Making Schools Safer For LGBTQ+ Youth: A list Of Suggestions
How can we make schools safe for the LGBTQ community? The Center of Disease Control (CDC)1 has listed four main objectives in order to create safe schools for LGBT people: defining the concepts used to describe queer experiences, identifying the source of health disparities such discrimination and stressors, recognizing the influence of school environments by outlining risk factors and protective factors, and finally, implementing school policies that are supportive and inclusive of queer students. How are schools doing in regards to these standards?
What are current resources for LGBT youth?
A few main types of resources are common. Many schools, though not all, have a LGBT community center or student-run clubs typically known as GSA or Genders and Sexualities Alliance. Depending on the size of the schools, clubs are sometimes divided by identity (specifically catering to gay men, lesbians, bisexuals, transgender people, intersex folks, asexual folks etc.). The objective here is to foster a sense of belonging among the marginalized identities and typically, host activist events.
Safezone training programs aim to teach professors and staff to be more aware of queer topics and stigma that they may witness. They generally take up a couple of hours, with trained facilitators, and are engaged through presentations, workshops, and exercises to make queer experiences clearer to understand.
Finally, anti-bullying campaigns are run to both support bullied LGBT individuals in recognizing the harassment they are suffering and instruct bystanders on how to intervene safely. The spread of this information can be, for example, within classrooms or through informative posters around the school building.
These three types of initiatives do provide proper support, but have their shortcomings: the burden of running GSAs fall onto LGBT+ students feeling safe enough to assemble for such a space; safezone trainings typically do not require any follow-ups; and anti-bullying campaigns perhaps lack some interpersonal connection between students.
Innovating and standardizing LGBT+ safety
GSAs could be expanded beyond a common meeting space by including peer mentorships and online networks. Peer mentorship could help support the mental health of those that are struggling by pairing them with well-adjusted upperclassmen, that may be knowledgeable about the resource center for queer people at the school. Digital networks can be quite useful as well -- online platforms, surveyed by mental healthcare professionals and designed for students to anonymously ask questions or receive support, could create a safe space to address topics free of judgment. Such an initiative is already active in a country like Switzerland’s ciao.ch.
Creating accountability through follow-ups on student demands, school trainings, and policies, by a special committee, would allow for sustainable, long-term plans for protecting LGBT+ youth. Accountability restores and maintains trust between the administrative body and students. Proper logging of efforts supports that accountability. For instance, elaborating an assessment of LGBTQ climate on campus based on homophobia, transphobia, ease of use of human services, confidence in school protection, etc, could lead an institution to see its progress and address gaps in new infrastructures as they emerge. The benefit of a committee of mixed roles between staff, teachers and students, as well as perhaps involving local independent LGBTIQ+ organizations is the opportunity for multiple viewpoints when facing the problem.
Finally, accompanying anti-bullying campaigns with proper crisis intervention task forces to productively change behavior and relationships among students can help. Trained staff who are knowledgeable in LGBTIQ+ topics could also provide support to bullied students. This extends further -- devising a crisis plan addressing bullying that aims to prevent future offenses and not simply punishing the specific incident, could lead to healthier peer relationships.
Highlighting intersectionality in LGBT school safety
An important step moving forward is also deconstructing the LGBT community as a monolith in terms of needs and togetherness and recognizing the breadth of LGBT identities that exist. Although core values of equality, safety, justice, and support should guide all LGBT efforts, it is important to acknowledge specific struggles and communal needs beyond being a lesbian or a non-binary person, but also having an ethnic, religious, economic, political identity or ability status.
It is difficult, and sometimes impossible, to imagine the needs of others. This is where encouraging student advocacy, and responding with support, allows a dialogue to keep generating positive benefits.