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August 24, 2017
I had a long career of teaching, first in deaf and special education, and then in elementary language arts, but I wasn’t an outspoken ally to LGBTQ youth until my last year in schools, when I served as a GSA advisor. It was through this experience that I learned how to best fulfill my role as an educator in empowering my LGBTQ students to create change in our school. Here are three tips I learned:
1. Step up.
In my last year of teaching elementary language arts, the high school in my district had just started a GSA and had an advisor who retired and they needed another advisor to keep the club running. Through the grapevine, I heard they were having a difficult time finding an advisor and I contacted the president of the group, saying I’d be happy to be their advisor if they wanted me. I was really excited to get to support these students and help them keep the club running.
Shortly after, I was telling a colleague that I was going to be the new GSA advisor and her jaw dropped to the floor as she asked, “Why would you do that?” That really got me thinking—if a teacher reacts that way to this group, what must these LGBTQ students be going through and how can I help?
Especially in a school climate that is less than supportive of LGBTQ students, educators need to do all they can to help facilitate clubs and activities that empower those students. According to GLSEN research, only a little more than a third of educators report being comfortable serving as a GSA advisor. I want educators to know that while not everyone has the capacity to serve in this role, making this offer could truly change the lives of LGBTQ students at your school.
2. Step back.
I coached the students as best as I could into making the organization what they wanted it to be. When you’re a GSA advisor, you want the students to run the organization and become leaders, while you serve as a sort of guide or mentor. Listen closely, offer support, and let the students lead.
3. Push back.
Unfortunately, the students in my GSA faced some resistance at the high school. We spent a lot of our time trying to come up with ways to combat the resistance we were facing—from adults who weren’t supportive, to other students ripping their signs down. The students worked to put second messages underneath their GSA signs, so if someone ripped one down, they would see the message, “It’s easy to hate.”
Helping the members navigate and fight back against the resistance was critical to ensuring they knew that I was there to support them, no matter what.
As folks head back to school, educators should be supportive of LGBTQ students and amplify the work of young leaders in GSAs. To help out, this year GLSEN is sharing a host of resources for GSAs, including soon-to-be-released GSA videos, including one specifically for GSA advisors. They’re also sharing a number of other resources that any educator can use to make their school inclusive.
How will you be supporting LGBTQ students as you head back to school?
Karen Andrus Tollafield is a retired public school teacher and currently serves as a board member and GSA Advisor Outreach/Support for GLSEN NEO. Karen recently earned her Ph.D. in Curriculum & Instruction/Literacy from Kent State University and works with the LGBTQ Student Center on campus.
August 24, 2017
The greatest obstacle facing LGBTQ young people today is adults. As a library specialist who works with students from Pre-K to the fourth grade, I know that the students understand that LGBTQ people deserve respect — it’s often the adults who are stuck in old ways of thinking. I believe it’s the responsibility of adult allies to work to educate themselves about LGBTQ young people to better create a safe environment in schools for all students.
And for me, the key to being a better ally to LGBTQ youth has been listening.
Although it is not the responsibility of LGBTQ people to educate allies, I’ve had the opportunity to learn by listening to the experiences of those closest to me. My exposure to allyship began by listening to my aunt who faced discrimination after the death of her partner; being denied the government support readily given to straight widows pushed her to greater connection with her community and a position as an advocate for LGBTQ rights. I’ve also learned from my teenage son, who has come out as transgender. Trying to be supportive through his transition, including changing his gender marker and name, opened a completely new level of my understanding of the experiences of transgender youth — and trying to be supportive, both as a parent and an ally, meant that I needed to listen.
As educated and as open as we think we are, especially about LGBTQ issues, it’s good to know how much we don’t know. It’s good to be humble and recognize that adults, especially straight and cisgender adults, cannot completely understand the lived realities of LGBTQ young people. Despite that humility, it is our responsibility to do more every day in terms of understanding the realities of our students that we might not ever have to face. We should never stop working to treat each other better; we should never stop listening.
We must also take initiative to educate ourselves and not burden LGBTQ youth with the responsibility of teaching us. It’s okay to have questions, but it’s also okay for people to not answer them, especially if they are about their own identities. Not having exposure to certain life experiences doesn’t make you a bad person — it just gives you more opportunities for growth.
