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September 14, 2017
To gear up for Ally Week, four members of GLSEN's National Student Council went live on Facebook to answer your questions about allyship to LGBTQ students. Niles, Imani, James, and Kian took an hour to field questions about being an effective and supportive ally. Read their responses below, and don't forget to register for Ally Week, where LGBTQ students and educators lead the conversation on what they need from their allies in school.
First up, the students were asked what LGBTQ youth need from their allies.
Imani needs her allies to have the willingness and enthusiasm to educate themselves. She pointed out that privileged ally groups rely on marginalized LGBTQ people and people of color to educate them. Allies need to educate themselves so that they can advocate correctly!
Niles agreed that it is important that allies educate themselves, but also said that allies should ask those they are advocating for what they need. Everyone is going to have different intersections and needs. They also said that allies need to understand that if a LGBTQ person says they don't need anything from their ally, that's okay.
James needs his allies not just to support him as a trans white boy, but every part of the community, including trans people of color and transfeminine people.
Kian needs their allies to educate themselves and be conscious about the intersections of race and gender. They need their allies to understand that their experience as a trans person of color is very different from a trans white person's experience.
QueenKatia Zamolodchikova asked: "As a member of the LGBTQ+ community, how can I be a better ally to other marginalized groups within the LGBTQ+ community?"
Imani suggested that LGBTQ allies should use any privilege they have to educate, donate, and focus on the bigger goal. She also called for more coverage and representation of Black and Brown Queerness, not just strictly white LGBTQ people.
Niles said that it is important to look for places that your privilege intersects with someone else's oppression. They spoke about themselves as an example: their non-disabled allies can recognize that them being a disabled trans person changes how they may move or be perceived in a space. They wished for more conversation on how disability intersects with being trans.
James called for the acceptance and acknowledgement of fat trans people. He finds that there is a lack of conversation and representation about the different ways that you can be trans.
Kian spoke on the importance of the visibility of trans and queer people of color. Trans people and people of color are such marginalized groups, and there usually isn't any shared common ground between those identities. There is also a lack of representation for both groups, and that's why Kian finds it super important to be visible as a mixed person of color who is also trans.
Aniza Jahangir asked: "How does one find a way to feel safe in a school where they are out but also the school environment isnt so tolerant?"
Niles acknowledged that is difficult to change a school environment in just 4 years, but you should try to find allies that make you feel more safe. Also, try to create a GSA at your school if there isn't one already! On a bigger scale, you can try to find allies within the school administration and talk to them about changing policies that may be discriminatory or bigoted. Policy changes are one big way that allies can really make an impact!
James suggested developing strategies to deal with homophobia and/or transphobia with other LGBTQ folks. Also, ask your allies for help in creating a safe space in your school.
Kian also suggested joining your school's GSA, but if that's not possible they recommended trying to find a supportive community of peers online. And if you can't find them, make your own online community!
Logan Asher asked: "How can I help to defend my trans boyfriend when being called the wrong name or gender without stepping on his toes?"
Imani recommended letting transphobic people know that what they're saying is rooted in bigotry. She also suggests reporting the incident!
Niles said that the best thing to do with any person you are close to is to have a conversation with them about what they need. Ask how they would like you to respond if they are misgendered, and learn that person's boundaries.
Fayth L. W. Sims: "Is it counterproductive when potential allies expect you to ask them NICELY for their allyship?"
Imani was adamant that it is an ally's job to advocate, not to wait until someone gets hurt. It is not the LGBTQ student's responsibility to ask an ally to advocate for them, that's what an ally should be doing anyway.
Niles said that this is counterproductive as it only coddles the ally's feelings instead of making any difference whatsoever for the marginalized group. To focus more on an ally's need to be spoken to nicely and praised puts a toll on marginalized communities, which is the opposite of what an ally should want!
James felt that he shouldn't be expected to explain to his allies why they need to help him when he needs help.
Kian, following up James's response, said, "My job is not to cater to cis people's feelings!" Kian also reiterated that allies should educate themselves.
And in closing, the students were asked: "In your coming out process, what would the best things for allies to say?"
Niles wants their allies to say: "I don't need you to understand; just offer to listen."
James said that when he came out and people "didn't care" that he was trans, that actually hurt more than helped. Even though they were saying that out of kindness, coming out is a big act of trust and should be acknowledged as such.
