“Remember, it’s not about politics—it’s about supporting students. Any educator, regardless of his personal beliefs, can be a resource for LGBT students,” says the page on tolerance.org. If you are a teacher, if you are in a classroom, your students are a priority.
This issue has been very present on my mind lately. As someone who has so many friends who are part of, and who have faced the consequences in school and out, of being part of the LGBT community, I have personally been challenged to learn what this means to me.
I remember a day in High-School band–I was asking one of the other students about their experience as someone who is gay. I told them, “I’m just interested because I haven’t known that many gay people.”
The joke was on me, as people all around chorused, “I’m gay!” “I’m bi!” “I’m bi-curious.” I was shocked. Not that I was surround by so many people who were “different” than me, but that they were just people. I learned that day that they were people first, and that I couldn’t see what was below the surface, whether that was sexual orientation, emotional distress, or whatever-what-have-you. They were people first, and that was good enough reason for me to treat them like people, and not like problems.
That was how I thought I would treat people if they were gay on entering High-School. As problems to be solved. Thank you everyone who spoke up that day, who weren’t afraid of what I might have thought.
So, with that in mind, here are the “top five takeaways” that I have learned about being an Ally to those in the LGBT community, student or otherwise:
- They are people first. That, and not their sexuality or gender identity, defines how we ought to treat people, regardless of who they are. Not only is this a moral thing, but as Americans it is a constitutional right protected under the first amendment. People are protected to act based on what they believe, provided that we as educators don’t discriminate. Sure, if girls can wear dresses, then gay men or trans women, you go for it too.
- Respect their privacy. If someone confides in you about their gender or sexuality, do not assume that they want the whole world to know. Being able to keep the information they have entrusted you with is a good first step towards being a “safe space.” This goes for anything (within lawful application of course, teachers are still required by law to report suicidal thinking, abuse, etc. to parents and administrators).
- Do not tolerate bullying. Yes, I did write an earlier post asking about how we can support bullies, but that does not mean we must tolerate bullying behavior in our classes and schools. Schools should have resources in place, and training for staff and administration in order to protect students from bullying of all stripes. And make sure that you, as the person you can control, is not a bully, and is a resource that is safe for students to turn to if they are being bullied. Train students to be aware of bullying, and to act on behalf of others if they see bullying behavior.
- Address the religious question. Yes, religion and the LGBT community are often at odds with one another, but disagreement doesn’t have to end in a fight, argument, or belittling. Use opportunities in your classroom to allow students to practice confrontation and disagreement in constructive ways. Consider fostering an environment where disagreement leads to greater understanding on behalf of both parties, rather than leading to conflict. This goes back to seeing people as people first.
- Remember that safety and change both start with you. You cannot control or fix all of the environmental aspects of your student’s lives. This goes for both LGTB students, and any other students in your classroom. You may not be able to control the beliefs of their parents, peers, or even your co-workers. But, you can craft in your own classroom a place where discrimination isn’t tolerated, were students of all stripes feel safe to voice their beliefs and ideas, and perhaps most importantly, do disagree with one another on important issues while knowing that their words, ideas, and identities will be respected.
Resources to check out if you are interested in learning more:
http://www.tolerance.org/lgbt-best-practices — a good resource on an overview of what being an LGBT ally in the classroom looks like
https://mcc.gse.harvard.edu/files/gse-mcc/files/lgbtq_resource_list_0.pdf — a resource with links to helpful pages on how to be an ally to subsets of LGBT students like, “LGBT students of color” and resources for creating inclusive curricula.
https://www.edutopia.org/discussion/supporting-lgbt-students-your-school — this site has helpful tips on how to create an inclusive environment in your school, not just for LGBT students, but for everyone.
Do you disagree with me on any of the above? Let me know in the comments! I’d love to hear what you have to think.