School Pride: An Important Time to Embrace and Support LGBTQ+ Students
June 27, 2023
School is meant to be a place for all students to learn, grow, and develop their passions, hopes and dreams. Throughout history, school has often been where students will first embrace new aspects of their personalities, whether that be voicing their opinions, participating in clubs or activities that interest them, or even just wearing funky clothes. More importantly, students are in school for the critical years of identity development and many spend more waking hours in school than anywhere else. However, not all students feel safe and free to embrace aspects of their developing identities.
This Pride Month, we should consider the important role schools, parents and allies can play in preparing young people to encounter the world, helping them bond with people from different backgrounds and grow into tolerant, patient and kind adults.
Recent legislation, including Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill, prevent transgender youth from participating in sports, implement book bans and heighten student mental health challenges. In practice, these culture war efforts make it difficult for LGBTQ+ students to build an identity that is validated during the critical years of their development. It is the responsibility of adults to protect the physical, intellectual and emotional wellbeing of our nation’s youth. Too often we forget the power we hold when we do simple things like listen to students’ concerns and provide safe spaces for them to grow, form and celebrate their identities.
The banning of teaching LGBTQ+ history or books with LGBTQ+ characters essentially prevents LGBTQ+ students from seeing themselves represented in our nation’s history or feeling connected to the literature they read. Students have described not being able to read banned books in schools as “withholding truth and education” and that they “won’t ever understand the turmoil the [LGBTQ+] community has faced.” Experts agree that it is critical for students to see themselves represented in their studies if they are to build a sense of identity and belonging and develop empathy and social skills.
When students feel connected to their teachers, there are better learning outcomes and a greater sense of fulfillment both personally and academically. LGBTQ+ youth are twice as likely to have suicidal thoughts than heterosexual youth, according to The Trevor Project. In schools, teachers can make an enormous difference; LGBTQ+ students who reported having a teacher who cared about them were 37 percent less likely to consider suicide and 43 percent less likely to be depressed.
Peers also play a powerful role as allies. CDC research shows that LGBTQ+ students in the US feel less connected with their school community than their heterosexual peers. To feel more connected with fellow students, some LGBTQ+ students have created LGBTQ+ clubs, or Gender and Sexuality Alliances (GSAs), creating safe spaces to decompress and speak about their experiences. These clubs, and other efforts to make LGBTQ+ students feel safe and welcome in school, are an important aspect of ensuring all individuals feel included and seen. They can also build LGBTQ+ students’ confidence, leadership skills and create comfort within school walls. For teachers, parents or community members, sponsoring a GSA club or encouraging all students to join and be allies can send a powerful message of support and acceptance for LGBTQ+ youth.
School can be seen as a microcosm of the real world, as it is often the first place where a greater knowledge of history, society and culture may challenge our beliefs, helping to broaden our understanding of others. Adults must advocate for schools to include LGBTQ+ perspectives in curricula and to create safe spaces for LGBTQ+ students.
All students will benefit from learning more about the LGBTQ+ community and its contributions to our nation and the world–and, it is every individual’s right to learn and grow in a safe space. Our goal should be to lift up LGBTQ+ youth and be more proactive allies to the entire community, despite the political vagaries of the day.