Kian would love to hear: "I loved you before, and I still love you!"
You can watch the whole chat below!
Make sure to register for Ally Week for the latest updates and resources about allyship!
September 12, 2017
As the shelves in every department store fill with school supplies, students across the country, including me, get ready to return to the classroom. We sigh and reluctantly sling our backpacks over our shoulders. Every student has a general sense of uneasiness when going back to school, whether because of our chaotic sleeping schedules or the hours of homework to come. But this year, I'm particularly scared.
As an LGBTQ student, I find school especially difficult. When I think about going back to school, I think about returning to unfriendly classrooms or bathrooms. School is a battleground for LGBTQ students like me, and sometimes our first priority is not learning, but safety. Being afraid to use the restroom all day can distract you from your classwork, and the anti-LGBTQ slurs you hear can make you hesitant to participate in class discussion. Bullies come in all forms: other students, and sometimes even teachers. All in all, LGBTQ students overwhelmingly feel alone.
Last year, I had these same fears. But I had a line of defense waiting for me: my GSA. My friends and peers, under the facilitation of my teacher advisor, afforded me protection and support. We held trainings for teachers and students about creating safe schools, and we hosted LGBTQ events for the first time in my school. I had never truly felt welcomed in my school until the GSA prompted my school to embrace my identity. I made new friends and found allies, all because of my club.
This year is different. I don't have a GSA waiting for me. At the end of last year, we said goodbye to our teacher advisor as she transferred to another school. Now, as the school year quickly approaches, I'm worrying about what safe spaces will be available to me. As the president of the GSA, I tried my best to find another available teacher, but my search has so far come up empty.
This summer has been hard, because I know my last year of high school may not be as positive or affirming as the last two. My own feelings aside, I'm also worrying for the freshmen coming into my school. The benefits of having a safe space in school cannot be overstated. For students, a GSA can be the difference between coming to school or not. Even the presence of GSA posters in the hall with messages such as “Trans is Beautiful” and “Gay is Okay!” changes the entire school atmosphere. This year, if we don’t find an advisor, there will be no posters or LGBTQ events sponsored by the GSA. LGBTQ students will feel alone, with no visible safe spaces to go to for help.
According to GLSEN’s National School Climate Survey, GSAs provide particular benefits for LGBTQ students. LGBTQ students in schools with a GSA are less likely to hear anti-LGBTQ remarks and less likely to report feeling unsafe because of their sexual orientation than students without a GSA in their school. LGBTQ students with a GSA in their school also report feeling more connected to their school community than students without a GSA.
I'm not the only student in this situation. There are students across the country facing an uncertain year ahead. Teachers and students must step up and create safe spaces for themselves and the rest of their school. To provide support this back-to-school season, GLSEN is distributing GSA resources, including new GSA activities and soon-to-be released GSA videos. My friends and I are committed to continuing our GSA, and will be meeting with possible advisors throughout the new school year. We don’t want a GSA; we need one. Through this search, I’ve realized a few things. If we’re equipped with the right tools and all work together, we can create safe schools and make the future for LGBTQ students a little less scary.
James van Kuilenburg is a member of GLSEN’s National Student Council.
September 12, 2017
As summer comes to a close and school starts up again, many students, including me, will be returning to one thing: our school’s GSA. These student-led organizations focus on providing a safe environment in schools for all students, regardless of gender or sexual orientation. No matter what name a GSA may go by (Gay-Straight Alliance, Gender-Sexualities Alliance, Rainbow Club, Diversity Club, etc.), they can hold an influential position in school and help create an inclusive environment for all.
GSAs can have a huge impact on school climate. According to GLSEN research, students in schools with a GSA heard anti-LGBTQ remarks less often in school and had more positive attitudes towards LGBTQ people. Yet, many students do not have access to a GSA in their school. GLSEN’s survey of all secondary school students found that about a third of students (36%) had a GSA in their school.
If your school already has a GSA, then here are a few different ways it can work to make your school more LGBTQ-inclusive.
1. Participate in GLSEN campaigns
GLSEN has multiple campaigns throughout the year for students and educators. One campaign that’s coming up soon is Ally Week, this year from September 25-29. Ally Week is a time for LGBTQ students and educators to lead the conversation of what they need from their allies in school, discussing how everyone can work together to be better allies to the LGBTQ community. Make sure to register to organize the campaign in your school!
