First, it's important to be aware that you likely have LGBTQ+ students in your classroom, even if you don't know it. For educators who work in environments that are already striving to extend acceptance to all people and communities, it's a bit easier to go with that flow. But not every school comes with an accepting climate and culture. That's why -- while overall school culture is important -- just one teacher who is overtly, loudly supportive can be a crucial ally for struggling students. Even if this support isn't directed at specific students, it can be enough of a life raft.
The key is to be very clear: Let students know you support them and are there for them. Here are some things to keep in mind:
Be clear about harassment.
For some teachers, speaking out about this may feel uncomfortable, especially if you're the first to bring up the topic in your school. It's also important to be aware of the laws in your state around addressing LGBTQ+ issues, so you can share the facts in a way that work for your situation.
- Talk about how there are many groups that are marginalized and harassed online, and include LGBTQ+ people among that list.
- Remember that you don't have to understand all of the nuances, subcommunities, or terminology around LGBTQ+ issues to broach the topic. Even as a teacher, it's OK to approach the topic from a learning perspective.
- The bottom line is that no one should be harassed online because of their identity, and we all suffer because of -- and are responsible for addressing -- that harassment.
Be aware of differences.
Remember that LGBTQ+ students may be having a different online experience than other students.
- For instance, although students have likely already encountered online hate speech directed at the LGBTQ+ community, some online spaces may also feel like a place where they can truly express themselves.
Offer support and resources.
For many LGBTQ+ kids, especially when they're figuring things out, finding accepting spaces online can sometimes feel safer. (Also see the "Actively Offer Resources" section below.)
- When you discuss interacting with strangers online, emphasize safe practices and awareness, instead of the simplistic, and sometimes unrealistic, message of "never talk to strangers online."
- Offer students safer online spaces where they might find support, like It Gets Better and the Trevor Project.
Promote solidarity with digital citizenship.
Help students who aren't from marginalized communities understand the positive role they can play -- not only because it's the right thing to do, but also because online hate is harmful to everyone.
- Teach kids of every age about how they can address cyberbullying by being upstanders online. Digital citizenship lessons like Is It Cyberbullying?, Upstanders and Allies: Taking Action Against Cyberbullying, or The Consequences of Online Hate Speech are a great place to start.
- Our eighth grade lesson, Responding to Online Hate Speech, equips students with helpful tools they can use to respond. Along with a helpful video, the lesson offers kids a set of helpful strategies: confront those who are bullying; defend the person being targeted; reach out to the person being targeted to see how they're feeling; tell a trusted adult about the situation; raise general awareness about the issue at school or in your community.
- Our 10th grade lesson, Countering Hate Speech Online, also addresses the issue. Since there are, unfortunately, many types of hate speech, be sure to specifically address anti-LGBTQ+ messages in your discussion. One specific tip for students included in this lesson is to use counterspeech; the slide deck for the lesson has some examples that students can practice.
- Encourage students to invite marginalized peers into safe spaces, both in person and online.
- Discuss how having peers stick up for you, both in person and online, can make all the difference in not bearing the burden alone.
Excerpt taken from Common Sense Education's piece, Supporting LGBTQ+ Students in the Classroom and Online.
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