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February 01, 2019
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
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.
4. Ask people how they want to be identified, leave it at that, and deal with your confusion on your own.
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.
Mx. Marvin D. Shelton Jr., M.S.Ed., Middle School English Teacher, Riverdale Country School, Pronouns: They, Them, Their
January 14, 2019
In preparation for GLSEN's No Name-Calling Week, we asked GLSEN's National Student Council to tell us the labels and identities that they hold and want to be called. Self-identification can be empowering, and it can be hurtful when people use labels that don't match the ones we choose ourselves.
These students are making a statement against name-calling and bullying by encouraging people not to use slurs or stereotypes, but to call their peers by the names that they identify with and give others permission to use.
Want to share how you identify? You can put #KindnessInAction and join the conversation by posting your own sign with the names YOU want to be called. Make sure to use #KindnessInAction and tag @glsen on Twitter and Instagram!
To get involved with No Name-Calling Week, and to get free streaming of LGBTQ-inclusive classroom documentaries, register here!
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"I am driven, mixed-race gay activist!" Join GLSEN National Student Council member @jessicachiriboga17 and share the names you want to be called with this sign at the link in bio! #KindnessInAction #NoNameCallingWeek#stopbullying #LGBTQ #lesbian #gay #bi#trans #queer #nonbinary
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National Student Council member JP shared the names he wants to be called for #NoNameCallingWeek! How are you putting #KindnessInAction and working to end name-calling and bullying in your school in the new year? @j.p_grant #NoNameCalling #NNCW #stopbullying #inclusiveschools #safeschools #LGBTQ #lesbian #gay #Bi #Trans #queer #nonbinary
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"I am a passionate, geeky, Latinx activist who will not conform to your binary" - @a_queer_person Tell us the names you're proud of with this selfie sign or in the comments below! Find other ways you can show that you're against name-calling this #NoNameCallingWeek at the link in bio! #KindnessInAction #affirmations #stopbullying #inclusiveschools #safeschools #LGBTQ #lesbian #gay #bi #trans #queer
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What are the names that you want to be called? During #NoNameCallingWeek, show that you're against bullying with this selfie sign! It it and tons of other activities to help you put #KindnessInAction at school at the link in bio! @love_me_only34 #stopbullying #inclusiveschools #safeschools #LGBTQ #lesbian #gay #bi #trans #queer #nonbinary
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"I am a strong, PROUD queer immigrant." - @Justrid1 What names do you WANT to be called? Share your names and take a stand against bullying & name-calling with this selfie sign at the link in bio! #NoNameCallingWeek #KindnessInAction #InclusiveSchools #safeschools #supportsafeschools #LGBTQ #lesbian #gay #bi #trans #queer #nonbinary
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GLSEN National Student Council Member Sayer (@badassfemme63) wants to be called #gay, #passionate, and #femme! Let everyone know the names you want to be called this #NoNameCallingWeek with this "I am" sign at the link in bio! #KindnessInAction #inclusiveschools #safeschools #LGBTQ #lesbian #gay #bi #trans #queer #nonbinary
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GLSEN National Student Council member Juno is powerful and necessary! What are the names you'd like to be called? Take a stand against bullying & name-calling with our #NoNameCallingWeek selfie sign at the link in bio! #KindnessInAction #affirmations #inclusiveschools #safeschools #LGBTQ #lesbian #gay #bi #trans #queer #nonbinary
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#Powerful. #Activist. #Biracial. #ChangingTheWorld. National Student Council member @ayo_bri02 is pushing back against name-calling and sharing the names she WANTS to be called! What are the names you want to be called? Share in the comments below or with your own sign at the link in bio! #NoNameCallingWeek #KindnessInAction #stopbullying #positivity #inclusiveschools #safeschools #LGBTQ #lesbian #gay #bi #trans #queer #nonbinary
January 03, 2019
I have been a secondary science educator for fourteen years. I have loved teaching science – piquing students’ interest in the world and in scientific possibilities, and encouraging them to pursue science careers. After all, science solves the world’s problems. I was named ESL Teacher of the Year, twice nominated for my campus’ Teacher of the Year, and held numerous leadership positions at multiple campuses in multiple districts. In spite of this, anti-LGBTQ discrimination has led me to resign, ending my teaching career mid-contract.
