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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 email@example.com 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.
October 22, 2018
Yesterday we learned of the administration’s newest tactic to once again ignore the struggles and existence of transgender people, particularly transgender youth. A leaked memo from the Department of Health and Human Services revealed new efforts to conflate gender with sex and define it purely as a “biological, immutable condition determined by genitalia at birth.” Establishing this new legal definition of sex is intended to formally redefine Title IX — the civil rights guidance that establishes protections from gender-based discrimination in education. After stripping the Obama-era guidance that specifically named gender identity as a protected category, this new move would effectively erase the experiences of transgender, non-binary, and intersex people — people whose identities, expressions, and bodies cannot be confined to the binary.
Exactly one week ago new statistics were released from the GLSEN 2017 National School Climate Survey revealing just how harrowing of a time it is to be transgender in schools. In addition to seeing general progress for LGBTQ students plateau or, worse, reverse, we also witnessed an increase in gender-based discrimination and bullying. Over 8 in 10 transgender students reported being bullied or harassed because of their gender identity and/or expression. Further, nearly half of transgender and gender nonconforming youth were precluded from using school facilities (like bathrooms and locker rooms) that matched their gender, in addition to using their chosen name and pronouns in school. It is important to remember that this data assesses school climate from over a year ago, prior to an onslaught of anti-LGBTQ bills proposed across the country and, of course, this new memo to eliminate non-binary identities out of law.
Despite the many challenges facing transgender and gender nonconforming youth in schools, it is critical that we also remember that they are, and always have been, extremely resilient in the face of adversity. In addition to learning about heightened discrimination, we also learned that 4 in 5 LGBTQ youth have been politically engaged and active this past year, and GSAs (Gender-Sexuality Alliances) led by incredible LGBTQ student leaders can now be found in more than half of schools. This picture offers us just a tiny sliver of the work many trans youth are doing in their local communities to speak up, raise awareness, and make a difference, and we know they are making huge strides, particularly among people their age.
Last night I stood alongside hundreds of transgender, non-binary, and intersex young adults in the heart of New York City to protest this new federally-sanctioned tactic of erasure. Despite my own sadness, fear, and outrage, I was reminded, standing in a sea of strong, empowered queer young people, that we are not doing this alone. We must remember that this memo comes at a time of heightened activism and resistance in every corner of the country to an administration that has targeted countless marginalized peoples, and the need for them to try and erase our existence only signals our fortitude.
We want you to know that you are not alone. Staff at GLSEN and the dozens of other national LGBTQ+ organizations across the country are working around the clock to ensure that trans youths’ voices are heard, and will not be silenced. We ask that you take care of yourselves and your students, and do not hesitate to reach out to us for direct support at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
For those ready to take action or looking for actions to share with peers, we suggest the following (amended from a list by Chase Strangio of the ACLU):
Educate, educate, educate!
- Read blogs written by students themselves like “8 Ways You Can Be An Ally to Intersex Youth” and “What Does Allyship with Non-Binary Students Look Like?”
- Talk to your school administration about bringing Professional Development to staff to spread awareness about trans identities and how to support LGBTQ students. Contact a local GLSEN Chapter to schedule certified GLSEN trainers come to your school.
Support to trans/intersex-led organizations!
- Support, follow, and amplify the messages of organizations like interACT, Intersex Justice Project, Sylvia Rivera Law Project, Audre Lorde Project, Casa Ruby, FIERCE, TransLatin@ Collective, Trans Lifeline, Familia: Trans Queer Liberation Movement, Trans Law Center, Southerners on New Ground, and Organizacion Latina de Trans En Texas (OLTT).
Pay attention to policies!
- YES ON 3 (MA) - There’s a ballot initiative coming to a vote on November 6th in Massachusetts that would repeal protections for transgender and non-binary people in public accommodations. This is the first statewide vote to strip trans people of their rights ever — and it would take away protections won in the legislature after decades of fighting to explicitly extend these protections to trans people
- Read into our “Model Policy for Transgender and Gender Nonconforming Students” co-created with the National Center for Trans Equality to see how your school district can do better at protecting the rights of transgender students.
October 11, 2018
Being an out elementary school teacher isn’t always easy. My first year of assistant teaching, full of the fear of rejection, I reasoned with myself; this was my professional life, which is separate from my personal life and always will be. Deciding whether or not to reveal my queer identities felt like a precipice that I wasn’t confident I could leap across without falling. When I decided to finally to tell my lead teacher, she didn’t flinch.
