As part of our Back to School campaign to support LGBTQ students and their families, we spoke with Dr. Beverly J. Hutton, Deputy Executive Director of Programs and Services at the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP) to learn more about how their organization supports LGBTQ youth.
1. Why is it important that your organization explicitly support LGBTQ youth?
Creating a supportive learning environment requires that each student feel known and valued. That’s important to all students, but LGBTQ students are a particularly marginalized group who face discrimination and more instances of bullying at higher rates than students in other categories. That reality called for an extraordinary effort on our part—both to provide recommendations to leaders in schools and to message to the larger community that the rights of LGBTQ students must be safeguarded.
2. Describe the biggest challenge that LGBTQ youth face in schools.
As if adolescence were not hard enough, LGBTQ teens often must endure school environments that deter them from being their genuine selves. That certainly includes incidents of harassment, but goes beyond it. Even when a gay student brings a same-sex date to prom or a transgender student uses the bathroom of their choice, those matters often become high-profile political issues that place those students in a spotlight. I feel for those students who have to choose between a peaceful existence and being their genuine selves. The stress they endure is a problem for all of us because it robs the school--and our collective future--of the amazing contributions those students could otherwise make under more accepting conditions.
3. How does (your org/your school) support LGBTQ youth?
Our job at NASSP is to provide school leaders with the professional research-based and peer-tested resources, and practical tools and materials they need to serve as visionary school leaders. Our organization helped develop the Professional Standards for Educational Leaders in 2015, which state that effective educational leaders “strive for equity of educational opportunity and culturally responsive practices to promote each student’s academic success and well-being.” We’re now encouraging every state to adopt these standards and revise their principal preparation, certification and licensure, and evaluation systems to align with those standards. NASSP is also a member of the National Safe Schools Partnership and the School Climate Consortium, which are committed to ensuring that all schools offer a safe and welcoming climate for each student. We have supported federal legislation to prevent bullying and harassment in our nation’s schools and to prohibit discrimination in public schools based on actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.
Last year, the NASSP Board of Directors adopted a position statement on transgender students that offered policy recommendations at the federal, state, local, and school level to better support these students in school. The Board emphasized their commitment to working with HRC and supporting LGBTQ youth, stating “We are committed to our collaboration with the HRC, as demonstrated in our participation in their annual Time to THRIVE conference for the past two years.”
In addition, NASSP constantly seeks to empower student leaders as the primary agents of student culture through our well-known programs National Honor Society and National Association of Student Councils.
4. What advice do you have for (educators, youth, parents etc.) going back to school?
My first piece of advice to principals is to know your culture. We recommend that principals administer school climate surveys to students, staff, parents, and community members early and repeatedly, and then use that data both to transparently display the condition of the culture and to guide its improvement. But most important, principals—and all adults in the school--must model the behavior they expect from their students. The most high-energy, well-executed school assembly on nondiscrimination can be undone by a single teacher failing to call out a student spewing a racial or gender slur. As I’ve said before, school culture is determined by the worst behavior school leaders will tolerate. Our vigilance must begin on day one and persist throughout the year.
5. The election changed the world and some LGBTQ youth are afraid to return to school. What advice do you have for those students?
We at NASSP have been horrified by just how bold the forces of hatred and prejudice have become. Yet, those incidents of hatred have unwittingly emboldened forces of good in schools. As the parent organization of the National Honor Society and the National Association of Student Councils, NASSP has witnessed student leaders amplify their voices on behalf of their harassed peers. And they have taken the lead in reinforcing a school culture in which each student feels valued. So my advice to students as school begins: Tap into those reservoirs of support. Create your supportive network of caring adults and students who you can rely on to respond to hatred. The very existence of such a network is sometimes enough to deter the cowards who will try to build themselves up by breaking you down.
Housed by the HRC Foundation, Welcoming Schools and Time to THRIVE are national programs to help LGBTQ youth succeed. Welcoming Schools provides professional development to educators and free resources to educators and families to support a respectful elementary school climate for all students. Time to THRIVE is an annual national conference that brings together K-12 educators, counselors and other youth-serving professionals to build awareness and cultural competency to better support LGBTQ youth.