In the fall of 2017, shortly after school started, I was approached by a student and asked to sponsor a GSA. I was ecstatic at the opportunity. My two sisters and I identify as LGBTQ and we have religious parents who learned to love and accept us. As an out educator of 11 years, married to my wife for 9 years, and mother to 3, I was excited to offer a safe space for students to feel open to express their true selves.
In late February, however, I was called to the office of an administrator on my campus and was asked about a conversation that had occurred in my classroom. During a genetics lesson I overheard a gay slur. Anyone who has spent any amount of time around teenagers is familiar with the rampant use of negative LGBTQ terminology - in 2015, 92% of Texas students reported hearing “that’s so gay” in the classroom and 86% reported hearing other homophobic remarks (GLSEN 2015 Texas State Snapshot). In this instance, as always, I intervened to challenge the conversation with my typical, “not appropriate” and “it is offensive.” I believe it’s our role as educators to tell students that anti-LGBTQ comments should offend anyone; homophobic or transphobic comments, along with racist, sexist, ableist comments and any comments targeting a marginalized group of people, should have no place in our institutions, as they keep our classrooms from being safe and welcoming for all students.
The administrators informed me that the brief conversation I had with students was not an acceptable use of academic time and that I should focus on teaching the TEKS, Texas’s guiding K-12 subject required curriculum. I was the campus GSA sponsor; if I did not correct this type of language, who would? I highlighted the worrisome statistics from LGBTQ students - nearly 9 in 10 were harassed or assaulted at school (GLSEN 2015). All adults in schools should know that ignoring comments like the ones I heard only encourages the anti-LGBTQ behavior and can increase the isolation felt by so many. Unfortunately, however, school officials did not agree and I was formally reprimanded. A letter was entered into my personal file and it was expected that I not get in “an extended dialogue about those things” and “that these conversations not be allowed in [the] classroom”. Reprimand letters become part of a teacher’s employment record, can be used as documentation to support a firing, and travels with the teacher, even to other schools or other districts.
Although I was a teacher in a suburb of the fourth largest city in the United States – one whose most recent mayor was openly gay— and, most recently working in the third largest school district in Texas, the anti-LGBTQ climate left its mark on me. Texas is one of 34 states that does not prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity or expression in public schools. Beyond that, Texas is one of the seven states with “No Promo Homo” laws that are designed to restrict instruction and limit school expressions of support for LGBTQ people or issues. The law in the Health and Safety Code, Sec. 85.007. requires that teaching materials “state…homosexual conduct is not an acceptable lifestyle and is a criminal offense” (now deemed unconstitutional by the ruling in Lawrence v. Texas).
Although my last school district has a stated policy to protect for LGBTQ students – including “offensive jokes, name-calling, slurs,” the reality is that educators are expected to remain quiet about LGBTQ issues. If the current administration continues to be welcoming towards divisive, derogatory commentary, if the Department of Education refuses to protect all students, if school districts refuse to follow through with written policy, it is the students who will suffer.
The research concludes that “No Promo Homo” states like Texas can create more hostile school environments – with less LGBTQ resources or supportive educators. Our role as educators is to guide and protect students to become productive members of society; we do this for all students, not just those like ourselves - especially the most vulnerable.
Administrators in any state need to be supporting their faculty in creating learning environments where all students can succeed. That’s why GLSEN created this guide for Administrators and School Leaders. It is time for school boards, school administrators, and all educators to fully embrace LGBTQ students and staff, not just as policy – but to really fight for their rights to feel welcome, safe, and protected.
Shannon Flores, Educator and GSA Advisor, TX
November 29, 2018
If you work in a school, it is vital that you provide an affirming and supportive environment for the LGBTQ youth who attend your school. Your LGBTQ students experience unique vulnerabilities and risks that their peers do not. According to a recent report by Chapin Hall at The University of Chicago, Missed Opportunities: LGBTQ Youth Homelessness in America, LGBTQ youth aged 18-25 are more than two times at increased risk of experiencing homelessness than compared to non-LGBTQ youth. The report also found that LGBTQ youth experience much higher rates of assault while being homeless than non-LGBTQ youth as well.
