In the Informed Parents of Austin Facebook Group, the question comes up a lot about how parents and teachers can make sure that they are helping create a safe and inclusive learning environment for LGBTQ students.
I wish I could take credit for having a fabulous list of suggestions, but the truth is there are amazing organizations and writers covering this exact subject on a regular basis. In fact, GLSEN has an entire section of their website dedicated to the most granular level of inclusion topics for educators and you can find them all right here.
Since parents and teachers are some of the busiest people in the world, I’m going to do some cherry-picking of the easiest and most turn-key tips that you can put in place right away. I do encourage you to take a deep dive into the materials I link to though since many of us who are CIS-gender & hetero allies often aren’t aware of the level of discrimination present in even the most seemingly “everyday” parts of the education system.
Most of these tips are for things educators can do within their schools and classrooms, so it’s up to parents to inquire if these inclusion efforts are taking place and to supply requests and recommendations. One of the most important things you can do is to simply write a note to your school principal and teacher letting them know that you support any efforts they are making to support diversity of every kind in their school. Also, attend and speak up at PTA meetings, CAC (Campus Advisory Council) meetings, School Board meetings and check to see if your school has a SHAC (School Health Advisory Council.) In a nutshell: Get Informed & Get Involved.
How to Incorporate Inclusion In Your Classroom
Points directly from “Ready, Set, Respect! GLSEN’s Elementary School Toolkit
- Have books in the classroom that celebrate diversity and demonstrate women and men outside of gender stereotypes. Ex: Female engineers, male ballet dancers, etc.
- Be conscious of hetero-normative or gender-normative images or viewpoints in the classroom: Ex: assumptions that boys will grow up to marry women, expectation that boys will play with blocks and girls will focus on dramatic play in the kitchen. This also extends to expectations for what kids wear, how long their hair is, etc.
- Find ways of grouping and lining up students other than by “boy / girl”: Instead arrange classes by birthday month or count of groups by 1, 2, etc.
- Monitor choice activity time to ensure that students are not being segregated by gender.
- Use inclusive language when referring to students, families or others outside of the classroom. Ex: Don’t assume that all children have a mom & dad at home. Many are being raised by same sex parents, non-binary parents, grandparents, single parents, foster families, etc.
- Become more aware of the ways that you support gender stereotypes in expectations of students and their work and intervene when you hear students making gender based assumptions. (Ex: Do you naturally assume that boys or girls will not participate in certain tasks or activities?)
- Write math problems with contexts that include a variety of family structures and gender expressions. Ex: “Rosa and her dads were at the store and wanted to buy three boxes of past. If each costs $.75 hwo much would all three boxes cost?” Could adjust to include grandparents, foster parents, aunts, step-parents to include a variety of family structures.
- Visual cues in the clasroom: Help your students feel safe and included by displaying LGBT-related visuals, such as Safe Space posters or stickers, inclusive books and decorations, LGBT pride flags, LGBT historic figures and di-verse families and faces. Source: GLSEN
- Additional examples of ways to present visible signs of allyship: “Add a rainbow button or ally sticker to your badge or lanyard. Only 13% of youth hear positive messages about being LGBTQ in school. You can change that by showing your support because actions can be really loud, especially for those kids who need to see and hear signs of acceptance.” Source: Scary Mommy
- Support Gay-Straight Alliances (GSAs) GSAs, and similar student clubs, can have a huge impact on LGBT students and the entire school. If you already have a GSA, find out how you can help. No GSA at your school? Encourage interested students to visit GLSEN.org/students for information, resources and guidance. Source: GLSEN
- Remove Gendered Language: “…..instead of saying “boys and girls,” try using “friends,” “team,” “distinguished students,” or “eager learners” to address a group. When separating a class, do so by shirt color, or favorite ice cream flavor, or household pets. There are so many ways to speak to children that tell them you see them for who they are and not the gender you assume them to be.Source: Scary Mommy
- Use Pronouns: “Adding your pronouns to name tags, stating pronouns during introductions, and starting lessons with your pronouns are great ways to establish respect for all identities in your classroom. It can be as simple as this: “Hi, my name is Ms./Mrs. Smith. I use she/her pronouns.” (Female identity.)” Source: Scary Mommy
How to Actively Address Hurtful Words and Conversations
The folliwng is an excerpt of an article on Scary Mommy by Amber Leventry which gives some excellent examples of how to address hurtful comments at school, or at home.
Kids have lots of opinions, many of which aren’t really their own — they repeat what they hear at home or what their friends say. After working with a wide range of kids, here are some hurtful things I have heard kids say and how I redirected them:
“Ew! Gross! Boys can’t marry each other!”
“Actually, boys can marry each other, but not until they are older. You have lots of time to still be a kid, but sometimes a man and a woman fall in love and sometimes two women or two men fall in love. Everyone is allowed to get married in this country. It’s the law.”
“You can’t have two moms! That’s weird.”
“Yes, someone can have two moms. My kids have two moms. It’s not weird, but it is different than the mom and dad family you know and see all of the time. Kids can have two dads. There are lots of ways to be a family. The important thing is that everyone loves each other.”
“That’s so gay.” or “Faggot!” or “I heard she’s a lesbo.” or“He looks like a tranny.”
“The words you are using are offensive. There is a chance the person you are referring to identifies as lesbian, bisexual, transgender, or queer but unless they ask you to give them a certain label, it is not your responsibility to do so. I am happy to help you understand why these terms are inappropriate or help you understand what LGBTQ labels mean to most people.”
We’ll continue to add more suggestions and welcome your suggestions on how to create welcoming, inclusive environments for ALL kids at school.