There are so many resources out there for you and for me. For one, GLSEN’s Ally Week is coming up in September. It’s a time when LGBTQ students organize in their schools to share what they need from their allies, and educators can facilitate the conversation in the classroom. Educators can register for the program to receive free streaming of LGBTQ-inclusive classroom documentaries from the Youth & Gender Media Project and Groundspark!
GLSEN has a host of other resources, like the Safe Space Kit for secondary educators and Ready, Set, Respect! for elementary educators. There’s also PFLAG, and there’s even the American Library Association, which will work to help you find LGBTQ-inclusive books for all ages and subjects to incorporate into your curriculum. The learning never stops!
Stacey Pepper Schwartz is currently a library specialist at an elementary school in Connecticut.
August 15, 2017
Dear Powerful Educators,
It’s hard to decide what to say to a national group of K-12 educators right now. Summer break has ended for some of you and is likely winding down for others. Some of you have 30+ student classrooms, and others work 1:1. Some of you are in big cities and others in rural areas. Some of you are people of color, some of you are white, and some of you, like me, are mixed race.
I’ve been struggling with how to address such a large group of educators who are starting a school year with the violence in Charlottesville, VA, and national discussions about white supremacy and hate displayed across news and media sources.
And then I remembered that all of you are committed to ensuring safe and supportive learning environments for your students, particularly your marginalized students.
My job is to help make it as easy as possible for you to do that. Here are some resources that can help:
Before we can teach or talk with students about racism or other systems of oppression, we need to learn about ourselves and an often untaught history.
- 10 Books I wish my White Teachers Had Read – Bustle
- Why Talk about Whiteness? – Teaching Tolerance
- There is no Hierarchy of Oppressions – Audre Lorde
You are not alone. Sharing resources like these with other educators, administrators, or family members in your school community can help them learn about these issues. Together, you can create a unified approach to guide an anti-racist, anti-bias foundation for your school year.
- Fighting Hate in Schools – NPR
- We need to Start Telling the Truth about White Supremacy in our Schools – Education Post
- The First Thing Teachers Should Do When School Starts is Talk about Hate In America – Washington Post
- Lessons on Diversity, Bias, and Social Justice – ADL
- Understanding White Supremacy – Teaching Tolerance
- Power in Partnerships: Building Connections at the Intersections of Racial Justice and LGBTQ Movement – Advancement Project
Remember that your LGBTQ students are also black and brown, are disabled, and are living in our country right now which is teaching them about bias and hate every day.
You are about to set a tone and structure for the school year, and it’s up to you to create a space for students to voice their thoughts and concerns, and to dedicate times for discussing current events, questions/curiosities, privileges, identities, appreciations. To teach them the difference between voicing opinions and hate speech. To make your schools' values known. To set up that school culture that will help all of your students to learn, grow, and thrive.
Your students are lucky to have you.
GLSEN Education Manager
June 23, 2017
A few weeks ago, I graduated from of one of the highest-performing high schools in Kentucky. My school was just like many others, with a strong focus on academics, fiercely competitive athletics, outstanding arts departments, and disappointing lunch-menu options. But one thing that made our school stand out from the rest is the rapid growth in support of its LGBTQ students, made possible by several important changes by the administration.
According to the Kentucky State Snapshot from GLSEN’s 2015 National School Climate Survey, 22% of LGBTQ students in Kentucky were denied access to a bathroom that corresponds with their gender, and 26% were forbidden from even forming or promoting a GSA. My high school stood apart from the conservative climate of Kentucky as a whole, but it wasn’t because the students walking the halls were much more accepting than any others in Louisville. Rather, my school stood out as a progressive school because our administration took initiative in educating themselves and changing policies within my school.
Before I attended my school, the former principal forced the yearbook staff to cut out a page from every single yearbook because it included a story about a gay student and his experiences with coming out. Now, eight years later, at least five pages in our yearbook were dedicated to stories of LGBTQ identity.
But the differences don’t stop there.
In my sophomore year, transgender students at my school struggled with the administration for the right to use the bathroom that corresponds with their gender. Now, at the close of my senior year, we have one single-stall and one multi-stall gender-neutral bathroom. Our graduation caps and gowns used to be red and white, based on a student’s legal gender, but they are now determined by last name. Three leading members of our GSA were invited to give a presentation to every teacher at their professional development day on how to respect their trans students. We also created a nonbinary option for our homecoming court, coined “homecoming royalty.”
