As educators, you empower students to succeed. You equip them with life skills necessary to tackle future educational and career pursuits. There are no more important skills for future success than empathy, understanding, and respect for others, especially those marginalized within their peer groups.
According to a 2017 study by the Center for Disease Control, U.S. students who identify as lesbian, gay, or bisexual are more likely to be bullied, on school property and online. About 33% of LGB students report having been bullied on school property, with 27.1% of LGB students reporting being bullied online. In contrast, 17.1% of heterosexual students were bullied on school property, and 13.3% were bullied online. Additionally, LGB students are more likely to avoid school for safety concerns.
To commemorate Pride Month, we have compiled a list of ways you can be a safe harbor to LGBTQ+ students.
- Educate yourself: Before you can be a true advocate for LGBTQ+ students you need to educate yourself on current issues these students are facing. As cited above, LGBTQ+ students are much more likely to face bullying in schools, are more likely to be pressured into sex, and are at a significantly higher risk for teen suicide. Being aware of these issues can help you be aware protect these students from potentially harmful and dangerous situations. Additionally, many non-profits and government agencies have published training resources to help teachers understand and protect their LGBTQ+ students. Here are some top resources to get you started:
- Be proactive with safety: Because of the increased risks LGBTQ+ students face in school daily; it is crucial that you explicitly create a safe space. People who belong to traditionally marginalized groups often expect discrimination as the default. Proactively addressing these issues will be much more effective than tackling an issue after it arises. To set classroom expectations, it’s completely appropriate to discuss this openly on the first day of class, or the start of a new semester. Be explicit and direct, for example, “In my classroom, no student will be bullied, excluded, or devalued due to race, sexual orientation, religion, etc.” Make sure students know that you are on their side and remove the problem before it begins.
- Leave visual cues: Visual reminders of your love and support for LGBTQ+ students can do wonders.
A small rainbow magnet placed on your whiteboard may not draw attention to non-LGBTQ+ students, but will serve as a powerful reminder to those in the LGBTQ+ community. Schools across the United States have even adopted the official “Safe Harbor” symbol. This can be placed on your door, or within your classroom. When marginalized students need an ally, they’ll look for those who show signs of their support.
- Don’t draw attention: Coming out and discussing their sexuality is a significant step for members of the LGBTQ+ community. All students should be able to decide the time and way this topic is discussed. Never infer or draw attention to a student’s sexual orientation. Even positive and well-intentioned comments can bring unnecessary, and often unwelcome, attention that the student may not want. Anything revealed to you in confidence should also not be shared with parents, other students, administrators, or fellow teachers, unless express permission is obtained from the student, or you believe the student to be in imminent physical danger.
- Widen the circle: You absolutely want your classroom to be a safe space for LGBTQ+ students. But imagine how much more uplifting their education experience would be if students could come to school and feel welcome in every class? Once you become an advocate for LGBTQ+ youth, you can extend your influence by educating fellow teachers and administrators. Tell teachers about the resources linked above. Help them learn more about the issues these students face and prepare them to create their own safe harbors. But you don’t need to stop at school. Help students discover safe spaces within their community. Many resources, such as the Trevor Project, have helplines for LGBTQ+ students who are bullied or contemplating suicide. By helping students understand what resources are available, you can keep students safe, even after they walk out of your classroom each day.
You can act today to advocate for LGBTQ+ students. As a teacher, you can be a powerful agent for change. Be the resource your students need. Be their safe harbor.