- Other school-based groups interested in civil and human rights issues.
- Supportive faculty, administrators, and staff (guidance counselors, social workers, nurses, librarians, cafeteria and maintenance staff, etc.).
- Supportive community individuals and groups such as community-based LGBT support groups, local PFLAG (Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays), religious, legal, and business organizations, etc.
- Local colleges with “diversity, “multicultural, or “social justice programs.
- Other schools in your area that have begun to address these issues.
Once you contact your potential allies, ask them to begin networking with other people,, educating their friends and colleagues about the issues facing LGBT students.
Sometimes, people are “passively supportive. They may believe that addressing LGBT student concerns are important, but they do not know how to express their approbation and they do not know that you need and want their assistance.
It is important to reach out to members of your school and community, telling them that you want them to join you in coalition, telling them what they can do to help make your school safer for all students.
These people can help LGBT students, and can also help build consensus within the school and community that it is important to address these issues.
Supporters can write letters. Consider soliciting letters of support and appreciation from a variety of people including students, teachers, administrators, parents, alumni, influential community members, politicians, religious leaders, pediatricians, and other health professionals.
These letters can inspire other people to offer their support and can assure hesitant members of the school administration, staff, or community that there is already broad-based support for addressing these issues.
If school administrators only hear from a few but loud voices of opposition, they may think that the community in general is more resistant to LGBT student safety than it actually is.
Supporters can help LGBT students in numerous other ways. Here are a few suggestions:
- Communities can hold a public forum on issues effecting these young people.
- Some communities have Youth Commissions that meet regularly to discuss a range of issues of concern to youth. They could begin to look at the problems unique to LGBT youth.
- Communities and schools can create task forces dedicated to addressing the needs of young LGBTs. (For example, a Superintendent’s Task Force on LGBT Students.)
- Stores, restaurants, community groups, and individuals can sponsor “Gay/Straight Alliances providing food for meetings, donating T-shirts, etc. For example, a local PFLAG chapter donated books for the library at Cape Cod Technical High School on behalf of their Gay/Straight Alliance.
- Everyone can use inclusive, affirming, and gender-neutral language when referring to sexuality and human relationships in every-day speech, on written forms, etc. Say the words “lesbian, “gay, “bisexual, and “transgender each day in a positive way.
- Teachers can incorporate issues relevant to the LGBT experience in the curricula.
- Volunteer to become a faculty advisor of a “Gay/Straight Alliance at your school.
- Invite the student newspaper on your campus to include articles about issues effecting LGBT students and about your Gay/Straight Alliance to increase students’ understanding of the issues.
- Religious organizations can hold rap groups for LGBT youth, and donate space for community-based support groups.
- Members of the Parents Teacher Organization and Parent Advisory Board can address LGBT student safety issues in their meetings and newsletters.
- Teachers and school staff can establish themselves as allies. Some teachers have put up stickers in their classrooms that have a pink triangle and the word “ally printed on the front. Other have put up LGBT-positive posters in their classrooms.
- Everyone can challenge homophobic jokes and epithets.
- Read positive LGBT books and periodicals, and include them in your school or workplace libraries and offices.
- Be aware of the generalizations you make. Assume there are LGBT people where you go to school, where you work, in your family, etc.
- Monitor politicians, the media, and organizations to ensure accurate coverage of LGBT issues.
The Most Commonly Expressed Concerns and Ways to Respond
Schools that have already begun to address LGBT student safety, find that there are a number of concerns that students, teachers, administrators, parents, and community members raise about their work. For the most part, the concerns are rooted in misperceptions about what schools are doing to protect LGBT students.
(At times, the opposition actually perpetuates misinformation and downright lies about LGBT people and what the schools are doing.)
The most commonly raised misperception is that this work is about sex, that schools are going to be teaching students about same-sex acts.
It is important to explain to people that addressing these issues is not about sex, but about student safety. (It is not about homosexuality or bisexuality, it is about homophobia and biphobia). Explain exactly what your school will be doing, why it is important, what you hope to accomplish.
Use the statistics about LGBT youth suicide, use testimony from students in your school or in other schools about anti-gay violence and harassment, use the Governor,s Commission Report and the Board of Education’s Recommendations on the Support and Safety of LGBT students to help people see that you will not be talking about sex per se, but providing support for all students in your school in creating a safer learning environment.
Another commonly expressed concern is that by addressing these issues, schools will be promoting or advocating homosexuality. (This concern sometimes stems from their assumption that “We don,t have any LGBT people here.) This concern is rooted in the myth that people only have two choices on the issues: One, to be silent and ignore LGBT issues and exclude all discussions of these issues from the schools, or Two, to promote homosexuality and advocate for LGBT rights. In reality, however, the real issue is Safety and Inclusion.
To include issues that effect LGBT students in the intellectual and social life of a school is not to advocate that students become homosexuals.
To work to protect LGBT students from violence, harassment, and self-hatred is not to promote homosexuality, as it is to promote understanding.
By including these issues in classroom discussions is simply to acknowledge the truth: That there are LGBT students, that there are students with LGBT friends, that there are students with LGBT parents or relatives.
Making schools safer for these young people does not in any way encourage students to become LGBT, nor does it try to alter anyone,s, personal, religious, or moral convictions about homosexuality.
It does, however, encourage young people of all sexual orientations and identities to be comfortable with who they and others really are.
Finally, the other most commonly expressed concern is that schools should not be dealing with LGBT issues at all, that it is not part of their mission or role.
It is important to help people understand that since schools have an obligation to educate all students and to provide them with a safe learning environment, making schools safe for LGBT students is part of their role.
What follows are some concrete strategies for getting the backing of hesitant superintendents, administrators, teachers, students, and community members as you work to make your school safer for students of all sexual orientations and identities.
Of course, every school and community is different. What works well in one school may not work in another. However, hopefully, you will find some of these ideas helpful.