What do LGBT students wish teachers would do to make school safer? Read their four ideas, and get ready to make a difference.

Learning for all depends on safety for all students.

In a school of 1,000 students, up to 100 will be gay, lesbian, or bisexual; 10 will be transgender; and one will be intersex (biologically neither male nor female). If their lives are average, 87 of them will be verbally harassed, 40 of them will be physically harassed, and 19 will be physically assaulted in the next year because of their sexual orientation or gender expression. Sixty-two will feel mostly unsafe going to school. Thirty will harm themselves in what may be suicide attempts. Their academics will suffer because social and emotional needs go hand in hand with educational needs, and nervous students don’t learn easily.

The youth make clear that it’s not being LGBT that causes these problems. About as many people are born queer in the world as people who are born left-handed. The problems are the outcome of intolerant actions and speech by peers, parents, teachers, clergy, and strangers. Bullying is a symptom of the culture. An informed educator can use this moment to deeply engage students in inquiry.

Changing a school’s climate can seem as impossible as changing the direction of the tides. But educators must take the temperature of a school climate, map a route, establish rules, and hand out safety gear. We know that the values, actions, and atmosphere of a school are lived first by students, in their conversations. Their talk moves the current and sets the compass spinning. Their energy is the gravity that moves the tides.

Dive deeper

Queer Youth Advice for Educators: How to Respect and Protect Your Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Students
by Abe Louise Young

Download a free PDF: www.whatkidscando.org

Buy a hard copy: www.nextgenerationpress.org

When a spike in bullying-related suicides of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer students took place in fall 2010, many educators awakened to the need for profoundly new bearings. How could they guide this conversation? What Kids Can Do, Inc., commissioned a study to talk with LGBT students from across the nation to learn what they would say to educators about how to improve the atmosphere in schools for LGBT students.

I interviewed 30 youth over four months, some in person and some by telephone, and learned while listening to them that educators need to enter the conversations of students. Not just listen in or overhear the lunchroom roar — but position themselves as eager learners and conversation partners inside and outside of classrooms. Here is some inside talk from middle, junior high, and high school LGBT students on how educators can protect and respect them. You may be surprised by their suggestions. If you’re already an expert at supporting this population, consider these suggestions and comments an entrée to discussion with other colleagues. At any rate, the students and I hope to get folks talking. Some students elected to choose pseudonyms; others wanted to be fully named. We settled on using first names and a few noms de plume.

Intervene when you hear the word “gay” used as a put-down, even if it’s in jest.

When youth feel safe and protected by an adult at school, it can make the difference between dropping out or graduating. Students learn more, make better grades, and have enhanced emotional well-being when the adults in their schools stand up for their right to learn free of verbal and physical harassment.

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