LGBTQ teachers belong in the classroom.
LGBTQ students deserve a safe, supportive learning environment at school.
Transgender students belong on school sports teams, should have access to healthcare, and deserve to have their pronouns and names respected.
LGBTQ-affirming resources belong on the classroom shelves.
Students with LGBTQ family members deserve to see their families represented in classroom resources and discussions.
I’m not naive enough to think that everyone would agree with these statements — and yet it’s troubling to see that in 2022 basic civil rights for LGBTQ folks are again up for debate, both in the national dialogue and in state legislation.
It is shocking that it is still the case that a student might have reason to fear sharing their identities, or that a teacher might put their career at risk if they mention their spouse in class. When I think back to my own days as a teacher, the principal who most influenced me–who modeled professional practices that I use to this day–was an incredible educator who also happened to be a gay man. The current debates and laws have horrifying consequences that present significant danger to both students and educators like my former principal. GLSEN’s 2019 School Climate report found that nearly all of their surveyed LGBTQ students had encountered homophobic language at school, yet only 13.7% of students reported that school staff intervened. Nearly 60% of LGBTQ students in GLSEN’s survey also reported that they felt unsafe at school, and roughly a third of students reported missing school in the past month because they felt unsafe or uncomfortable. LGBTQ students of color almost always experience higher rates of harm. These discriminatory and isolating experiences can take a heavy toll on young people: the Trevor Project’s 2022 national survey found that 45% of LGBTQ youth seriously considered suicide in the past year, and 14% attempted suicide.
An affirming school environment can go a long way in reversing these trends and empowering queer students. The Trevor Project and GLSEN reports also found that students in LGBTQ-affirming schools and communities were less likely to attempt suicide, miss school, experience bullying, or hear derogatory remarks about their sexual orientation or gender identity. The story of one Alabama school demonstrates the incredible power of a learning community where students can be free to be themselves.
Certainly, any teacher can be an ally for their LGBTQ students, building trust and opening the door to meaningful conversations, so that students can better discover and understand themselves. On DonorsChoose, we’ve seen teachers request LGBTQ history books and novels, materials to make proms more welcoming to LGBTQ students, and LGBTQ guest speakers from the community. These are just a few of our favorites.
LGBTQ educators also play an important role for all of their students, and too many are being driven from the classroom by oppressive laws and community harassment. LGBTQ teachers and staff bring a lived experience to the ways they connect and support their students who might be struggling with their identity. If it’s safe for an LGBTQ teacher to be out in their community, they can be role models for what it looks like to be a thriving queer person, and for all of the different ways a queer person can express themselves. And, in the midst of a national teacher shortage crisis, we need all hands on deck to keep our students learning, which demands welcoming and supporting teachers of all identities into the profession.
During Pride Month and all year round, I hope you’ll take a moment to support LGBTQ teachers and students, within your own community or in a place where queer rights are under attack. For our teachers, we’ve compiled some LGBTQ project examples to inspire your next project, and books to consider adding to your classroom library. For our supporters, you can give to a classroom project chosen by our LGBTQ staff at DonorsChoose.
Outside of DonorsChoose, I’d encourage you to take a look at the work of The Trevor Project, GLSEN, and PFLAG, and track updates on anti-LGBTQ legislation with the Human Rights Campaign.
Without a doubt, it’s never been more important for all of us to celebrate LGBTQ pride and what it means for queer people to live their truest, fullest, most joyful lives.