After that experience, I realized that it was more painful living with the fear and insecurity that accompanied hiding, than it was to cross that precipice and come out. This realization helped me to come to terms with my own misjudgments. Over the years, I’ve been surprised, both pleasantly and unpleasantly, by people’s reactions. I’ve had to learn to not use a person’s religion or age or culture to anticipate their reaction. When it comes to LGBTQ-acceptance, people are not predictable. I had feared judgment and homophobia. I had expected ignorance and insensitivity. I decided, never again to let my fears of people's reactions dictate how I shared myself with the world. These presumptions would not take away an opportunity I have to make a change by sharing my true self.
A few years later, I had the opportunity to teach abroad in Beijing, China for a year. As a biracial Chinese and Polish first generation American, I was excited about the opportunity to learn more Chinese culture and to be closer to my aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandmother in Malaysia. I was excited to focus on my racial identity rather than my queer identity, and didn’t realize at the time how they intersected. Keeping my queer identity invisible, however, proved more taxing than I had anticipated, and it reinvigorated my desire to fight for LGBTQ rights and visibility in the classroom. I was struck when I discovered that the first grade teacher also identified as a lesbian. I looked at my second graders and realized that they had been taught by two members of the LGBTQ community, and they had no idea. In contrast, the third grade teacher was a Black, Jamaican American, which was challenging due to anti-Black racism in the community and the limited exposure our students had to Black people and cultures. Nevertheless, she could not choose to hide her racial identity. I watched in admiration as she confronted ignorance and misunderstandings, and I saw how much her students benefited. They learned acceptance and gained understanding through her unit, “Africa is not a country.” They will always have the memory of their third gradeteacher, and have a relationship and face to defend when they hear negative comments and untruths about Black people or face anti-black racism. I thought about how different my life would have been if I had an out, queer role model when I was six years old. I realized that I wasn’t helping my students to gain understanding by sharing my queer identity with just my colleagues.
Back in New York the next year, I was sitting in another new staff orientation, and ready to be out to coworkers, students, and families. In addition, my co-teacher and I were able to work age-appropriate LGBTQ awareness into our existing first-grade curriculum at an inclusion school for students with a range of abilities. We had a school-wide “Friends and Family Assembly”, around Valentine’s Day, which celebrated many different kinds of love, relationships, and families. There was a bulletin board in the hallway to celebrate our diverse community, including students and faculty. I relished the feeling of walking past each day, seeing my partner and I as a family in the lobby of my school. I took a few of my students at a time to look at the board, pointing out, “This is Ms. L and her fiancé, and this is me with my partner.” I had also submitted a picture of my parents and I, and the kids always seemed to have more interest and questions about my Chinese father than my female partner.
My experience as a queer teacher was not always easy. There were some parent complaints after the assembly and there will always be people who think children are too young to learn about LGBTQ diversity, no matter what age. My school found success because my administration wasn’t afraid to have difficult conversations with parents, and understood that this kind of change does not happen immediately. Being out helped me to make real friendships and healthy working relationships with my colleagues and families, and to engage authentically with my students like my heterosexual colleagues. For now, I feel satisfied knowing that I get to be myself all day, whether at home, in the classroom, or with the families, and I’m grateful to be working towards the school environment that I want for all kids to be in some day.
Adapted from Mui, R. (2013). Embracing Visibility. Queer Voices from the Classroom: A Volume in Research in Queer Studies, 73-80.
September 28, 2018
In today’s world, many transgender people face discrimination, harassment, and bigotry. How is an out and proud transgender teacher supposed to teach when such realities exist? What kinds of things can schools do to make a trans teacher feel safe, welcome, and supported? The following four suggestions are a jumping off place to help make that happen. They apply to teachers already out and to those coming out as trans during their tenure at a school. Also, it cannot be stressed enough that the example of trans teachers being treated with respect will not only help ensure a positive experience for them and the school, but it will also have a profound effect on the LGBTQ students in the school—helping give them the confidence and courage to be who they are, knowing they too will be supported.
1. Educate the Parent Body, Faculty, Staff, and Students on What it Means to Be Transgender and How to Be Supportive Allies.
This, of course, should be positive, celebratory, and must follow the lead of the teacher. Trans teachers shouldn’t be expected to educate the entire school about who they are. Schools can have representatives from local LGBTQ centers or local GLSEN Chapters come and have diversity and advocacy trainings to help take the load off. If such centers are unavailable, local trans people (approved by the teacher) can come to help bring awareness of the trans experience. The teacher should have final say on the information shared to the school community. Someday such education won’t be necessary, but in today’s world, it is.
2. Allow Trans Teachers to Express Themselves in the Manner that Makes Them Feel Most Comfortable.
This may sound superficial, but in actual practice, it’s not. It was my experience that some schools try to put restrictions on what trans teachers wear. And while this may not be as true for transmen or other masculine of center trans people, trans women and trans femmes are often looked at more askance, and thus policed more as far as what they wear is concerned. For example, one school I taught in did not want me to wear skirts. They felt it was too much for the students to handle. I wore skirts anyway. The skirts I chose to wear were appropriate to an educational setting, and followed the school’s faculty dress code policy. However, transphobia takes many forms. Trying to dictate how a trans teacher dresses is one of them. The same can be said of makeup and other ways trans teachers choose to present themselves. Once again, follow the teacher’s lead. In addition, always honor the pronouns the teachers choose to use.