Each of these instances highlights specific communication between the students of our school and the administration. The changes didn’t just happen because of our hard work and enthusiasm; there were specific tasks that only the principals and counselors could execute. They could’ve just as easily given up on our ideas to make change, but instead, they put forth concentrated effort to improve our school community.
On one of the last days of high school, my principal invited me to his office to discuss how things could be improved for LGBTQ students. The discussion was, initially, a surprise to me, and I was hesitant to even say anything. But once we started talking, I had several ideas. For instance, I told him that our two gender-neutral bathrooms were very hard for some students to access during the school day, because our school has three separate buildings. He responded by making plans to open another gender-neutral bathroom in one of the annexes.
Something I emphasized to him was that our curriculum needs to include more LGBTQ history, such as discussion of indigenous gender identities and the fight for LGBTQ rights in America. He was surprised to hear that several students at our high school had not heard of the AIDS crisis in any history class, and several students told me that our discussions in GSA were their first exposure to that dark chapter of our history.
There are many components to creating a community where everybody is free to be themselves without fear of judgement or assault. As students and activists, we are constantly asking ourselves, “How can I make sure that I leave this place safer than it was when I entered it?” Therefore, school administrators and teachers must also constantly ask themselves, “How can I improve the school for its minorities and most vulnerable students? How do I make sure I listen to voices I may not always be hearing?”
This LGBTQ Pride Month, as I reflect on the meaning of Pride, I’m sure that Pride means education. Without education, without intentionally and regularly educating themselves through reading articles, attending workshops, and even just talking to LGBTQ students, my school’s administration would not have made any of the changes they did in my four years. I am so proud of my school and of the positive school climate they have fostered, and I’m excited for all the opportunities they have to further learn and expand in the future.
Rowan Little is a member of GLSEN’s National School Council.
What does Pride mean to you? For GLSEN, Pride means community, education, and resistance. Take action in support of LGBTQ-inclusive schools.
June 10, 2017
It took me three years of teaching middle-school science before feeling comfortable enough to come out to my students as a trans man. We were starting a unit focused on how identity impacts the practice of science, including the ways that specific groups are marginalized by normative ideas about who does science and how that changes what science does. In the introduction to the unit, I shared my personal experience of being a trans person in science, including what it was like to teach science as someone perceived as female, how others’ perceptions of me have shifted after my transition, and the ways that trans people are often erased by the language used by scientists and medical professionals to describe bodies, patients, and health practices.
As a queer and transgender human biology and health teacher, I don’t have many models for how to create a queer- and trans-inclusive curriculum and classroom. When I took biology and health as a middle schooler, the gender binary was fixed and unchallenged. Sex ed classes focused on the mechanics of (preventing) reproduction, and did not touch on the ways that bodily autonomy, growing with identity, and consent-focused communication intersect around romantic and/or sexual orientation and healthy relationships.
It is clear that there is a need for a more holistic, queer- and trans-inclusive curriculum for all of my students, not just those who may identify as LGBTQ now or in the future. As the person in charge of writing our human biology curriculum, I have had a lot of fun finding and integrating resources that reflect the real diversity in biology, both in humans and more broadly. Here are a few examples from my repertoire that I want to share:
As much as possible, I use examples of diversity among the reproductive strategies of different species to highlight ways that heteronormative assumptions about biology and evolution are unfounded. These images by the artist Humon are on my wall at school, and kids love reading about the diversity of animals’ courtship behavior. I also use an activity about reproductive behavior during our unit on gender, sex, and sexuality to underscore the diverse strategies species use to reproduce.
When discussing genitalia in my classes, students model the development of proto-genitals in utero using clay. All genitals start as the same core parts, and diverge depending on genetic and hormonal factors in the uterus. Going through the stages of genital development is not only useful for thinking about homologous structures, but also helps students start to think about the diversity of genitalia, including genitals that are not strictly a penis/scrotum or a vulva.
I try to teach sex ed without assumptions about who students might have sex with — or that they might have sex at all. Increasing asexual and aromantic visibility has led me to challenge many of the assumptions I made in the past about how to frame sexual health education. Though sexuality education is important for all students, not all students will have sex in their lifetimes, and not all students are interested in sex with anyone, let alone a person with any particular genital or gender configuration.
