3 Things Every Educator Should Know about Supporting LGBT Students
With a staggering 90 percent of LGBT students experiencing verbal harassment related to their sexual orientation, it is obvious that Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender, or LGBT, students have additional barriers to overcome. Dealing with discrimination toward LGBT students is a very real concern for teachers and though students have come a long way, they can still be cruel to those that they perceive as different. Peers of LGBT students frequently single them out for bullying and physical and verbal abuse.
Bullying has real implications for LGBT students, leading to high rates of absenteeism. Thus, as an educator, it is important to consider these three things as we strive to make our educational environments safer for LGBT students.
- Mental health is a serious issue. As Dr. Victor Schwartz, medical director of a non-profit organization that promotes emotional health among college students has discussed previously, LGBT students in particular often struggle with mental health problems. Suicide is the leading cause of death among LGBT teens. Transgendered teens are 20 times more likely to contemplate, attempt, and complete suicide.
To help someone who is struggling with their sexuality—or with others’ attitudes regarding their sexuality—Schwartz recommends that you “make sure they know you are supportive and willing to talk about anything. Let them make decisions about their sexual orientation on their own terms and when they are ready. If someone reveals their sexual orientation to you, it is important to be supportive and allow them to talk through their feelings and fears. Coming out can be a difficult process and it helps to have a strong support network.”
- Anti-gay bullying contributes to an achievement gap. The levels of harassment targeting LGBT students sometimes lead to absenteeism, and even to dropping out of school completely and never obtaining that very important high school diploma.
LGBT students of color are three times more likely to skip school because they do not view schools as safe places, adding to the achievement gap between the races that educational policymakers are so desperately trying to narrow.
- Teachers have a legal responsibility to address anti-gay abuse in schools. Legislation indicates that failure to intervene in these circumstances may jeopardize teaching certificates and licenses. Lambda Legal Defense cautions that if teachers and counselors are not actively helpful (or worse, hurtful) they may be guilty of legal violation in their failure to address the abusive anti-gay behavior. In many states, this could jeopardize a teacher’s certificate, as some state laws expressly forbid discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
In recent years, many high schools have formed Gay-Straight Alliance clubs. Like other after-school special interest clubs, supportive teachers sponsor these groups, and meet periodically to plan social events, public and community service projects, and promote understanding among all students. Sometimes these organizations meet with resistance from the community, administrators, and school officials on the grounds of conservatism, avoidance of controversy, and the fear of promoting an agenda counter to the majority values of the local demographic. Make no mistake, however, GSA clubs are protected under the Equal Access Act [20 U.S.C. § 4071], which states that if a school receives federal funding and has non-curricular clubs, a Gay/Straight Alliance student group is entitled to recognition just like any other student group.
It does not matter what a teacher’s personal ideology is. As educators, we have a professional commitment to make the classroom and the school a safe environment for all students. Educators must provide positive role models and supportive, responsive intervention. We must actively deliver the message that bullying, prejudice and hate are wrong in all circumstances. All school personnel are responsible for keeping abusive language and behavior out of the classroom and the school culture.