Take a mental picture of all your students. Say you have 25 students per class and five classes: that’s 125 students. Let’s say, conservatively, that you have 10 students who fall under the LGBT title, and maybe another 10 are perceived to be LGBT by their peers. These students are more likely to have a lower GPA and less likely to aspire to college than their heterosexual peers.
In short, we are failing our queer students. Multiple, recent studies show that they’re less likely to aspire to go to college and they miss school due to victimisation. This is even higher for students who live in rural areas, are of color or are transgender. In total, eight out of ten queer students face harassment.
While there is still no (read it: no. Zip. Nothing) federal legislation protecting LGBT students from hostile classmates or, worse, administration, we as educational leaders have the greatest opportunity for impact.
I recently attended the Creating Change conference, the nation’s largest gathering of GLBTAQQIA folks. (That’s gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex and allies.) As a gay dude, I felt relatively well informed as to what challenges queer students face in the classroom. After attending some of the nearly 300 sessions, Creating Change showed me just how little even I knew.
I attended a half-dozen workshops and caucuses that covered these issues exactly, with organizations like The Trevor Project showing just how devastating these statistics are, and the true cost of them: lost young lives and lowered aspirations for those who make it out alive.
You may be asking what such a conference has to do with teaching. It turns out, a hell of a lot.
One particularly poignant session was one of the most informal: a simple caucus of LGBT and allied educators. We met for an hour and talked about the various challenges we face in affirming our students and feeling safe ourselves.
Two-dozen educators from all over the country (and Canada!) came in with many concerns: ranging from hostile administration, conservative parents and guardians, the question of when/if coming out is appropriate and how we train a generation of educators to be sensitive to all forms of bullying and suicide prevention.
In short, it was refreshing but daunting: We, as educators (this means you, too!) have the responsibility to protect all students, whether we see them as gay or straight, from a background of poverty of middle class or of a majority or minority ethnic group. Education inequity doesn’t discriminate on these, so we can’t either.
Starting with the S.A.F.E. project, you can take a stand. The project was launched late last year in partnership with the Gay, Lesbian Straight Education Network (GLSEN), The Trevor Project and TFA.
For starters, you can take a pledge to keep your classroom a Safe and Affirming place For Everyone. At its core, this means creating an environment that allows all students to have a safe learning environment that let’s them be themselves and take risks. But what’s more, you can obtain classroom materials to make this a reality, connect with other corps members and spread the word.
While we still have much to do as an organization (as does the country’s educational system), this is an amazing first step, and a large stepping-stone into an educational landscape that takes a no-excuses outlook on discrimination.