Due to the realities of homelessness and the limited access to affirming youth services, these youth need extra support. The risk does not stop after high school either. LGBTQ youth are at high risk of not finishing high school and that will put them at high risk of homelessness after high school— 34% of LGBTQ youth have less than a high school diploma, compared to 11% of the general population (Chapin Hall). An earlier report by Chapin Hall, Missed Opportunities: Youth Homelessness in America, showed that youth with less than a high school diploma or GED were more than four times (346%) at increased risk of being homeless than compared to youth who completed high school.
You can help support the LGBTQ students who are experiencing homelessness or are at risk of homelessness in your school so that they feel affirmed in your community and have an adult ally. Here are some ways you can support your students.
1. Trans and Gender Nonconforming (TGNC) youth may not be able to afford the items, treatments or legal services needed to present as the gender they identify as. This should not stop school staff from affirming their gender and allowing them to use facilities or participate in events that affirm their gender identity. Allow youth to self-identify, express themselves how they choose, and allow for that to change and evolve on their personal timeline.
2. Survival sex unfortunately is a real reality for some youth experiencing homelessness, in order to survive and get their needs met. 27% of LGBTQ and especially TGNC youth have traded sex for money, food, places to stay, compared to 9% of non-LGBTQ youth experiencing homelessness (Chapin Hall). If you are supporting a student who has engaged in survival sex, use a harm reduction approach. They are getting a need met to survive, do not shame or blame them. Listen to them and help them connect to resources for food, shelter, gender affirming medical care/clothing or what else they need. If you meet them with shame, blame or punishment; they will still need to survive and they will not find the school environment safe for them anymore.
3. Students may have a hard time focusing in class, check in with them and ask them when the last time they ate or had water was. If they are showing up they want to be there, support them in being able to be present.
4. Like number 3, check in to see if they have slept the night before. As we all know this will definitely affect someone’s mood and attention. If a student falls asleep in class, do not jump right to consequences. Instead, have a conversation with them, ask them how you or the school could create a plan to support their ability to learn.
5. LGBTQ youth who experience high rejection from their families are more than 3 times as likely to use illegal drugs, compared to LGBTQ youth who experience little to no rejection by their families (Family Acceptance Project). This risk is something school staff deal with across all student identities but when it comes to youth experiencing homelessness it is important to have an understanding as to why this group uses more substances, and may be using them to cope with trauma and the stress of homelessness. Of course, keep your space safe for all students but it is proven to have better results and less dropout rates if the approach is harm reduction and is supportive instead of just punitive.
6. Hygiene can be an issue with homeless youth. This is due to a few factors; they may not have access to a change of clothes/laundry, or they may need support on life skills. They may not be showering as a response to trauma or they may be experiencing symptoms of depression, anxiety, psychosis or other serious mental health issues. These factors may cause the youth to be bullied in school so be aware of how they are interacting with their peers, and how it affects their mental health. School staff can support them by providing them with toiletries, and clean clothes or resources for those items. Assisting them with extra access to locker room showers is also very useful and will help them feel like themselves. Connect students to the school social worker if it becomes an ongoing issue to explore with the student where the behavior is coming from.
7. Homelessness is chaotic. This makes it really difficult for youth to be able to show up on time and regularly to school, work, or appointments. LGBTQ youth experiencing homelessness have limited to no access to public transportation or cars, especially in suburban or rural areas. Work with students on making up assignments and assistance with travel.
8. The traumas of homelessness, family rejection and abuse can make people feel hopeless. It is a horrible reality that LGBTQ youth who experience high levels of rejection from their families are more than 8 times as likely to have attempted suicide than compared to LGBTQ youth who experience little to no rejection by their families (Family Acceptance Project). It is so vital that youth are connected to the school social worker or counselor and has school staff that they trust and affirm them. Make sure your staff are trained on how to assess for suicide. When youth are affirmed for who they are and have their basic needs met that risk is greatly diminished.
9. LGBTQ youth experiencing homelessness have experienced immense amounts of trauma. Violence and homelessness is interconnected. Violence makes people at risk for homelessness, and homelessness makes people at risk for violence. You can support youth by using a trauma-informed approach to managing the space and supporting young people. When youth “act out”, are hyper-vigilant, or have quick reactions of self-defense, take a step back and support the student by understanding where that reaction came from in order to figure out the plan to support them, instead of only punitive measures. Often the reaction is a trauma response that would need support from the school counselor or social worker.