Talking about intersex experiences in a way that is normalizing and not voyeuristic is incredibly important in breaking down notions of fixed “biological sex.” We discuss a variety of ways that chromosomal variation can lead to differences in the way a person is assigned a sex at birth. I also emphasize the differences between the experiences of intersex people and that of transgender people with my students, since the two communities face different issues regarding sex, health access, and gender identity/expression.
I teach using case studies, specific and complex stories from medicine that students use to learn about a particular body system or concept. Whenever I write a case study for my classroom, I try to write them in ways that normalize queer and trans experiences and families. Just the act of including a queer or trans person in a story — without tokenizing them or making the whole story about their queer or trans identity — sends a clear message to students about what is normal and valued in the classroom. A friend of mine also does a case study in his classroom that traces the experience of an intersex adolescent experiencing a normative health class. The story traces the emotional experience of the student while also educating students about the ways that student’s biology fits into what they already know about chromosomal combination and organ structure and function.
When thinking about creating an inclusive classroom space, I actively invite student feedback and input. Our middle school’s Queer-Straight Alliance generated a list of recommendations to all faculty at our school about creating more inclusive classrooms. At the end of each grading period, I collect feedback through an anonymous survey and then discuss the results with my students as a larger group. This leads to productive discussions about how best to create the kind of classroom that best fits the needs of my students.
In the end, theory and practice are constantly tugging at each other in the classroom. Despite my best efforts, I still have to interrupt comments that my students make that reveal underlying assumptions about the sex a person was assigned at birth, their romantic or sexual orientation, or what is “normal.” I also often make mistakes, and am incredibly grateful for when students feel comfortable enough to let me know the ways my action have hidden their experiences from view.
Opening up these conversations and continuing to grow with my students has been an incredibly rewarding experience. Ultimately, my goal is to create the human biology classroom that I yearned for as a young and confused queer and trans student. All of my students, regardless of their identities, deserve a comprehensive, detailed, and responsible biology and health curriculum that is inclusive of many different ways of being human.
Lewis Maday-Travis is a queer and trans educator who teaches 8th grade human biology and health in Seattle, WA.
For more information on teaching an inclusive curriculum, check out GLSEN’s LGBTQ-inclusive curriculum guide.
June 10, 2017
For some folks, there were specific classrooms from their K-12 experience that made them feel welcome, safe, and confident in their ability to succeed. Perhaps the content matter was special because it aligned with their specific goals or talents, or a teacher was especially inspirational.
Students are more successful in classes when the content is tied to their lives. GLSEN research shows that LGBTQ students in schools with an LGBTQ-inclusive curriculum were less likely to miss school in the last month due to feeling unsafe or uncomfortable, and were less likely to say they might not graduate high school. Moreover, LGBTQ high school seniors were more likely to be interested in studying STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, or Math) in college if their relevant high school classes had included positive LGBTQ content.
Mathematics teachers have a unique role to play in the lives of their students, because understanding algebraic concepts and statistics has become a central focus for creating productive adults, and researchers have determined that LGB high school students are less likely to complete Algebra II than their non-LGB classmates.
Mathematics educators play an important part in reversing this trend by creating inclusive environments for LGBTQ students and trans and non-binary students in particular. Unfortunately, mathematics teachers are the least likely to teach an LGBTQ-inclusive curriculum, but there are many ways for math teachers to include LGBTQ content in class.
An example from Algebra II could be a linear programming problem constructed with the goal of finding the cheapest possible way to attend prom. The problem could include the cost of tickets per person, tuxedo rental, dresses, dinner, and a limo ride, and be explicit about including LGBTQ couples in any formal attire they choose. The teacher might also include the average cost of dinner by collecting data from the class. Once the least expensive way to attend is determined, the class can have a discussion regarding how our society determines prices and how those prices influence the choices available for students.
Another activity could be to model the spread of the use of the singular they/them/their pronoun. By starting with a community of a given size, perhaps 25,000 people, and giving the probability that any encounter will lead to a percent of the population adopting the they/them/their pronouns as part of regular use, the students can determine how long it will take for the entire population to adopt the use. A modeling activity such as this one is easily adaptable for any level of algebra and can help reinforce the idea of rate of change in relation to the real world.