3. Allyship in Action: Have a Buddy System.
Trans teachers should have an active ally who can act as a “buddy” for regular check-ins to see how things are going in the classroom, with parents, and colleagues. This ally can act as an advocate if any issues arise. Being trans might bring extra emotional and mental strain on the teacher, and having a trusted ally can help alleviate such stresses. Some teachers may need additional support during parent-teacher conferences and other school functions.
4. Allow the Teacher to Decide About Media Coverage.
It is possible the school might come under the attention of local media for employing a transgender teacher. Treat this with care, and follow the teacher’s lead on how to handle such situations. No one should in anyway speak for them. They get to decide what, if anything, is said. The administration needs to have their backs and ensure they are treated professionally, and not like a curiosity.
In summary, transgender teachers are just that—teachers. Their experiences as educators can be positive for everyone involved if the school follows the teacher’s lead, and takes steps like these on an ongoing basis. Trans teachers need active and vocal allies to feel safe and supported in schools.
www.glsen.org/trans - find videos, resources, and blogs by trans educators and students
Jennifer Angelina Petro is a transgender activist and educator. She helped found the SAGA (Sexuality and Gender Acceptance) LGBTQIA Center as a part of Love in Action UCC in Hatboro, PA. She leads workshops, gives concerts, and shares her poetry on the trans experience. She chronicles her journey in over seven hundred videos on YouTube, and in The Wonder Child Blog. Her story was featured on Liz Plank’s “Divided States of Women,” and in the Philadelphia Inquirer. She has three children and is an avid reader of P.G. Wodehouse.
September 26, 2018
I am a 16 year old girl with Swyer Syndrome. Most people have never heard of Swyer Syndrome or the dozens of other intersex variations. Because of this, there is a lot of confusion around what intersex is, and what intersex people, especially students, need.
Before we start, I need you to understand some things. Intersex is an umbrella term that describes bodies that are more diverse than typical ideas of male or female bodies. There are intersex people everywhere. At the mall, the grocery store, and even in our classrooms. We may not publicize our whereabouts or who we are but we do exist.
We are your bosses, your friends, your employees, your classmates, and your students. In the classroom, we deserve to be respected and treated like every other student, despite the fact that we’re not exactly the same as every other student.
Intersex people too often face experiences in the classroom that no one should have to face. Of course, I don’t speak for every intersex person nor are my experiences shared by every intersex person ﹘ but this does not devalue my opinions or experiences.
Now that the formalities are done with - here are 8 things that you can do to engage in supportive allyship for intersex students!
Intersex isn’t visible. There is no way to tell if someone has an intersex trait - so be mindful that one of your students may have one.
Know and teach the difference between sex and gender. This lesson should not be confined to the health classroom. It is imperative not just for intersex students but for any students who may fall onto the spectrum to feel included and recognized in school.
Avoid generalizations. Instead of saying “girls have XX chromosomes” try phrases like: “typically, most girls have XX chromosomes”. Also be mindful not to use outdated harmful words (i.e. hermaphrodite).
Educate the whole class/as many students as you can. The more that your community knows about intersex issues, and has access to accurate information, the less stigma will surround it and intersex people will feel more welcome.
Encourage your students and colleagues to be allies as well. Shut down negative talk or statements that you hear from your students or even fellow teachers. Obviously, you can’t control what people think but you can monitor the things they say around you and your students.
If your school has a GSA (Gender-Sexuality Alliance) make sure they have an inclusive environment for intersex students as well as a seat at the table open for any intersex student who wants one.
I can’t stress enough how crucial it is to not only say that intersex people exist, but to really take the time to educate your community about intersex people. Not to say that other issues aren’t important but compared to the amount of outside knowledge students have of other aspects of the LGBTQIA+ community, intersex is barely brushed upon and what little students could already know could be very wrong and damaging.
Finally, if you have a student that discloses their intersex identity to you or is out, don’t put pressure on them to teach about intersex or to already know everything about it. They are likely still learning things about themselves and should not be called upon to do the work of educating others.
Conclusion: Thank you so much for taking the time to read my post! Anyone can be an ally! The more that we have the more intersex students and people feel safe and respected. For more information, check out interACT and its What We Wish Our Teachers Knew brochure written by intersex youth.
Kenna is an intersex person and high school student. She loves to read and dance, and wants intersex people to be accepted and welcomed by everyone.