10. Last but not least, it is crucial to have social workers on staff who have real understanding of LGBTQ youth, gender and sexuality. They do not need to identify with the community themselves but it is so very important that they understand and affirm the youth. The risks are too high, and LGBTQ youth experiencing homelessness need extra support and if the staff do not understand and empathize with them, they will not go to them for support. The repercussions of that are too high. Youth are consistently doing the work to be their best selves, and we must do the work to show up and affirm them.
Nadia Swanson, LMSW, is the Coordinator of Training and Advocacy for the Ali Forney Center. This blog is part of a GLSEN partnership with the Ali Forney Center to learn more about what school-based resources and actions can be done to support LGBTQ youth experiencing homelessness.
November 28, 2018
It can be difficult attending school as an LGBTQ youth. We are constantly being teased for the way we dress, and who we are attracted to. There are many ways educators can make the classroom environment a safer space for youth including homeless queer youth. Queer homeless youth go through a lot -- from feeling or being abandoned, to feeling like they do not belong. This puts homeless youth at a disadvantage when it comes to having access to support and resources. As an educator for all youth, which includes homeless queer youth, there’s an obligation to also provide resources around homelessness to help empower and uplift youth.
Growing up as a queer person attending a New York City public school in Harlem, I was bullied and teased for the way I was dressed. I wore mostly baggy clothes and did not dress the way folks thought a “girl” or a “woman” should. Thinking back in that experience during my formative years, the one thing I needed to help me through that, was the support and care of my teachers and other staff in my school. I wanted to feel welcomed and protected by educators who knew what it was like to be me, or who at least educated themselves on queer issues. I looked for support and guidance and it was nowhere to be found. There were no classes that talked about issues affecting me, and no posters or flags representing me or other LGBTQ folks. Teachers should always intervene when LGBTQ homeless youth are being bullied for either their identity or if their clothes are not “right,” because they can’t afford new ones.
One of the most important ways, and the first start to creating a safer environment for queer youth in the classroom, is educating yourself. Educators have a duty to continue educating themselves so that they can effectively teach the youth. You can start your research on the internet. Learn inclusive and compassionate language to spark conversation in class, how to help diffuse situations, and ways to teach your students by example what it looks like to be kind. Educators should be the first ally for youth and through both education and modeling, can help other students in the classroom who may or may not be queer, become allies as well.
Restorative justice is another way in which educators can foster compassion for youth who may be “acting out” through trauma. So when you realize that a youth is acting out through various traumas they are facing, then you will know how to properly view the situation instead of it being a character flaw of the student, you can start to address the situation at the root.
Teaching all students about the accomplishment of other queer folks can help queer or questioning students see themselves as folks who can also (if they wanted to) change the world. Representation in the classroom and history matters. While also teaching youth about the extraordinary things queer folks have done, remember to also remind them that not doing extraordinary things, or not having a desire to do extraordinary things, is okay. Your validity as a queer person is not rooted in how you can change the world. It’s valid because you are valid, no matter what you choose to do.
Lastly, it will be a difficult process to make your classrooms a safer space for homeless queer youth. It will take a series of mistakes to learn and unlearn all of the things we were taught about queerness, queer youth, and homelessness. But doing this hard work as an educator is the least one can do to foster an inclusive community with restorative justice and compassion for all.
Sleeping Swan is an Ali Forney Client Liaison. This blog is part of a GLSEN partnership with the Ali Forney Center to learn more about what school-based resources and actions can be done to support LGBTQ youth experiencing homelessness.
November 18, 2018
By the time you’re reading this, I will be about two months into my third year teaching elementary special education. Which also means I’m about two months into my third year of answering questions from children about my gender identity.
I would like say to I’ve heard it all at this point, but I am constantly surprised by the questions my students have about my gender.
I love that my students never simply ask if I’m a boy or a girl. Instead, my students ask me why I wear makeup when I also usually wear men’s clothing. They ask me why I wear earrings when I also often have a beard. When not discussing my appearance, my use of gender neutral pronouns is the subject of many of their questions. Their complex questions show an innate curiosity in what they do not understand, and this presents me with an incredible teaching opportunity.