Mathematics teachers are also responsible for teaching statistics curriculum that often includes students collecting and analyzing data from surveys they themselves create. As teachers teach about data collection and relevance, they should include whether it is beneficial to include gender or biological sex, being sure to reinforce the difference between those two terms. When students are creating their own surveys, if they want to include data for biological sex, teachers need to be sure they include both intersex and other as choices, and if the students want to include data for gender, a variety of choices need to be included, such as agender, genderfluid, female, male, nonbinary, transman, transwoman, and other. These additional categories will create more work for the analyses of the data sets, give more representative results, and deepen our students’ understanding of both statistical analyses and the diversity of the human population.
Mathematics educators need to be diligent about creating classrooms that are safe and welcoming learning environments for all of their students. The relationship building between teachers and students, no matter what the content, requires the acknowledgement of LGBTQ students and an affirmation of those students’ lives. Mathematics teachers need to be respectful of students’ names and pronouns, they need to be sure their classes do not alienate any students, and they need to support LGBTQ activities such as Day of Silence, Trans Awareness Week, and Ally Week. Mathematics educators must do a better job of including our trans and non-binary students, as the futures of those students are in their hands.
Kyle S. Whipple is a trans educator and a PhD Candidate at University of Minnesota.
Want more tips on how to make your curriculum inclusive? Check out GLSEN’s LGBTQ-inclusive curriculum guide.
May 10, 2017
Dear Ms. Mcdaid,
I want to say thank you. I have so much to be thankful for in my life, and you taught me to take life by the reins and own it. You taught me to believe in myself, and to take time to love myself.
When I walked into your room on a windy autumn day in October, I was at a turbulent point in my life, and I was uncertain whether I could take on junior year, or let the stress of school and social relationships take over me. I walked in and introduced myself with a brittle smile and eyes that looked lost and uncertain.
You looked over at me and reassured me that you were there to help, and you explained that your job as the school psychologist was to help me deal with my stress and to work on my mental health, in school and at home. I let all my feelings spill onto the table that day, and I told you all about my experiences, from coming out of the closet to my concerns about my future.
You sat there listening intently, really analyzing my situation and only responding after I finished talking. Looking back at that day, I now realize that what I needed that day was someone to listen, to really affirm my identity and to help me become the best version of myself.
After that day, I came into your office once a week, sometimes happy as a clam, and other times as sad as a bird without wings. When we would talk, I would try to explain the numerous thoughts that ran through my head each second, and you would come up with the best answers and suggestions. You taught me to show the world that it's perfectly normal to be dealing with anxiety and depression.
You had faith in me when I felt I had no support at school. You were my biggest cheerleader and one of my biggest supporters. When I would feel like I was going to break down in the middle of class, I’d walk into your office, and you would listen. You were there to find answers to my biggest questions in life — and you succeeded.
You advocated for me, to get the tools and resources I needed to be successful in school. You kept reminding me that I was worth it, that my life was worth living.
You supported me in every situation. I wanted to run for GSA President? You told me you would support my candidacy in any way. I wanted to take an easier class load for senior year? You explained that this was a wonderful idea to relax and make my last year of high school as stress-free and calm as possible.
You made me discover. You gave me tools to relax and breathe. You showed me that it’s okay to take time for my own mental health. When I would compare my grades and test scores to those of other students, you would lift my spirits. When I felt like I was failing at life, you picked me up and encouraged me.
You told me that I would finish high school just fine because of how hardworking and diligent I was. You told me that I needed put all my energy and hard work into the activities I loved the most, like serving on GLSEN’s National Student Council, because I was going to change the world by helping uplift LGBTQ students and making our schools more inclusive.
You have changed my life. I cannot thank you enough — for empowering me, for uplifting me, and for showing me that this life I’m living is a beautiful gift, and that I need to remind myself more that I’m more than enough.
From your student and friend,
Danny Charney is a member of GLSEN’s National Student Council.
Is there a supportive educator in your or your child’s life? Teacher Appreciation Week is May 8-12, and you can express your thanks by purchasing this bouquet – now 20% off with the code TEACH20. 10% of sales benefit GLSEN’s work to make schools LGBTQ-inclusive.
