Making Your Classroom a Safe Space for LGBTQ+ StudentsJune 1, 2021
To mark Pride Month, take a look at these tips for making sure LGBTQ+ students feel safe and included in the classroom.
One goal all educators should have in common: making every student feel safe and included at school. There are specific things teachers can do to promote inclusivity and create a tolerant, kind classroom where LGBTQ+ students feel comfortable. For example:
Be yourself, so students know they can too.
“I come out to my students every year on the first day of class,” says Nick Peruski (MI ’19), who teachers math, business and technology at Lakeland High School in White Lake, Michigan, and is gay. “I want my students to see that it is okay to be themselves, that they don’t have to hide.” Being open about his own sexuality has also allowed students to feel safe approaching him for help: “I have been able to help some students through some rough situations and connect them with appropriate support and resources.”
Ask students how they want to be addressed.
A Queer Endeavor, which advises educators on creating safe learning environments for LGBTQ+ youth, suggests starting the school year by having students write down their preferred name and pronouns on an index card, rather than asking them to announce it in front of the whole class. Change all your lists to reflect their preferences, and make sure to alert substitutes when you’re out. And set the example by letting students know what you want them to call you, and your own preferred pronouns.
Show that you’re an ally.
Melissa Fike (MO ’19) has a “Safe Space” sticker from GLSEN (The Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network) posted prominently in her math classroom at Oakland Middle School in Columbia, Missouri. Gina Benz (SD ’15) makes her support public, too: In her English classroom at Roosevelt High School in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, she proudly displays a button from Free Mom Hugs, a group that provides support for LGBTQ+ children.
Avoid gendered language.
Instead of saying “boys and girls” or “ladies and gentlemen” when talking to your students, find context-appropriate labels: scholars, scientists, writers, artists, etc.
Make LGBTQ+ people and stories part of your curriculum.
Notes GLSEN: “Inclusive curricular content, as both window and mirror, can help create a more positive environment and healthy self-concept for LGBTQ+ students while also raising the awareness of all students.” A good start: adding to your library to offer students books with LGBTQ+ characters and themes, such as the volumes on these suggested reading lists from Welcoming Schools, We Are Teachers and Good Housekeeping.
Create groups by interest.
If you need to divide the class into sections, use neutral groupings that avoid gender completely: birth month, favorite pizza toppings or ice cream flavors, or cats vs. dogs.
Celebrate and protect LGBTQ+ students.
Don’t ignore pink hair, nail polish, rainbow pins and other outward expressions of their identity. Let them know you see them and think they’re wonderful! If you hear divisive or hurtful comments in your classroom community, call it out immediately and let everyone know it’s unacceptable. The most important thing you can do for students who feel vulnerable is to protect them from bullying and harassment.
Many schools and districts are working with organizations like A Queer Endeavor and GLSEN for professional development opportunities focused on inclusivity. If yours hasn’t gotten there yet, ask administrators to put it on their to-do list.
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