Instead of getting upset with their questions, I remind myself that this is exactly why I chose to teach elementary special education. I am the first non-binary person most of them have ever met, and many people have kept them from learning about the LGBTQ+ community at all because they do not believe it is developmentally appropriate. This gives me a very important job: I get to be the one to introduce them to an identity that I am so proud to have. I get to —in a way that is both age and developmentally appropriate— have conversations with my students about my reality.
The best part is that my students already understand difference. My students know that they are different and they know what that means. They understand that people treat them differently based on things about them that they can’t change. Instead of letting their identities as kids with disabilities be a reason that I cannot talk about my LGBTQ+ identities, I make sure that it is a reason that they will be the best ones to understand what I am going through. We are able to talk about a common goal: wanting respect from everyone despite being different.
Admittedly, I could never have done this alone. I have some incredible coworkers by my side who have made all of this possible. They have made space for me to exist in my truest and most authentic self by always using my pronouns correctly, making space for me to talk about my identities, and allowing me to answer questions from the students honestly. On the first day I met the students, every single one of the people on my team introduced themselves with their pronouns so that I would not feel singled out when I shared mine. These parts of being out at work have been incredible.
Don’t get me wrong, it is not always easy to be out at work. Wearing makeup, men’s clothing, and earrings when I haven’t shaved definitely makes some of the students in the school turn their heads. I have heard students whispering to one another when I walk by. There are staff members who have questions that I can see on their faces when I sit down for lunch in the lounge. People often default to using he/him pronouns for me, even though I wear a pin on my work lanyard that says they/them.
I’ve been asked many times if the extra work of being out as non-binary at work is worth it. I pass pretty well as a cis man, and I’ve been told by many people that it would be easier to just tell my students I’m one of the guys. My answer to whether or not it is worth it to be out as non-binary is a resounding YES. It is a privilege to be able to help raise the next generation with an understanding of non-binary identities. It is a privilege to spend every day teaching young people that asking questions about things they don’t understand is the only way to learn. It is a privilege to raise the next generation with the knowledge that gender is a social construct, that the gender binary is limiting, and that they can express their gender in any way they choose to.
Most of all, it is a privilege to know that someday I might have a non-binary student who will get to say that they had a teacher who helped them feel seen in their identities, which is something that I, and so many other non-binary folks, never got to have.
Dylan Kapit is a 4th/5th-grade special educator who is currently working at The Quad Preparatory school in Manhattan, and is a member of GLSEN's Educator Advisory Committee. For more information, blogs by trans educators, and resources on gender identity go to www.glsen.org/trans.
November 14, 2018
It's a typical Wednesday afternoon on the playground, but in the minds of my 5-year-old students it’s a zombie obstacle course, an Olympic monkey bar competition, or a restorative circle of tears and reconciliation. One such 5-year-old, so distracted by my presence, takes a break in their play to ask, "Are you a boy or a girl?" I promptly answer, "Both and sometimes neither." To this they look at me with a delicate grin and animated bob of their head. Responding with “Okay, me too sometimes,” as they zombie walk away. As a non-binary trans educator, this is a daily occurrence, a daily “coming out,” a daily playful teaching moment in between literacy and personal space lessons, and an ongoing conversation.
This child’s response is not exclusive to this school nor to my experiences as a teacher. I have heard it echoed by numerous queer, GNC and trans educators. I have experienced this in public and private schools, with mixed responses from co-workers and administration. The ease of this experience can be attributed to three factors: 1) the openness and comfort with which preschool-age and kindergarten-age children engage in conversations about gender, 2) the trans-affirming public school where I work and 3) the privilege I have to be out in my workplace. The latter factors are not mutually exclusive but the first always stands. Children in preschool and early elementary grades are not limited by commitments to prejudice and bias-- they want to learn the languages of identity, they want to hear queer stories, they want to know all the possibilities.
When I first developed the self-awareness and vocabulary to appreciate my trans identity, I would never have imagined I would feel so at ease teaching 5-year-old children gender-neutral pronouns, let alone be out at work. Early in my career I realized that my professional and personal identities are inseparable. Avoiding the endless questions from students about my gender and expression was not only causing me excessive anxiety, but also giving them a dishonest representation of the world, relationships and who can be a teacher. It wasn’t until five years into my career as an educator that I requested support from my school to be out as nonbinary and transgender. While this wasn’t always greeted with love and understanding from the adults in my workplace, hearing four and five-year-old students respond with “That’s cool!” “Me too!” and “I want to be called ‘she’ now” are well worth the tears and frustration caused by transphobia in the workplace.