May 10, 2017
I’m Becca Mui, the Education Manager at GLSEN. As a queer biracial Asian, I know the importance of Asian Pacific Islander Heritage (API) Month. My father is a Chinese-Malaysian who came to America for graduate school. He stayed after he met my mother, a second-generation Polish Roman Catholic. I grew up in a small town off of Cape Cod in Massachusetts that was predominantly white. As the “Mui’s,” we were the most Chinese family in town.
Living as a proud queer adult and working at a national LGBTQ education organization didn’t just happen for me. There were no role models for me in my family or in movies or TV showing happy, successful queer Asian adults.
We don't often talk about the intersection of queer and Asian identities in the media, let alone in our classrooms. As educators and community organizers, we can help shape our students’ understandings, even of their own potential futures, by teaching about LGBTQ Asians throughout history, and promoting proud Asian role models in the LGBTQ community.
This API Month, consider using this GLSEN resource highlighting LGBTQ Asian heroes. It’s so important to include these types of stories that are all too often erased. I know that seeing these stories at school would have made a difference for me.
Here are four additional resources that might be helpful this month and beyond:
- GLSEN’s list of API events in LGBTQ history
- GLSEN’s research report on the experiences of LGBTQ students of color
- A guide on working with LGBTQ students of color, created by GLSEN and Hetrick-Martin Institute
- Queer Asian and Proud: Multilingual Postcards, created by NQAPIA, the National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance to promote LGBTQ Asian visibility
Becca Mui is the Education Manager at GLSEN.
May 03, 2017
Donald Trump is reportedly on the cusp of signing another discriminatory executive order. Under the guise of religious freedom, it's really nothing more than a #LicenseToDiscriminate – and we need you to tell him that directly, right now.
Previously leaked drafts would have allowed religious-based discrimination against LGBTQ people, women, and minorities.
For LGBTQ students and educators in K-12 schools, this is what that could look like:
- School counselors could refuse to provide life-saving services to queer youth.
- Principals could fire trans teachers because of who they are.
- Schools could make it structurally impossible for students to start GSAs – often the only spaces where LGBTQ students find safety in school.
May 01, 2017
High school is tough. Students like me are expected to juggle a social life and college readiness exams, while also completing various classes geared towards “creating effective leaders, ”and keep on smiling through it all. The luckiest of us have an intricate web of sideline cheerleaders, from great friends to caring family members and sympathetic teachers.
Some of us only get one of the three. Those of us who cling on to a special teacher, because we may be lacking in these other areas of support, know about the unique bond you can have with this particular cheerleader. Having your go-to person within walking distance while you trudge through the battleground of high school is empowering.
Patrick Diemert was my cheerleader. To this day we still talk, and I consult him on any major decision in my life. He’s talked me off the ledge more times than I can count and pushed me towards fulfilling my biggest aspirations. We developed our bond over a year of U.S. History where I continually excelled under his supervision. I say supervision, because he wasn’t one of those overbearing teachers who felt they truly knew everything. He was this easy to talk to, approachable dude who helped me through some tough battles.
I had just come out as a lesbian the year before, so my sexuality was still a buzzing topic for many of my classmates. I wanted to die when a former girlfriend of mine was in that class. I cried and complained to him more times than I bet he wished to hear, but my favorite thing about coming to him was that he didn’t pity me. He didn’t pat my back and tell me everything would be fine. He was straight up with me; he talked to me like I was his equal, and these types of straightforward, respectful interactions really shaped me as a person. Now, my biggest fear is losing this intense bond I’ve created with this incredibly empowering man.
I also had the pleasure of meeting Patrick’s younger brother, Nick Diemert, a brand-spanking new teacher at Gulf Coast High School who teaches the same class as his brother. He’s my go-to when I need a laugh. Though Patrick also has a direct line to my funny bone, Nick is like a 17-year-old trapped in a 27-year-old body.
Teachers like these two inspiring adults are what push students to excel, and they deserve special attention during Teacher Appreciation Week.
Alyssa Candelmo is a former student representative of GLSEN Collier County.
Is there a supportive educator in your or your child’s life? Teacher Appreciation Week is May 8-12, and you can express your thanks by purchasing this bouquet – now 20% off with the code TEACH20. 10% of sales benefit GLSEN’s work to make schools LGBTQ-inclusive.