Supporting LGBTQ+ Students
Teaching During the Pandemic
As we know all too well, the pandemic has created enormous stress on families and students around the world. While all students learning remotely are faced with new challenges, our LGBTQ+ students may be at particular risk, especially if they are in homes where they feel unsafe or not accepted. Some students who may feel free to express their sexual orientation and gender identity at school may feel unsafe to do so at home. Some students who relied on the affirming love and acceptance of supportive teachers, mentors, and peers at school may feel increasingly isolated.
Image by Ms. Blais (inspired by a lesson from Craig Hinshaw, from the November 2017 issue of SchoolArts magazine).
For all of our students, school is much more than curriculum. School can be (and should be) a safe space to be with supportive teachers, mentors, and peers. Learning and pride in oneself can come in the many social interactions that our students normally engage in while physically at school—classroom and small-group discussions, sharing meals, the one-on-one support of fellow students and adults. The lack of these social interactions in today’s virtual classrooms can be detrimental for any student’s well-being, but LGBTQ+ students may be especially vulnerable.
You can help by checking with your principal, supervisors, and colleagues to make sure that there is a plan in place, along with helpful guidelines, to ensure support for LGBTQ+ students during these challenging times. Some ways you can help:
- If you don’t have a Gay-Straight Alliance, see if you can start one. If you do have one, make sure that there is a way for students to participate from home. Gay-Straight Alliances will allow your students to interact with people who accept them.
- Be sensitive to using students’ preferred names and pronouns verbally in video/online classrooms. Some students may not feel safe in their homes using their preferred names and pronouns. You may want to check with students using a chat feature or email.
- Check in with students to make sure they are okay. Reassure them that this is a stressful time for everyone and that they are not alone. If your school district allows sending personal notes home, you may want to send notes to your students. Connecting with students who may be in unsupportive environments will help to promote their safety and well-being, and can be lifesaving.
- Rethink practices that reinforce a gender dichotomy. For example, instead of saying, “Good morning, boys and girls,” try saying, “Good morning, everyone!” Writers across the spectrum now regularly use “their” rather than “his or her.”
- Recommend LGBTQ+ friendly books, movies, podcasts, or TV series: Representation can help your students feel less alone. Some book lists can be found at:
- You can also check out lists of recommended movies, podcasts, and TV series for LGBTQ+ students, such as this list of LGBTQ+ movies for teens.
- Encourage students to use online support resources, such as the It Gets Better Project. The site includes “an endless stream of inspiring stories shared by people just like you.” It also includes a Get Help page to identify local community resources, as well as links for support for Black youth; all youth of color; migrants, refugees, and asylees; and trans GNC (gender nonconforming) youth.
- Discuss current events with your students. There is no dearth of current events that have an impact on social justice and many positive changes are happening:
- The recent Supreme Court ruling protecting LGBTQ+ employees from discrimination in the workplace.
- The worldwide protests against systemic racism and in support of social justice.
- The protests for social justice for Black Trans people.
- Covid-19 and how it has exposed systemic injustice in terms of health and economic security.
- Help students connect with mental health and self-care resources. Trevor Lifeline provides a direct service to LGBTQ+ youth who are feeling hopeless or suicidal. The number is: 1-866-488-7386. Students can also use Chat/Text services at TheTrevorProject.org/Help.
The pandemic will continue to create stress when you and your students return to schools with new social distancing protocols. As your school makes plans for students to return to schools, you will want to ensure that those plans include thinking about how to support LGBTQ+ students.
And, with or without the pandemic, these are always good practices for supporting LGBTQ+ students:
- Explicitly include artworks by LGBTQ+ artists as part of your core curriculum. Share the artists’ stories in their own words. In the same way that you would discuss an artist’s culture or personal and artistic struggles, you can discuss an artist’s sexual orientation or gender identity. We all feel more accepted when we learn about people who are like us.
- Check out Davis Publications’ Curator’s Corner. This month, the blog’s author, Karl Cole, is including weekly posts on LGBTQ+ artists, including these on Jasper Johns, South African photographer Zanele Muholi, and Chinese photographer Shen Wei. In 2019, Karl featured African American fashion designer Patrick Kelly.
- Be vigilant against possible bullying or derogatory language. You may want to use bullying situations as teachable moments. It’s hard to change attitudes—especially those that are reinforced in the home—but the more that your students are exposed to literature, biographies, films, and information about LGBTQ+ people, the more they may come to accept their LGBTQ+ classmates and understand their challenges.
- Always be sensitive to calling out specific students. For example, if you’re reading a book about a lesbian character, don’t assume that a student who identifies herself as a lesbian wants to be called on to comment on the book. Take your signal from students. Encourage openness and honesty, but don’t put students on the spot.
- Always emphasize the right of all individuals to be respected, to feel safe, and to express themselves.
Finally, ensure that your school or school district provides meaningful, substantive training in best practices for supporting LGBTQ+ students. We all have our own biases, histories, and experiences that influence our teaching and our interactions with our students. The more that you learn about helping LGBTQ+ students find their voice and take pride in themselves, the better you will be at helping your students achieve their full potential.