Educators often worry about “saying the right thing” when confronted with conversations that they might not feel entirely comfortable engaging in with their students. A teacher once described to me how these moments made her feel like she was walking on “squishy ground.” A student “coming out” is one such moment that may create a heightened level of anxiety for you as an educator. While each such conversation is unique, there are some simple pointers that may help the ground feel less “squishy” and will ultimately help the student feel more supported. Since it’s National Coming Out Day, we wanted to share these with you as well as encourage you to learn about these in greater detail on pages 14-15 of GLSEN’s Safe Space Kit.
When a student comes out to you and tells you they are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) your initial response is important. The student has likely spent time in advance thinking about whether or not to tell you, when and how to tell you and it’s likely that they chose to tell you because they see you or already know you as a supportive ally - so congratulations and thank you for being that person in the first place! So, here are some things to remember when a student comes out to you…
Offer support but don’t assume a student needs any help.
Be a role model of acceptance.
Appreciate the student’s courage.
Listen, listen, listen.
Assure and respect confidentiality.
Remember that the student has not changed.
Challenge traditional norms.
Be prepared to give a referral
Of course, it’s equally important to avoid saying things like: “I knew it,” “Are you sure?” “You’re just confused,” "It’s a phase – it will pass,” “Shhh, don’t tell anyone,” or “You can’t be gay/lesbian – you’ve had relationships with members of the opposite sex.” These kinds of questions or statements are simply not appropriate and will not help the student feel supported. Instead, ask questions that demonstrate understanding, acceptance and compassion such as "have you been able to tell anyone else?" "Do you need help of any kind?" or "Do you feel supported by the adults in your life?" Again, the Safe Space Kit has other suggestions for these moments and for many other ways you can demonstrate that you are a supportive ally to your LGBT students.
Above all, remember that when a student has made the decision to come out to you, they've probably chosen to do so because they trust you. It is important to reassure them of that trust by engaging in this moment with respect, dignity and (as with all you do as a supportive ally), with affirmation.
Happy National Coming Out Day...or any coming out day!
With two month-long celebrations and Ally Week on the calendar, October holds such great possibility for making change in schools. Ironically, though, while thousands of schools across the country will focus their attention on recognizing Bullying Prevention Month with assemblies, special theme days and activities focused on addressing the issue of bullying in a broadly defined sense, fewer will recognize October as LGBT History Month – a strategic time of the school year to include positive representations of LGBT people, history or events in lessons and other school activities – and as a result, achieve outcomes that many strive for in their bullying prevention efforts.
Consider the following outcomes:
Fewer students reporting that they feel unsafe
Fewer students missing school
More students reporting a greater sense of being a part of their school community
Would your school community consider your Bullying Prevention Month efforts a success if you were to achieve these? We all would!
For LGBT students, these outcomes can be achieved by including positive representations of LGBT people, history, or events within the school curriculum. Unfortunately, even though GLSEN’s National School Climate Survey identifies these outcomes as being linked to LGBT-inclusive curriculum, only 16.8% of LGBT students reported having positive representations of LGBT people, history or events in classes.
LGBT History Month is the perfect time to make a special effort to include LGBT content in lessons and activities. This year, why not incorporate both month-long celebrations into your school’s programming? To help, GLSEN has developed resources like the popular Unheard Voices – Stories of LGBT History as well as other lessons and a Guide to Developing LGBT-Inclusive Classroom Resources that can help with the LGBT History aspect of October, while tools like Ready, Set, Respect! and the Safe Space Kit can complement your Bullying Prevention Month activities.
Working together, the recognition of these two months can make a real difference in your school! Happy October!
"There is no LGBT material allowed in the library. There were two books in there last year and the school board had them banned and removed."
Like so many others, this student's statement (from GLSEN's 2011 National School Climate Survey) speaks to the paucity of LGBT-positive resources that students find in school classrooms and libraries across the country. September 22-28 is Banned Books Week, an annual event organized by the American Library Association that celebrates the freedom to read. For GLSEN, this includes the freedom to access LGBT-relevant texts in schools. In recognition of this this week, we asked GLSEN's friend and Young Adult author Tim Federle to share his experiences and thoughts on the subject of banned books. We hope you enjoy Tim's blog post, "When the Book That's Banned is Your Own."
When I was a kid, I turned to books like Bridge to Terabithia and James and the Giant Peach and A Wrinkle in Time to keep me company and keep me sane. These novels featured contemplative kids who didn’t quite fit in—just like me. They shared another distinction, too: each spent time as a banned book.
A couple decades out of middle school, I wrote my own novel for young readers. Told from the perspective of a boy auditioning for a Broadway show, I wanted Better Nate Than Ever to inspire kids to dream big, and to laugh while doing so. And though Nate isn’t a “gay” book—how can a book be attracted to another book?—it does feature a subplot about a teenager who’s starting to notice other boys, and beginning to wonder why.
A refrain kept popping up after Better Nate Than Ever was released this year: librarians who had loved the book, and invited me to visit their students, were suddenly backing out for fear of parental backlash. My own middle school even canceled a long-in-the-works trip, a week before my visit. And I recently read a blog post by a concerned parent who gave Better Nate Than Ever an “Extreme Caution” rating because “homosexuality is presented as normal and natural in this book.”
You bet it is.
All kinds of people deserve all kinds of stories. When you support books that feature diverse kids, you’re telling those kids that you support them, too—that they are, more than anything, okay. The opposite is true when you shut those kinds of books down.
I still think about that canceled trip home. There had to have been at least one kid at my old school who, like me, wondered if there was anyone else like him on earth. Maybe he would have even picked up my book, and read so for himself.
For guidance on creating LGBT-Inclusive Lessons, See GLSEN's Guide to Developing LGBT-Inclusive Classroom Resources
When I was a teacher I used to spend hours prior to the first day of school working to create a visually appealing classroom for my students with spectacularly colorful bulletin boards, displays of former students’ work, inspirational quotes and of course - my classroom expectations. I held the belief that my students would learn something from simply walking into my classroom and I wanted my students to learn in a safe, comfortable and attractive learning environment. As the back to school season approached, I am certain that teachers once again participated in this late summer ritual holding the same belief.
Educators know that classroom environment matters and that their students benefit and learn about many things from the displays they choose to put up in their rooms and in the hallways of their school. GLSEN recognizes this too and for the last three years we have worked to provide educators everywhere with a tool to use in their classroom or office that is designed to help students learn something simple – that that classroom or office is a space in which all students will be safe to be who they are, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity or expression.
Educators who have put these stickers/posters up help students know where in school this will absolutely be the case. Because of supportive educators like you it’s working! LGBT students who can “spot" a sticker (or poster) are more likely to be able to identify many supportive staff in their schools.
This year we’re asking students everywhere to help us “spot the sticker” in schools by sharing an image of the sticker. We want to include educators in this activity too.
To learn how to participate in this campaign, go to glsen.org/spotthesticker.
If you don't have a sticker or poster or want to learn more about its meaning, you can learn more and even download the sticker for free.
All of us at GLSEN wish you and your students a safe and successful school year and thank you for the important role you play in the lives of young people.