Supporting LGBTQ+ students from grade school to grad school

All students deserve to have a safe and supportive environment to learn and develop, making inclusion efforts important from elementary school all the way to higher education.

In light of Pride Month, here’s a look at why supporting LGBTQ+ students is so important, the role of schools and educators, and how educational leaders can train faculty and staff to better support students.

LGBTQ+ students are at greater risk

Elementary Students

A GLSEN report found that 1 in 8 students did not conform to “traditional” gender roles, and that these children faced more hostile learning environments than their peers. Gender nonconforming elementary students were more likely to have mean rumors or lies spread about them, and to say that they had missed school in the past month because they felt unsafe.

Middle School

Another GLSEN report had similar findings for middle school students. LGBT middle school students regularly experience bullying and harassment, and report little intervention by middle school staff. Compared to LGBT high school students, middle schoolers are less likely to have access to school-based resources.

High School

The CDC has found that lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) high school youth experience:

  • More violence victimization
  • Higher suicide risk
  • More bullying at school compared to heterosexual youth

LGB high school students are as much as three times more likely to have attempted suicide than heterosexual students.

Higher Education

A 2018 survey of more than 180,000 undergraduate and graduate students found that nearly 17% identified as gay, lesbian, bisexual, asexual, queer, or questioning. This population is more likely to experience harassing behavior, intimate partner violence, and stalking. Nearly a quarter of LGBTQ college students fear for their physical safety due to their gender identity or perceived sexual orientation.

The impact of feeling “seen”

Research shows students who report a high sense of belonging in school generally put in more effort and are more motivated. Those who don’t feel this sense of belonging are more likely to have behavioral issues, use alcohol and other drugs, participate in violence, or even drop out of school.

Connection and belonging creates safe spaces where students can be themselves, grow, develop, and learn. It’s essential for schools to make efforts to support LGBTQ+ students, and other at-risk groups, so that they can realize their potential.

How schools are supporting LGBTQ+ students

Schools are recognizing the importance of belonging, especially for at-risk students like those who identify as LGBTQ+. This can be seen in curriculum changes, school support groups, and other school resources.

California was the first state to require that the teaching of history and social science accurately portrays LGBTQ+ people and their identities. Five other states have since joined with their own LGBTQ-inclusive curriculum legislation. Representation matters, and when students see their identities represented in the classroom, it can help foster a sense of inclusion and belonging.

Programs like The Safe Schools Program for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and Questioning Students in Massachusetts provides training and resources to students and staff in response to concerns about LGBTQ youth suicides and other risk factors. This is a state-wide program, but some programs are sponsored by districts or even individual schools.

Students, with support from schools, are also taking action. School groups and student-led organizations like Genders & Sexualities Alliances (GSAs) can help build community and empower students to take action in addressing issues that impact them.

As published in the American Educator journal, “Public schools often lead the way for the broader society in modeling inclusiveness and pluralism.” It’s important for school systems and educational leaders to take the lead and support LGBTQ+ students.

The role of educators

Legislature, curriculum, and school organizations are all important in building a more inclusive school community, but the student-teacher relationship is arguably the most important contributor to a student’s sense of belonging.

Teachers play an important role in students’ lives. If a student has a positive relationship with a teacher, there are positive and long-lasting implications for students’ academic and social development.

Forming meaningful connections with students is powerful, so it’s important for teachers to understand how to approach students who may be victimized because of their gender identity or sexual orientation. That’s why many districts, schools, and higher education institutions are providing training opportunities that give educators knowledge and skills that empower them to better serve their LGBTQ+ students.

LGBTQ+ professional development for educators

Kognito uses evidence-based techniques and role-play conversations with virtual humans to provide powerful and engaging learning experiences for educators. Two of our learning experiences specifically address the LGBTQ+ population:

  • PK-12: Step In, Speak Up! – An interactive role-play simulation for educators builds understanding and appreciation for the challenges faced by LGBTQ+ youth, and prepares users to lead real-life conversations with students to curtail harassment and support those who may be struggling as a result of bullying or isolation.
  • Higher Education: Cultivating Inclusive Communities – This  DEI simulation moves beyond definitions to offer users a safe environment to practice effective communication skills that create brave spaces, allowing for courageous conversations that help develop an inclusive campus community.

Want to see the power of virtual simulation in action? Request a demo today.

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