Support LGBTQ+ Youth in Schools
By Dana Kaplan
Across the country and here in Vermont, crowds of students gathered in various states of frenzy for their first day of school. Outside the building of my kids’ elementary school, the mix of excitement, potential, and uncertainty was palpable as friends joyfully reunited and teachers greeted students. I was overwhelmed with big back-to-school feelings, and all the while, what was in the forefront of my mind? The many young people for whom school just doesn’t work.
Every day at Outright, LGBTQ+ youth share stories illuminating the realities they face - stories that may not be immediately visible to others but reverberate silently in every corner of their halls.
Vermont’s 2021 Youth Risk Behavior Survey reveals the truth about the experience of LGBTQ+ students compared to their cisgender/heterosexual peers.
In high school, LGBTQ+ youth were:
- 3.5 times more likely to purposefully hurt themselves in the last month (46% vs. 13%)
- Over 3.5 times more likely to have made a suicide plan in the past month (29% vs. 8%)
In middle school, LGBTQ+ students were:
- More than three times as likely to have ever hurt themselves on purpose (37% vs. 11%)
- More than three times as likely to have made a suicide plan in the last 12 months (27% vs. 8%)
The combined reality of youth stories and this harrowing data speaks the truth loud and clear: school can be a place of tremendous anxiety, fear, and systemic and structural exclusion for many LGBTQ+ youth. We must do better.
We have an unshakable vision.
It’s a world where LGBTQ+ youth have boundless possibilities for joy, and all people know liberation.
I invite you to imagine that world as if we live in it today. Visualize a school where:
- LGBTQ+ youth belong. Period.
- Young people feel safe because they are safe.
- Curriculum includes the history and contributions of LGBTQ+ artists, creators, makers, advocates, activists, leaders, and more.
- Teachers, administrators, and staff are deep in dialogue and training, over and over again, feeling confident in their role as supportive adults.
- District and school-wide policies have been co-created with LGBTQ+youth, transforming the climate from exclusive to inclusive on all levels.
It’s all within our grasp because it’s within us to create change.
In adrienne maree brown’s writing, she opens attention liberation: a commitment, a year of practice with this beautifully simple truth:
“what we give attention to grows. what we pay attention to grows”
The wisdom of these words is an invitation and a reminder that the path to reach our vision is just as simple: Align our actions with our values.
- Center LGBTQ+ Youth: Create opportunities for LGBTQ+ youth to share their expertise and actively engage in school-based culture and climate change.
- Comprehensive Training: Ensure professional development opportunities give educators the time, space, knowledge, and budgets they need to integrate affirming practices across all marginalized identities into their classrooms.
- Celebrate Through Curriculum: Teach about LGBTQ+ history, notable figures, and contributions throughout the year. Representation matters in the ability to learn - just ask a young person.
- Create Affinity Spaces: Dedicate spaces within schools where LGBTQ+ students can access resources, support, or even just a reassuring environment amidst it all. Research solutions that create welcoming environments throughout the school.
- Support Student-Led Initiatives: Champion the formation and sustainability of student-led groups like Gender and Sexuality Alliances. They offer direct community connections and leadership opportunities for students who join as well as promote resilience and a positive climate school-wide.
- Review Policies to Address Needs and Harm: Ensure school policies evolve regularly to explicitly guard against bias, discrimination, bullying, or harassment rooted in sexual orientation, gender identity, and/or expression.
While the new school year excitement is big and the energy fresh - consider the multitude of ways we can create a world where LGBTQ+ youth have boundless possibilities for joy and all people know liberation.
Here’s a reminder of the impact you will have:
"You get to feel valid and totally accepted. It provides a safe space for you to be you! It's important to me because it feels really important to educate the world about LGBTQ+."
- LGBTQ+ youth
"One year ago, we were dealing with suicidal thoughts. Last week we were sitting in a packed theater together watching a film about a trans kid. It's so cool and I am so grateful. I don't need to understand, I just need to love. That's my job." - Parent of trans-identified student
I find solace in knowing that our actions create ripples of change. May we continue forging ahead and contributing to school environments where every student feels seen, heard, and celebrated. When we are seen for our authentic selves, the impact is profound.