How Do You Make LGBTQ Students Feel Welcome?

During the last school year, I heard from two different people that one of the reasons they wanted to become teachers was to help LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and questioning) students. There are probably LGBTQ students in every classroom, though many aren’t yet ready to be open about their sexuality or gender identity.

It’s important for schools to be places where everyone feels welcome. After all, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) says that “public schools often lead the way for the broader society in modeling inclusiveness and pluralism.” Here are some things teachers can do to make sure LGBTQ students feel safe, welcome, and included in their classrooms.

1. Put up warning signs

You can tell people that your classroom is a “safe zone” by putting stickers or posters on the door. This shows students that you support LGBTQ people and are willing to speak out against anti-LGBTQ language or bullying. The AFT also says that safe zone stickers let students know that teachers, counselors, and administrators are “open to discussion of LGBTQ issues in the context of classwork or just in conversation.”

The Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network’s (GLSEN) biennial National School Climate Survey found that “the safe space campaign, like enumerated antibullying policies, makes a tremendous difference in LGBTQ students’ perceptions that their schools are safe and that their teachers are adults they can trust.” My students have told me that seeing the sticker on my door makes them feel better. Teaching Tolerance says that putting up a “signals to LGBTQ youth that you’ve got their backs.” sign in your classroom or office shows LGBTQ youth that you have their backs.

2. Start a group at your school for LGBTQ people

The American Federation of Teachers (AFT) says that extracurricular groups at schools have “potential to shape school climate, address inequality, and affect student performance.” LGBTQ student organizations show a lot of promise in “reducing discrimination against LGBTQ students, promoting their well-being, and fostering safe and affirming school environments.” These groups help LGBTQ students, and they can also help schools become more aware of discrimination and stop it. They can also make sure that school rules and lessons are open to everyone. If you offer to start one of these groups at your school or become an advisor for one that is already there, you can help make sure that students have a good time at school.

3. Stop being afraid of gay people.

Research, according to GLSEN, has shown that “LGBTQ youth face bullying at significantly higher rates than their peers, and the consequences, such as increased rates of suicide, can be heartbreaking.”

Teachers can help make that better. GLSEN has lesson plans that teachers can use to teach their students about bullying, bias, and diversity. Students of all ages sometimes say or do things in the classroom that are hurtful to gay people. Teachers should tell their students that this kind of speech is not okay. Teaching Tolerance gives teachers a guide with activities to help them deal with comments like this in the classroom.

4. Add LGBTQ topics to the lesson plans

The Human Rights Campaign recommends that teachers talk about and include LGBTQ people and issues in the classroom. When giving out topics for science, history, and art, make sure to include LGBTQ people like Alan Turing and Harvey Milk (computer scientist). GLSEN also offers a curriculum that includes LGBTQ people so that students can see themselves in their lessons and so that all students can get a real picture of the world around them.

5. Work on improving your skills

Experts can help you make sure that your school is safe and welcoming for LGBTQ youth by giving you workshops and helping you improve your skills as a teacher. Effective professional development can teach staff how to deal with harassment and bullying and give them a place to share resources and best practices to make sure schools are safe and respectful places to learn.

Everyone should feel safe and welcome in their schools. These steps are a great place to start if you want to make sure LGBTQ students are well-supported in schools so they can have happy, healthy, and educational times there.

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