2. Hold an assembly
In my school, 30-minute assemblies are held once a week and are a great platform for clubs to promote events or to talk about important issues. My GSA holds two assemblies per year: the first around National Coming Out Day on October 11, and the second around Day of Silence.
For our National Coming Out Day assembly this year, we defined different sexual orientations and gender identities, and we discussed the best ways to react when someone comes out to you. Part of our 10-minute presentation was a short activity in which we shared LGBTQ statistics. The assembly had a positive reception, and many students felt like we did a good job of educating without lecturing or policing them. My GSA also experienced higher attendance at our meetings after the assembly, and more students knew about us.
If your school regularly holds assemblies, try having your GSA ask about giving a school-wide presentation. Good times to hold an assembly would be around GLSEN campaigns or other nation-wide LGBTQ events. Besides discussing the event, GSAs could talk about ways to be a better ally, define different identifies, and push for inclusion of LGBTQ students. Not only can assemblies further acceptance, but they also can establish your GSA’s position in your school and encourage more students to participate.
3. Educate through advertising
Creating educational posters and hanging them around the school is another way to spread awareness and make your school more LGBTQ-inclusive. Last year, we created flyers to explain different identities, while our flyers for this year discouraged students from saying certain microaggressions. The flyers state our club name and meeting times, and we put them in high-traffic areas like bathrooms, student lounges, and classrooms.
Another way we advertise is through our club bulletin board. Our club board provides different resources such as LGBTQ current events and terminology, along with information about our meetings. Since the board is near one of the entryways of my school, students see it at least once a day.
No matter the size of your GSA, it has the potential to play a powerful role at your school. The high level of LGBTQ acceptance at my school is the result of the hard work and dedication of my school’s GSA and diversity clubs. The work, and even simply the existence, of a GSA in a school can generate a better understanding of the LGBTQ community and create a welcoming environment at school for all students.
If your GSA wants to make your school more LGBTQ-inclusive, GLSEN can help you. This back-to-school season, GLSEN is focused on empowering GSAs, LGBTQ student leaders, and the educators who support them to effect change in their local schools. Check out their back-to-school resources, including brand-new GSA activities and soon-to-be released video resources!
Sarah Bunn is a member of GLSEN’s National Student Council.
August 31, 2017
Every year, GLSEN selects a group of exceptional LGBTQ young people for our national student leadership team, the National Student Council (NSC). Selected from a pool of hundreds of applicants, the 18 members of GLSEN's National Student Council are high school students who are safe-schools advocates, GSA leaders and founders, and passionate activists committed to social justice, representing the diversity of LGBTQ youth in schools.
For the 2017-2018 school year, they'll be dedicated to creating safe and inclusive schools for all students. They'll mobilize their local schools and communities; help create youth-centered resources, programming, and campaigns; and represent GLSEN in the media and at conferences and events. Meet the 18 members of GLSEN's National Student Council!
Julia (any pronouns) lives in the suburbs of Manhattan. They love creating writing and making art. They co-run their county’s teen run queer support group and are president of their school’s GSA. They also enjoy caring for animals and farming.
Marcus lives in Orlando, FL. As the president of their school’s ALLiance, Marcus is dedicated to making their school and community a safer place for LGBTQ youth. In their free time, they love drawing, playing video games, programming, and baking.
Sarah (she/her) lives in Philadelphia, PA. She is the junior head of her school’s GSA and her school’s literary magazine. She loves to write and make ceramics.
Danny (he/him) lives in Alameda, CA. At his school, he helped plan a school-wide assembly which brought the whole school together to hear the experiences of its LGBTQ students. He wants to become a cruise director and work at a nonprofit. He is super excited for another year of advocating for LGBTQ students.
Niles (they/them) lives in Atlanta, GA. They are a disabled, non-binary femme, passionate about radical self- and other-care as revolutionary. They believe in vulnerability as a form of healing and advocate for trans rights, decolonization, racial justice, and equitable healthcare. They love languages, art, and plants!
"What's rocking, my dudes?" Mari (she/her) is a gay Chicana and social and political advocate who is also an aspiring spoken poet. She takes interest in social science, creative and critical thinking, and breaking down discrimination and oppression. For the upcoming year, she has also accepted a position on Planned Parenthood's Teen Council. She is the leader of her school's Pride Club and supports a local PFLAG group. She is committed to making a positive change.
