-school youth who identify as transgender in the 2017 Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS). Population-based data (including YRBS) are critical to address disparities that exist between transgender and cisgender youth.

Knowing which questions to ask and how to ask them in order to get high-quality data can be a challenging task. That is why we have been working to try and get it right – developing, testing, and piloting questions. We work closely with partner organizations and research colleagues to identify the most accurate and effective ways to accurately represent in surveys students who identify as transgender. A variety of governmental and non-governmental partners, including GLSEN and CDC, have been working to share data and find the most effective way forward.

Data from the 2017 state and local YRBS indicate that transgender students are more likely to experience violence victimization, substance use, suicide risk, and sexual risk, and would benefit from increased support. This spring, 22 states and large urban school districts will assess transgender identity for the next cycle of YRBS data. In addition to increasing surveillance, programmatic efforts to create safer learning environments and ensure access to culturally competent care are important steps to improving the health of the nation’s transgender youth. 

Joseph G. Kosciw, PhD, GLSEN’s Chief Research & Strategy Officer; Michelle M. Johns, MPH, PhD, Health Scientist, Research Application and Evaluation Branch, CDC’s Division of Adolescent School Health (DASH); J. Michael Underwood, PhD, Chief, School-Based Surveillance Branch, CDC’s Division of Adolescent School Health (DASH)

January 21, 2019

A handmade sign with a rainbow background with the words "Brave Comrade" painted on it
Before I socially transitioned as Gender Non-Conforming (GNC), my transness held little consideration in my advocacy work. I made parts of myself invisible out of self-hate. I grew up Black, queer, and transgender in the South. In my town, hate and underrepresentation of my sexuality and gender expression caused me to avoid parts of myself. As a trans educator, I have experienced isolation to its fullest extent. From this, I am imbued with a sense of responsibility to center dialogue in my school community on queer and trans experiences that have remained hidden because of social stigma and hatred.

My experience as a GNC or trans educator is one of constant discrimination in schools. Trans and GNC educators are often treated with skepticism, made invisible in curriculum and instruction, given little to no space for programming or extracurricular engagements, and pushed out of school communities because of discrimination from faculty or the student body. Based on my experiences, when schools attempt to include transgender identities in curricula, we are often tokenized and these methods are inconsistently reinforced. These issues are deeply-rooted, intentional, and institutionalized. They are also microcosms of the larger social stigma of transgender identities in American society. 

Too often, the focus of discussion around transgender and GNC discrimination in schools is the use of pronouns and gender inclusive restrooms. This limited focus does not consider the holistic impact of transgender identities in and beyond the school environment. In my experience, so many individuals in schools focus on how to appropriately pronounce my honorific, “Mx.,” or feel the need to announce that they are “getting used to my pronouns.” These comments, devoid of intention, signify that people assume that my desire for inclusivity can be achieved through their correct pronunciation of my honorific. I also have a desire for more support from school leaders around my ability to self-define.

Rather than “getting used to” trans and GNC individuals, support them authentically. Ask them if they feel safe in your community. Ask them if community members are displaying attitudes of acceptance. While bathroom use and pronouns are important issues, recognizing one’s existence and validating their belonging sends a powerful message about that transgender person’s right to fully access the school space. Transgender individuals are humans. We are not single stance issues to choose a side on in political discourse or an uncomfortable object around which you must wrap your mind. For those who are willing to recognize the fullness of transgender and GNC community members’ humanity in a school environment, I would suggest that you all attempt some of these steps:

1. Be aware of the issues that face trans and GNC students and educators in and beyond school.

Try watching videos and reading blogs at www.glsen.org/trans.

2. Survey the GSA clubs in your school to gather evidence of the climate for LGBTQ youth and ask your LGBTQ+ faculty their opinions with earnest intent.

Find GSA resources at glsen.org/gsa.

3. Make space and programming on transgender experiences accessible for all faculty and students.

Check out GLSEN’s LGBTQ history resources and Unheard Voices curriculum.

4. Ask people how they want to be identified, leave it at that, and deal with your confusion on your own.

Learn more with GLSEN’s Gender Terminology Visual and Pronoun Resource.

Consistent efforts toward transgender inclusion are challenging and should be treated with diligence. Remember, your school is working with a human population and not with objects of fascination. All humans deserve adequate attention and validation. Indifference toward or ignorance of the discrimination against transgender lives bolsters the power of hate and perpetuates the current system. We need all individuals to be stakeholders in our liberation.

In Solidarity,

A picture of the authorMx. Marvin D. Shelton Jr., M.S.Ed., Middle School English Teacher, Riverdale Country School, Pronouns: They, Them, Their

 

 

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