“Are you a boy or a girl?” “Why you got hair on your legs?” “You like flowers and pink too?” “You sound like a boy.” “Do you like Elsa?” “You’re both, so do you get to use both bathrooms?” I started seeing these endless questions and comments directed at my gender identity as invitations to teaching moments. These preschoolers weren’t baiting me; they simply wanted the information on gender from the only reliable source they knew. No need for long lectures, hours of workshops, or a shift of categories and biases. In early childhood education all it takes is honesty, relatable language, consistency, hugs, and some stickers for good measure.
Every school year, for the past five years, I have had to come out and explain to a new group of very young children and their parents, how to use they/them pronouns, that clothing and toys have no gender, and that their own unique gender(s) live(s) in their hearts. Every school year of my career I have had gender non-conforming and/or trans children in my classroom. These children are why I continue to work with preschool and kindergarten students and to push for gender-expansive curriculum in early childhood education. So how, exactly, do we discuss gender with children who are often pre-literate, and sometimes pre-verbal? We tap into their sense of imagination, admirable emotional sincerity, and their love of dramatic expression.
More specifically, in my classrooms I have incorporated the following starter mottoes, values and mini-lessons. While these tools are presented with early childhood children in mind, I have also used them in professional development settings with adults:
Openly discuss gender identity and pronouns from the start
Gender lives in your heart and communicates with your brain
- "Someone might feel like a boy in their heart, a girl in their heart, both or neither”
Pronouns help us talk about another person with respect
- Place your hand on your heart and repeat these pronouns (e.g. she has her hand on her heart, they have their hand on their heart…etc.) What feels warm in your heart? Which pronoun(s) feel like respect to you right now?
- When someone sees this symbol they can read it and know how to talk about you (pre-literate: blue=They/Them, Green=She/Her, Yellow= He/Him, Pink=ask the person)
I encourage educators to repurpose these tools, role play gender-based conflicts from your classroom, recognize your students’ hard work and curiosity, and continue to revisit meaningful gender discussions and activities throughout the year. And of course: books, books, books! Try reading the children’s favorite books, this time with different pronouns. Whether you are an administrator, parent, or teacher these small changes in language and approach to gender conversations will mean the world to very young children. Give them a chance to show how inquisitive, accepting, and considerate they are, and give them, and trans teachers, a chance to be.
Syd Shannon, M.A., has been working in Bay Area and NYC schools for over 10 years and is currently the Kindergarten Director at Children’s After school Arts (CASA) (photo credit: @lou.bank)
November 08, 2018
A GSA is a student-led club focusing on LGBTQ identity, support, and advocacy. For LGBTQ students, GSAs can provide a safe and affirming space, encourage leadership opportunities, and promote avenues for creating positive institutional change. In fact, 91.0% of LGBTQ students involved in a GSA advocated for social or political issues, compared to just 74.7% of LGBTQ youth not involved in a GSA (GLSEN 2017).
Adult advisors can be critical to a GSA's success in many ways. These 10 Actions for Advisors can help you provide the best possible support to your club, whether your GSA is just beginning, or in need of a fresh start:
1. Register your GSA
By registering your GSA, your club will receive monthly updates, access to new resources, invitations to youth summits around the country, free swag and more! Registering your club, old or new, is the best way to keep in touch with GLSEN and make sure you're always getting up to date information. Register your GSA today!
2. Do your Research
As the adult advisor, it’s helpful to have an understanding of your school’s policies and what LGBTQ-supportive policies look like. Research the laws in your state, rights for LGBTQ students, and places to send students with more questions, such as www.glsen.org/knowyourrights and LGBTQ community centers in the area.
Also, take this time to reflect and consider your own LGBTQ advocacy. People are called into this work for a variety of reasons: being LGBTQ-identified, having a loved one who is LGBTQ, being a strong social justice advocate, or just being the type of educator or administrator who students trust. Consider what feels right for you to share at different times if you are asked about your role as GSA advisor.
