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How can we better support our LGBTQIA+ students?

April 13, 2022

Supporting LGBTQIA+ Students

How can we do more to support LGBTQIA+ students? Teacher, Mom and blogger Amber Chandler discusses the steps we can take to keep our LGBTQIA+ students safe.

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Recently, I was lucky enough to attend the New York State United Teachers Representative Assembly as a delegate. The weekend, as it always is, was filled with inspiration, camaraderie and powerful union work. One such area of work revolved around supporting our union siblings who are experiencing the crushing weight of Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law being passed. As delegates approached the microphone, my stomach flip-flopped. A mom approached and shared the horrific way her school handled their trans child’s many dilemmas. The story was heartbreaking, and it left me wondering how we can support all students, no matter their orientation, but especially those who are brave enough to come out as LGBTQIA+. I’ve had some experience in this area, and I think it is helpful to take the 1,000-foot view. Why? Too often, we are dealing with school issues on the micro level, and in doing so, we miss the broader support that will help students. Rather, we zero in on a particular case or specific incidence and miss the meaningful work that will have a great impact. Here are three tips for supporting our LGBTQIA+ students that will benefit everyone. 

Pronouns

It is still not the norm in my middle school to ask the simple question: “Which pronouns do you prefer?” Although we are beginning to see this done more often, I’m embarrassed to say that I did not ask that question on the survey I gave students and families at the beginning of this school year, but I plan to add that for next year—not only for the student survey, but also for the family survey. Years ago, I quit assuming that my students’ parents were necessarily the people raising them, and I decided to go with “family” or “cheerleaders” or “supporters.” It has made a world of difference for the people whose nontraditional family structures were always left out. I believe that asking for pronouns is going to do the same thing. 

 

Why Are Pronouns Important at School?

Gender pronouns are important because they give individuals validation and a safe environment to be themselves. Let's make classrooms safe for all students.

Nicknames 

There’s a girl in my class whose name is Aerionna. Everyone calls her AJ. That is the end of the story when it comes to nicknames. Why wouldn’t we accommodate the needs of students when it comes to what they want to “go by”? I’ve always called my students by the names they have asked to be called, but it has only been in the last few years that those “nicknames” aren’t necessarily a version of their name, but rather a proclamation of who they actually are. Just like I wrote AJ next to Aerionna, it should not create a problem. Next year, for my survey, I plan to ask for “Name on Roster.” Then, “Please call me … ” And just like all those other nicknames, I’ll write them in pen on the roster and learn who my students want to be. 

Sometimes You Are a Caterpillar

Finally, the best thing we can do to support LGBTQIA+ students is to make space for all students to be who they are. This is not a blog about a few kiddos. Instead, it is a call for educators to give students a safe space to be whomever and however they want to be without apology. This begins with how we address students, but ultimately it is in our everyday interactions where we demonstrate that “sometimes you are a caterpillar,” not fully complete, but fully finished for the time being. I found this short animated movie (which you can also watch below) last year, and I opened with it on the first day of school. The film has a simple but very profound message: “I don’t know what it’s like to be you, and you don’t know what it’s like to be me.” It is wildly inclusive, mentioning the fact that “You might be gay. You might be trans. Have a disability or different religion, or of course the obvious one—you’re a member of a different race.” When we help students understand that everyone is unique, important and valued, all with different challenges and problems, we are supporting the students who have traditionally been unseen. 

 

Remote video URL

 

The best thing about starting the school year with this video was the reactions from students. Several kiddos mentioned to me that they’d never heard anything like this from anyone before, much less their teacher. Students who had traditionally been unseen were represented in my class—and that mattered. The beauty of helping students understand that we all need help is that we can all then give it freely. The “exit ticket” after watching this video is a Google Form that helps students identify what challenges they may have so that I can “move obstacles” for them. This type of communication can happen immediately, and it allows you to support students—all of them—but also lets students know that their struggles are seen and appreciated. By acknowledging the many types of differences, we normalize the beautiful, complicated mess that we all are, which provides space for students who have never had a place to fit. 

 

LGBTQ-Inclusive Lesson Plans, Resources and Activities

Supplement your lesson planning with our collection of LGBTQ-inclusive resources and lesson plans for preK-12 and higher education.

Amber Chandler is a National Board Certified middle school ELA teacher in Hamburg, New York with a Master’s Degree in Literature, as well as a School Building Leader certification.

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