Create Inclusive, Affirming Schools for LGBTQ Students - Scholastic

Create Inclusive, Affirming Schools for LGBTQ Students

By John DePasquale

GRADES 3–5, 6–8, 9–12

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  • Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Pride Month is celebrated every June to commemorate the 1969 Stonewall riots in New York City. Pride Month honors this history and acknowledges the contributions of LGBT people to our society.

    Pride Month is also a time to recognize the work that remains to be done towards LGBT equality. Because 8 out of 10 LGBT students continue to be harassed at school each year, this critical work includes creating more inclusive spaces at school for our LGBT students and families. This need was echoed in President Obama’s 2015 presidential proclamation in recognition of Pride Month as he wrote, “For countless young people, it is not enough to simply say it gets better; we must take action too. We continue to address bullying and harassment in our classrooms, ensuring every student has a nurturing environment in which to learn and grow.”

    With this as our charge, and in honor of LGBT Pride Month, here are ways we can create more nurturing and inclusive school environments for all students.

    Diversify Libraries With LGBT Books

    Adding books with LGBT characters and themes to classrooms and libraries creates a more inclusive school culture. The accessibility and visibility of diverse books in classrooms and schools powerfully affects students. Recently, Alex Gino, the author of George, visited my class and met with my fifth and sixth grade students. During the visit, Gino spoke to my students about mirror books and window books to describe how readers both see themselves and see others in the books they read. Gino also explained that certain books are sliding glass door books because they allow readers to experience new worlds and ideas they did not know existed, and, if they choose, readers can open these glass doors and become part of that new world. Many LGBT youth describe feelings of isolation, and adding books to classrooms that reflect their lives and experiences is a step towards breaking this isolation.

    Books with LGBT characters and themes can be mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors for young people. As a result, all students, especially those who struggle to see themselves reflected in the books they read, benefit from having LGBT books available at school.

    There are different ways to incorporate LGBT books into your classroom library. I label a book bin in my classroom library as Read Out Proud for our book collection. You might also discreetly add books to your library, and let students discover them while always being ready to recommend the right book to the right student at the right time. Regardless of how LGBT books are incorporated, their presence is important.

    Here are a few book recommendations and resources you can use to create a diverse and LGBT-friendly classroom library.

    Books for Young Readers:

    -      It’s Okay to Be Different by Todd Parr

    -      And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell

    -      The Sissy Duckling by Harvey Fierstein and illustrated by Henry Cole


    Middle Grade Recommendations:

    -      George by Alex Gino

    -      Gracefully Grayson by Ami Polonsky

    -      Better Nate Than Ever by Tim Federle

    -      Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard #2: The Hammer of Thor by Rick Riordan (2016 Stonewall Book Award)

    -      The House of Hades by Rick Riordan

    -      Drama by Raina Telgemeier


    Books for Older Readers:

    -      Every Day by David Levithan

    -      Hurricane Child by Kheryn Callender

    -      One True Way by Shannon Hitchcock

    -      Openly Straight by Bill Konigsberg

    -      Vanilla by Billy Merrell

    -      A Very, Very Bad Thing by Jeffery Self

    -      And She Was by Jessica Verdi

    -      The Porcupine of Truth by Bill Konigsberg


    Book Lists

    -      9 Books to Help You Read With Pride created by Scholastic editors

    -      The Rainbow Book List created by the Rainbow Book List Committee of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Round Table of the American Library Association


    Be an Ally

    An ally is a person who speaks out against and stands up for individuals or groups that are targets of discrimination or harassment. LGBT allies in schools include educators who are visible advocates for their LGBT students, and who respond to anti-LGBT language and behaviors. For LGBT students, having the support of educators as allies creates a safer and more inclusive school environment. According to GLSEN, a leading education organization dedicated to safe and affirming K-12 schools for LGBT students, LGBT students with 11 or more supportive staff at their school describe feeling much safer at school than students without supportive staff. Because of this, being an ally of LGBT students is an important part of creating inclusive school environments. For a comprehensive collection of resources to download or purchase, I recommend GLSEN's Safe Space Kit: Guide to Being an Ally to LGBT Students.

    Being an ally of LGBT students is to be supportive, visible, and responsive. To be visible, I have a ‘safe space’ sticker on my classroom door and a poster hanging inside the room to let all students know I am committed to creating a safe space for them. I also wear an OUT for Safe Schools rainbow-colored badge on a lanyard next to my school ID as a visible sign of that I am an ally of LGBT students. I am fortunate to work in a school system that supports this effort. The New York City Department of Education distributes these badges to educators as part of a national initiative to help school staff identify themselves as allies of LGBT students.


    In addition to making safe spaces and individuals visible, my school also participates in GLSEN’s Ally Week in the fall to make the allies in our school community known to all. During Ally Week, a large banner is put in the hallway, and students, staff, and families who pledge to be allies of LGBT students are encouraged to add their names to the banner.

    Whether it starts with one individual or includes an entire school community, it is important for LGBT students to know they have allies.

    For more information about what it means to be an ally of LGBT students in school, I recommend the following resources from GLSEN:

    -      Actions for Allies

    -      Being a Better Ally to LGBT Youth of Color

    -      Being a Better Ally to Transgender Youth

    -      Being a Better Ally to Youth with Different Abilities

    Teachers can also show their support of LGBT students by introducing and making available classroom materials that reflect diverse experiences. The classroom library is an excellent place to start.


    Find Supportive Partners

    As you work to create a more nurturing and inclusive environment at school for LGBT students, I encourage you to explore educational resources and guides developed by supportive partners. These resources are an excellent place to start.

    -      LGBT Educational Resources from Anti-Defamation League: This collection includes K-12 curriculum and lessons, book recommendations, and other resources for educators.

    -      Welcoming Schools from the Human Rights Campaign: A professional development program for elementary schools dedicated to creating supportive LGBT and gender inclusive schools. Here you will find lesson plans, books to share with students, and answers to difficult questions.

    -      Working with LGBT Students of Color: A Guide for Educators developed by GLSEN and the Hetrick-Martin Institute: This guide encourages educators to consider the experiences and needs of LGBT students of color, and offers suggestions as a response.

    -      Speak Up At School from Teaching Tolerance: A guide for educators that addresses the prevalence of anti-LGBT speech and bias in schools. This resource provides educators with guidance on how to respond to comments made by students and by other adults.

    As we celebrate Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Pride Month this June, it’s important to remember creating inclusive classrooms for LGBT students extends beyond a single month. With these suggestions and resources we can ensure that, as President Obama wrote, every student has a nurturing environment in which to learn and grow every day they go to school.