3. Support Youth Leadership
GSAs function best when students are in charge of the group’s goals, focus, and events. In many cases, a student or a group of students are the driving force for the creation of the GSA. If you are starting a GSA as an educator, consider connecting with students who might be interested and getting their input. While your role as an adult ally to youth leaders is critically important, it’s important to consider how you are following their lead, listening to their desires for the group, and focusing on their interests, while also supporting them in thinking through what support they might need in order to execute their goals.
4. Name your GSA
We use the term “GSA” to refer to all LGBTQ-themed clubs. While the term was originally coined as “Gay-Straight Alliance”, many people now use the term "Gender-Sexuality Alliance" to be more inclusive and reflective of the community and purpose of the group. Your students may want the club to be called GSA, or they may want to create their own name. Whether it’s “Equity Club,” “Rainbow Alliance,” “Geography Club,” or an acronym that works for your school, the name should be determined by the students, and the group should be open to changing and shifting over time.
5. Determine the Goals and Focus
GSAs can be community-focused, centering students with LGBTQ identities who want to connect with each other and supportive allies; organizing-focused, centering students committed to creating more LGBTQ-inclusive supports, celebrations, policies, and practices; or both, depending on the meeting, participants, or year. How the GSA comes together and what the students want to use their club time for is up to the students, but it’s important that they (and you) understand these different models and options. Shifting between community and organizing can help sustain a group’s longevity and impact in a school.
6. Recruit More Members
Once you have a core group of student leaders, some basic goals and focus, it’s important to advertise your GSA to recruit more members. You can host an event like a movie night or guest speaker, have a “bring a friend” meeting, or ask if you can put up posters or a table in the lobby to let people know that your club exists and more are welcome to join! See more Tips for Finding More GSA Members on our website.
7. Establish Ground Rules
Having ground rules for the group is a really important step in ensuring that the GSA functions as a safe, more intentional space for LGBTQ youth. These rules and guidelines can help young people to navigate discussing their identities and help them listen to each other more authentically. These rules, along with established roles within the GSA, will help the group to function more independently and to delegate the responsibilities of the group clearly to individual students. It’s important to consider the multiple identities your students bring into the group, including race, ability, income/access, religion, etc., and to ensure that students with multiple marginalized identities are prioritized. Your role is to help young people when conflicts arise, and to remind the group, when necessary, about the established ground rules that they created.
8. Plan Ahead
Using planning tools such as GLSEN’s school year calendar can provide a GSA with options for discussion topics or event planning throughout the year. GLSEN supports three main days of action throughout the year: Ally Week (September), No Name-Calling Week (January) and The Day of Silence (April), providing free merchandise, resources, and ways to connect to GSAs across the country over social media. You can find more activity ideas at www.glsen.org/gsa.
Additionally, try to plan a meeting time that works for your students, does not conflict with other identity-based group meeting times, and is consistent. Having regularly scheduled weekly meetings rather than meeting bi monthly can create a significant difference in attendance.
9. Be a Liaison and Advocate
While young people can be tremendous advocates for their needs, your role as a GSA advisor is to ensure that they are not doing this alone. You can be a valuable advocate for your students by acting as a liaison to administrators, families, and other colleagues. Use your leverage as an adult and someone with access to the faculty meetings to help others know what the group is doing and how they can be supported, and, whenever possible, to arrange for students to enter these spaces to speak for themselves. In the event that your club experiences pushback, your role in addressing the situation, advocating for the students, and holding space for them is essential.
10. Listen and Learn
Young people are the experts of their own identities and what they need, regardless of how fluid and shifting those identities and needs may be. Each LGBTQ youth and LGBTQ advocate has their own story and experience. GSA clubs are student-led so it is crucial to empower students to do the work and assist where you're needed. GSA advisors have access to a special space where LGBTQ students and allies can come together to be themselves.
Many educators worry that they don’t know “enough” about LGBTQ identity to be a GSA advisor. Remember that you don’t have to be an expert at gender and sexual identity to be a respectful and affirming advisor. Be prepared with resources for topics that are outside of your expertise so that as students are exploring themselves, you have the ability to outsource their continued support while being realistic about your capacity. Be sure that you respect that space by modeling pronouns, affirming any and all identities shared with you, and being open and receptive to continually learning new things.
Becca Mui, M. Ed, is GLSEN’s Education Manager. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information, resources, and support.
November 06, 2018
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.