Research conducted by the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), a national education organization — whose mission is to ensure safe schools for all students — has demonstrated that many lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and questioning (LGBTQ) students are subject to hostile school environments.
Students who are members of the LGBTQ community may experience bullying — name-calling, physical threats, and physical violence. Unfortunately, very few studies or surveys have been conducted exploring the experiences of LGBTQ students and their families. Given this lack of research, it can be challenging for parents of LGBTQ youth to definitively identify a safe and positive environment for their children.
This article will focus on potential suggestions of behavioral and environmental factors parents should consider when looking for a K–12 school for their LGBTQ children.
Pay attention to the school’s use of language.
When meeting with principals, teachers, counselors, and/or school staff, listen carefully to the the kind of language they use. What kind of default pronouns do they use? Do they always default to male pronouns like he and him, or are they inclusive by using female pronouns or the singular they? Are certain kinds of traits or roles gendered in their speech?
Also examine the language the school employs in its paperwork. Do forms requiring signatures use neutral terms such as parent/guardian rather than gendered terms like mother/father?
In addition, listen to the language of students in the halls. Do students use hate speech or do they address each other with respect? How do school officials handle the use of expletives?
Look for supportive student groups and extracurriculars.
Does the school have groups or clubs that will help your child feel welcomed and supported? For example, does the school have a Gay–Straight Alliance or Rainbow Club? If it does, ask: Who is welcome to attend these meetings? Who sponsors these clubs? How often do these clubs meet?
If the school does not provide clubs, ask whether they would be open to your child starting one. If so, is there a faculty member who could advise your child on how to do so? In addition, ask administrators about how the school gets involved in larger community events such as Pride Day or Pride Week, National Coming Out Day, or Unity Week. How does the school promote and allow students to celebrate such events within as well as outside the school environment?
Learn about professional development and training opportunities.
Ask school administrators about the type of training they receive about supporting LGBTQ youth, LGBTQ families, and families with diverse structures. If this training does occur, how often does it happen and what topics are covered? If it doesn’t, let the school know that the Trevor Project offers affordable online training resources for teachers, staff, and students.
Review the school’s learning materials.
Ask teachers to let you see textbooks, videos, or other materials used for instruction. Are these resources inclusive and do they cover diverse viewpoints? Ask teachers how they address homophobia within their classrooms and what methods they use to promote acceptance among students. Do teachers address issues of gender identity, sexuality, and sexual orientation in the classroom? Lastly, do teachers have safe-space posters in their classrooms or on their doors?
Ask about the school’s disciplinary policies.
During your time at the school, ask direct questions about how staff at the school is instructed to handle bias incidents that may include anti-gay language, homophobia, or other forms of bullying. When meeting with teachers, it may be a good idea to inquire about the types of rules they establish within their own classrooms, as well as the ways in which these rules are enforced.
Make a backup plan.
One of the most important things parents of LGBTQ students can do is seek information about the ways in which they can support their children. Parents should also understand the legal rights of their students.
In addition, parents should help their kids to develop an action plan should any harassment occur. Parents can help children identify a “safe” individual, such as a teacher or counselor, who can serve as a confidant. A meeting with the parent, child, and this individual may aid in establishing guidelines. Lastly, parents should encourage children keep instances of bullying and harassment well-documented in case future action is needed.
Resources Parents Can Explore:
- Gay, Lesbian, & Straight Educators Network
- American Civil Liberties Union
- The Trevor Project
- Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays
- Gay Straight Alliance
You can also ask questions and find answers here on Noodle. Follow this link for more free advice about LGBTQ issues in education.