School is often the first place children learn insults that describe the LGBTQ+ community. When these insults and slurs are used in the classroom, often the only repercussions students receive from teachers is a warning. On the flip side, the victims are comforted with the “sticks and stones” adage. Teachers rarely confront the assumption that being gay or lesbian is an insult. And therefore, students fail to make a connection between the insults they use and the real-life individuals those insults describe.
Bullying is an issue state legislatures and educators have worked on to protect students at school. However, homophobia and LGBTQ+ discrimination have not shared the same attention.
Research shows that school is often a hostile place for LGBTQ+ students. 7 out of 10 LGBTQ+ students experience victimization at school for who they are. Harassment and victimization can negatively impact students’ academic achievement and psychological well-being.
There are a number of steps educators can take to create a safe environment for their students. The first is to establish a strict anti-harassment policy that includes sexual orientation and gender identity/expression. Start with clear expectations and consequences. Then, make sure to communicate them to your students and follow through when rules are broken.
In addition to creating these “hate-free” zones, it is also essential to educate students with information about the people affected by these insults.
Teachers may also choose to support school clubs such as Gay-Straight Alliances, and inform students of counseling services offered at the school, as well as community resources that pertain to LGBTQ+ youth issues. Although these actions directly affect students of the LGBTQ+ community, all students will benefit from building a safer classroom environment.
Often LGBTQ+ inclusion in the curriculum is reserved for health or sex education courses; implying that homosexuality is about sex, not about history, literature, science or any other field of study.
Unfortunately, school curriculum often does not include LGBTQ+ role models who have made contributions to history, math, science, social services, and the arts.
One of the most common ways to include LGBTQ+ issues in the curriculum is by mentioning the sexual orientation of famous gay, lesbian, and bisexual persons during the natural course of teaching. With an art class, this would be the inclusion of artists such as Andy Warhol and Keith Haring.
There are several creative ways to connect LGBTQ+ community issues to course content. By providing students with an opportunity to learn more about the LGBTQ+ community, teachers may encourage a better understanding of sexual diversity. This also allows teachers to present students who identify as gay or lesbian with information to which they may relate.
Homosexuality in education cannot be kept in the closet. Education is about the sharing of ideas and learning by making meaningful connections to course material. That learning is hindered when both educators and students are expected to deny an essential part of their identity. This denial causes a withdrawal from the learning experience.
By creating a safe and accepting environment for everyone, students can make those connections as unique individuals. School may be the only safe space a student struggling with these issues can turn. That is why it is so important to address the LGBTQ+ community.
By providing students with positive role models and accurate information, educators are given an excellent opportunity to make a difference in the lives of their students. This opportunity is what every educator hopes for, and is possible by creating a safe environment for all students.
How do you support LGBTQ+ students in your classroom?
What steps have you taken to make your classroom a safe space for all learners?