I am writing about an issue of the utmost import, one that I feel is coming to an almost fever pitch, and that is yet to be checked: sexual orientation inclusivity in schools. I am referencing our commitment as educators and education advocates to ensuring our schools are places where every single student feels authentically embraced, and that our systems of support are designed to address the challenges students may face as they relate to their sexual orientation.
While federal laws ban discrimination on the basis of race, color, sex, religion, disability, and national origin, they do not explicitly cover sexual orientation or gender identity. As a result, LGBTQ students and their parents have few legal options when faced with school-based discrimination. They often deal with hurdles that not only threaten their access to academic opportunity, but also their sense of security and well-being. Bullying, depression, marginalization, and suicide are all tragic realities that can arise when classrooms, playgrounds, and school offices are not welcoming and supportive of all students.
According to GLSEN, 80 percent of LGBTQ students are harassed at school each year and experience six times higher rates of suicide attempts than comparable cisgender persons. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s 2015 National Youth Risk Behavior Survey also highlighted:
- 10 percent were threatened or injured with a weapon on school property;
- 34 percent were bullied on school property;
- 28 percent were bullied electronically; and
- 50.9 percent were prevented from using their preferred name/pronoun (19.9 percent of LGBT students overall)
This reality is deeply disturbing. District leadership must take the lead on creating school environments where acceptance and inclusion are the norm.
But where to start? Bold and eloquent statements about inclusivity in and of themselves will not create an environment of inclusivity. Anti-bullying policies alone will not create an environment of inclusivity. Rainbow stickers and hashtags in isolation will fall woefully short in creating an environment of inclusivity.
Colleagues, what will get us to where we need to be in this matter—where students of all sexual orientations can learn, thrive, and excel—is a commitment to creating such an environment.
Ask yourself these questions to help you arrive at where you need to be:
- Have you ensured that schools are safe spaces for students of all orientations?
- What resources and professional development have you invested to foster these safe spaces?
- What have you done to ensure your staff and district are prepared and able to effectively provide not only a supportive environment, but an LGBTQ-inclusive curriculum as well as an enforceable, comprehensive anti-bullying policy?
If the answer to any of these questions gives you pause, I encourage you to up your commitment to educating all staff and students, and to form partnerships with organizations that can help you foster safe spaces for students in a way that is positive, uplifting. Assure students that you are unwavering in ensuring that they feel safe and embraced.