Teachers, Your LGBTQ+ Students Need You to Do More Than Wear a Rainbow T-Shirt or Wave a Flag on Pride Weekend

The LGBT community is made up of a diverse group of people. On top of a wide array of gender identities, sexual orientations, and identities are a wide variety of cultures. While all of these identities are valid, many schools don’t make an effort to understand their importance or provide appropriate support. But how can a school or state ensure that all of their students feel safe and supported? The answer lies in implementing an environment where students can feel comfortable expressing their identity and where teachers support and encourage all of their students to be themselves.

In 2010, the federal government allowed students to freely choose which bathroom and locker room they wanted to use without facing discrimination. Since then, the U.S. Department of Education has repeatedly tried to repeal this policy, and the president has tried to ban transgender students from using the bathroom that matches their gender identity.

We’ve all heard the litany of excuses that teachers use to avoid doing the work they’re supposed to do: you didn’t give us enough time to prepare, you cut us too much slack, we don’t have the proper resources, we’re not trained correctly, etc. But the truth is, if you want to stand with the rest of us, you need to do more than just wear a rainbow shirt.

word-image-5477 It’s June, which means it’s Pride month! In a year when many elected officials and school districts are more determined than ever to bring homophobia to the forefront and enforce heteronormative policies in K-12 schools, we all need to do more. I’m sorry to break the news to you, but a performance alliance won’t accomplish anything this year. In thinking about this question, I came up with three basic questions we should all ask ourselves to evaluate our commitment to LGBTQ+ issues: Are we integrating the cultural, historical, and life experiences of LGBTQ+ people of color into our curriculum? According to the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), five states have successfully passed legislation to include LGBTQ+ history standards in their school programs.

While this is an important step, we still need to do our part to de-center whiteness by introducing our students to the untold and hidden stories of influential LGBTQ+ people of color. This means that when we talk to our students about the contributions of Harvey Milk and Gilbert Baker, we should also point out the important role that activists Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera played in the Stonewall riots that led to the annual Pride parades we celebrate around the world every June. As a kid, I grew up celebrating the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. every January at school, but I never learned about Bayard Rustin until I was an adult.

Even today, if I were to mention the name Bayard Rustin to ten random students, I am sure that at least nine of them would not know who this man is. How can we continue to celebrate the legacy of Dr. King each year in our schools without honoring the name of Bayard Rustin? Imagine how important it would be for your young black gay students to learn that an openly gay man in the civil rights era played a major role in shaping the legacy of the American icon we honor each January. Imagine how proud they would be of themselves if they knew this story! Our classroom libraries should include LGBTQ+ children’s books and literature that serve as windows and mirrors for Indigenous, Black, and other students of color.

How do we address or respond to the increase in violence and anti-trans attitudes in our school communities? Although President Biden signed an executive order in January to extend protections against discrimination to gender identity, the reality is that LGBTQ+ students are still two to three times more likely to be bullied or harassed than their same-sex peers. This pattern of violence is even more pronounced among black and Latino transgender students.  In a 2015 survey of transgender Americans, the National Center for Transgender Equality reported that about 75 percent of black and Latino transgender people had experienced bullying and harassment while in school. In addition, more than 100 anti-transgender bills have been introduced in several states. Below are two examples of these bills:

  • A bill has been introduced in Arkansas that would ban transgender girls from participating in sports programs that match their gender identity, and another bill requires teachers to call students only by their biological sex.
  • The state of Tennessee has introduced two bills that would allow parents to exclude their children from classes on LGBTQ issues and prohibit teachers from discussing these issues in their classrooms.

In short, the lives of LGBTQ+ people are under physical and political attack, and will continue to be so after Pride month. And we need to understand that the deliberate perpetuation of heteronormative social norms by right-wing politicians and other homophobes is symptomatic of a white supremacist culture. How do we build our knowledge base and capacity on LGBTQ+ issues? To actively support our LGBTQ+ colleagues, we must recognize that homophobic and heteronormative behavior is widespread in our elementary and secondary schools. At the heart of this fight for justice is proactive and sustainable capacity building. Don’t know how or where to start? Here are some steps you can take:

  • Listen to the Making Gay History podcast to learn more about influential figures in LGBTQ+ history.
  • Support the Equality Act to combat discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation.
  • Watch the documentaries Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson and Brother Outsider: The life and times of Bayard Rustin.
  • Add these books to your personal library:
    • Michael Bronsky A Gay History of the United States
    • Audre Lorde, Sister Outsider and Zami: The new spelling of my name
    • Gloria Anzaldúa Borders/La Frontera: The new half-breed
    • James Baldwin tells it on the mountain

To my well-meaning cisgender teachers who wear rainbow t-shirts, wave pride flags, and participate in pride parades in their city to show support for their LGBTQ+ students and colleagues, I do NOT say: don’t do it. But don’t let that be the limit of the effort. We must use our cisgender privilege to push for systemic change and stand in solidarity with our LGBTQ+ students and colleagues. Photo by Jacob Lund, licensed by Adobe Stock.After the mass shooting in a high school in Parkland, Florida, teachers and educators in the United States have been vocal about the need for stricter gun control legislation.

As a result, some schools have added security measures, including arming school resource officers. However, this has resulted in some people questioning the motives behind this policy. As a result, a number of teachers have decided to participate in “walk-outs” as a way to express their feelings. The walk-outs began as one in Tallahassee, Florida, on March 14, 2018, where future teachers filled the streets wearing all black with red hearts on their t-shirts. Other protests have been held in states like Arizona, Kentucky and Missouri.. Read more about nasp lgbtq and let us know what you think.

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