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By the time Tricia Friedman was 8, she knew that she was different. She grew up and became an educator, but it took her more than a decade to be out in her career.
People assume that the creator of the How to Be a Better Ally podcast has always been confident and comfortable in her identity. Still, she spent many years worrying about what students or parents would think.
“We really underestimate that internalized message,” Friedman says. “We underestimate how damaging schools have been when it comes to reinforcing gender stereotypes.”
Only 26% of LGBTQ youth always feel safe in their school classrooms, according to the Human Rights Campaign's 2018 LGBTQ Youth Report. Just 5% say all of their teachers and school staff are supportive of LGBTQ people.
In a study, The Trevor Project found that 42% of LGBTQ youth attempted suicide in 2020. Those internalized messages are a big reason why. Everything from word problems in math that never use the pronoun “they” to physical bullying makes life harder for LGBTQ students.
Friedman, whose organization Ally Ed provides professional development to make classrooms more inclusive, says educators often insist that bullying isn't happening at their schools. That's because teachers don't always see it. Bullying can be more prevalent in schools where inclusion isn't openly cultivated.
“We can’t assume students who already see themselves as a problem will speak up,” she says. “The assumption makes it difficult to do the real work.”
That work is essential – not just for students who identify as LGBTQ, but for all students. “It’s important we can coexist with each other,” she says. “The phrase I hear in schools is future-ready. If we want to talk about future-ready, we will have to live, work and learn with people who are different from us. That means more than saying, ‘It’s Pride Month so let’s get the rainbow flag out and tick a box.’ It’s an opportunity to celebrate the learning we can do as a community. This is what school does; we educate.”
Here are some resources for educators ready to look closely at their practice and find ways to be better allies.
Tricia Friedman’s workshops offer school-specific needs, goals and context on the way Toward a More Inclusive Classroom. She also offers a podcast, newsletter, and subject-specific guides for professional development on her Ally Ed site.
Learning for Justice
Best Practices for Serving LGBTQ Students are guidelines that Learning for Justice developed because LGBTQ students who go to school in a fully inclusive environment — where both curriculum and schoolwide policies value their identities — experience more positive outcomes. Students also experience less harassment, feel more valued by school staff and face fewer barriers to success.
“We also know that an LGBTQ-inclusive school benefits all students, Seeing LGBTQ identities valued in the classroom, in the curriculum, and in day-to-day interactions inspires empathy, understanding, and respect,”
This organization works to create gender-sensitive and inclusive environments for all children and teens with a searchable database of resources, including support groups, events, therapy and other services.
The Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network works to ensure that LGBTQ students can learn and grow in a school environment free from bullying and harassment. The GLSEN School Climate Survey, the Educator Network, and the GLSEN Inclusive Curriculum are among the research and educational programs. The Educator Network includes emails highlighting resources and current information on LGBTQ events, including GLSEN’s No Name-Calling Week. The curriculum guide helps educators find places to increase LGBTQ+ representation.
Pride and Less Prejudice.
Teachers can be tremendous allies both in their roles as educators and as affirming adults in the lives of children. That's why Pride and Less Prejudice donates age-appropriate LGBTQ books to PK-3 classrooms.
A Queer Endeavor
A Queer Endeavor is a nationally recognized center for gender and sexual diversity in education, combining more than 30 years of classroom experience with research-based practices.
“LGBTQ people need to be part of the fabric of the school from day one,” says co-founder Bethy Leonardi. “We can’t just change one thing and expect a history of homophobia and transphobia to go away. That involves teachers doing a lot of internal work to make sure they’re engaging in these practices in a way that is beneficial to students.”
Take a quick look at A Queer Endeavor’s Terminology Guide to get started.
School Action Center
National Center for Transgender Equality’s School Action Center offers terminology guides, FAQs, and provides ways to support transgender people, as well as self-help guides.
ISTELive 22 will feature a panel discussion titled Helping LGBTQ+ Folx Thrive in Education Spaces.
Jennifer Snelling is an education blogger based in Eugene, Oregon, who explores how technology enriches and enhances learning.