To feel safe and to feel seen. To feel valued and capable of growth. These are simple concepts—basic pillars of student achievement and the results of good pedagogy.
For many queer students, these rights remain out of reach.
We recognize the complicated history of the word “queer” and that its reclamation as a positive or even neutral term of identity isn’t universally accepted. In this guide, we use queer as an inclusive term to refer to those who fall outside of cisgender or heterosexual identities—not as a pejorative.
According to data from GLSEN—an organization that provides resources, research and advocacy in support of queer youth—more than half of LGBTQ students feel unsafe at school. Fewer than 25 percent of those students see positive representations of queer people in their classrooms. More than half hear negative remarks about their sexuality or gender identity from school staff. And, due to these and other circumstances, LGBTQ students are more likely to miss school, see their grades suffer, and to face dire consequences outside of school, such as homelessness.
A recent survey from the Human Rights Campaign shows these problems haven’t dissipated; just a quarter of LGBTQ students feel they can be their authentic selves at school, and only 27 percent say they always feel safe in the classroom.
Current research also offers reasons to be hopeful, but that hope is grounded in action. LGBTQ students who go to school in a fully inclusive environment—where both curriculum and schoolwide policies value their identities—experience more positive outcomes. They also experience less harassment, feel more valued by school staff and face fewer barriers to success.
We also know that an LGBTQ-inclusive school benefits all students. Seeing LGBTQ identities valued in the classroom, in the curriculum and in day-to-day interactions inspires empathy, understanding and respect. The overall school climate is safer. The lessons on history, literature and culture are more complete. And the dangerous expectations of constricted gender roles—from the mask of suppressed emotional expression placed on boys to the unrealistic beauty standards facing girls—can give way to a culture that values all students.
This work isn’t revolutionary. It reflects basic pedagogy and best practices.
With this guide, we hope to help school leaders ensure that all students feel safe, seen and capable of success; to ensure that the curriculum is as complete and representative as possible; to ensure that the school climate fosters open and respectful dialogue among all students and staff; and to prepare youth to engage and thrive within our diverse democracy.
About This Guide
The journey toward an LGBTQ-inclusive school climate begins with simple steps recommended in each of the four key areas of this guide:
- Policy checkup. Review the constitutional rights of LGBTQ students and see exemplar policies addressing bathrooms, locker rooms, sports, sex education and more.
- Classroom culture. Learn best practices for making all students feel welcome in your classroom, including how to facilitate conversations, speak up against bullying behavior, and evaluate the ways in which your words or actions could marginalize LGBTQ students.
- Instruction. Discover strategies for integrating LGBTQ perspectives into your curriculum and navigating challenges that may result.
- Family and community engagement. Get ideas for responding to pushback from the community, as well as helping LGBTQ students and nontraditional families feel included in school communities.
Along the way, this publication aims to offer guidance for addressing critical conversations, backlash and burning questions, such as:
- What do I do if an unaccepting family, an outside group or the community pushes back against inclusive practices?
- What do I do if my administration isn’t supportive?
- What do I do if a student comes out to me?
We know educators can face cultural and professional barriers when implementing anti-bias policies and curriculum. But we also know the importance of protecting LGBTQ students and their rights to an education. The steps in this guide can be taken in any K–12 school in any community. Together, we can move toward a world in which LGBTQ-inclusive classrooms are no longer the exception, but the rule.