Edward Estrada (he/him) is a San Diego community activist with experience as an LGBTQ Deputy Field Organizer with the Scott Peters for Congress campaign. He is spearheading a proposal to implement multi-stall, gender-inclusive restrooms in San Diego high schools and coordinated the first San Diego district-wide high school drag show to raise funds for queer youth. Edward is the president of his high school’s Gender-Sexuality Alliance, a member of the LGBTQIA Advisory Committee in the San Diego Unified School District, a board member of GLSEN San Diego, and GLSEN’s 2016 Student Advocate of the Year.
Nate (he/him) lives in Johns Creek, GA. He has led his school's GSA for three years now, working for more trans-friendly policies at his school. He enjoys riding his bike and walking his dog, Riley.
Em (she/her) lives in Austin, TX. She is a cheer captain, a choir officer, and has worked to solidify the foundation of her school's GSA. Em hopes to attend college to study politics and education, and someday aspires to become the United States Secretary of Education.
Andrew (he/him) lives in Los Angeles, California. He started his school's GSA and is passionate about contributing to positive change wherever he is. He wants to have a career where he'll be able to help people in any way he can.
Soli (she/her) lives in Pleasant Hill, CA. She loves robotics, swimming, writing poetry, and photography. She has been fundraising for the Epilepsy Foundations for 12 years and participates in her schools GSA.
Sayer (she/her) lives in Burlington, NC. In her home town, she founded a non-profit LGBTQ youth Center called The Queer Fish Center and is an active member of her school's GSA. She wants to continue her non-profit work and expand the reach of her non-profit.
Marisa (flexible pronouns) lives in San Diego, CA. They are an aspiring young politician, as they have grown up on MSNBC. They love debating, Rachel Maddow, and tending to their plants. They have worked with many homeless shelters across the West coast and are an active part of their school's GSA.
Ezra (he/him or ey/em/eir) is a queer, trans, gender non-conforming youth activist hailing from the great state of Texas. His work in activism started his freshmen year in high school through his work with GLSEN and has since expanded on both the local and national level through work with organizations like TSER, HRC and OutYouth Austin. Ezra is coming up on eir senior year of high school and they hope to become a professor of gender and sexuality studies. Ezra also has a great deal of experience in public speaking, workshop leading, and PR through working with his school’s newspaper and participating in both local and national conferences such as Creating Change and SXSWedu.
Katie Regittko (they/them) is from Raleigh, NC. They are the student body president at their high school and serve as the Youth Chair at the LGBT Center of Raleigh, where they help to provide resources and support for LGBTQ youth across the state. This is their third year on GLSEN's Nationals Student Council. Outside of queer activism, Katie enjoys walking their dog, stanning Beyoncé, and encouraging others to be their best selves.
Imani (she/her) lives in Rocky River, OH. She is an intersectional feminist who loves dogs of all breeds. She is a charter member of her school’s SAFE club (Students Advocate For Equality), which works to educate the student body on issues marginalized groups face. She wishes to obtain her PhD in Nonprofit Management and Leadership and someday work for the local Diversity Center or perhaps GLSEN.
Kian (they/them or he/him) is a rainbow-haired, rainbow-souled trans activist from the metro New York area. They are active in both local and national LGBTQ advocacy. Locally, they are the vice president of their high school gender and sexuality alliance, a trained LGBTQ story teller, and a presenter at a local Pride conference. Nationally, they are an admin on an internationally followed Instagram page with over 154,000 followers, a YouTuber, and a member of the 2016-2017 and 2017-2018 GLSEN National Student Council. They are particularly interested in talking about the experiences of trans people of color and other intersecting identities. They are also a poet, musician, and artist, exploring the overlap of art and activism.
James van Kuilenburg (he/him) lives in Frederick, MD, and is a trans youth advocate in his school and community. He has a strong interest in politics and history.
As the National Student Council heads back to school, GLSEN is beginning the school year by distributing resources to GSAs, LGBTQ student leaders, and the educators who support them. Get the tools you need to head back to an LGBTQ-inclusive school.
Also, take a listen to the new National Student Council's back-to-school playlist!
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.