What Welcoming Schools Offer
There are a number of concrete steps that schools can take to demonstrate their commitment to LGBT inclusiveness. Below are examples of LGBT-friendly policies and practices schools should implement to fully welcome and affirm all students and families.
Non-Discrimination Employment Policies
A school that has passed a policy explicitly prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity has taken an important step toward creating a welcoming climate. Without such a policy, teachers and other staff members may be so frightened of losing their jobs (whether they are LGBT, or afraid of being perceived as such) that they:
- Refuse to stop anti-LGBT harassment or name-calling when they hear it
- Refuse to help students who want assistance in forming a gay-straight alliance
- Refuse to include LGBT people or issues in their classrooms
A policy that explicitly prohibits anti-LGBT harassment lets students, parents and staff members know that homophobia and transphobia will not be tolerated. Such policies must specifically include the words "anti-LGBT" or "sexual orientation" and “gender identity” because this makes it clear that homophobia and transphobia are just as unacceptable as racism, sexism or religious bigotry
To effectively promote welcoming school environments, schools must go beyond LGBT inclusive discrimination and anti-harassment policies. Teachers and other school employees should receive training about LGBT issues. Among other things, these trainings should:
- Provide staff development on bias, prevention of harassment and bullying to foster emotional safety for students. Make sure gender-based and anti-gay teasing and name-calling are specifically addressed.
- Hold trainings on different kinds of families that are inclusive of LGBT-headed families.
- Have administrative trainings on the educational value of creating welcoming schools for students and families, understanding the issues and looking at laws and policies.
- Hold trainings for school counselors, nurses, social workers and psychologists to ensure they are prepared to handle harassment and LGBT topics.
There are currently more than 3000 gay-straight alliances, or GSAs, at high schools nationwide, according to the Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network. Gay-Straight Alliances (GSAs) are student-led clubs, usually at the high school or middle school level, that work to address anti-LGBT name-calling, bullying and harassment in their schools and promote respect for all students. GSAs provide a place to:
- Discuss LGBT issues.
- Address students’ concerns about homophobia and transphobia in school or at home.
- Augment their studies with information about the life, history, and culture of LGBT people.
In addition to providing a safe forum for students to talk, these groups also help improve the broader school environment. As official student groups, GSAs are eligible for all the benefits afforded other school-sponsored organizations, such as the chess club or debating society. That means that they are granted access to school funding for events, the right to meet on school property and the permission to publicly announce club meetings and activities. These privileges help send a message that there is, indeed, a place for LGBT people in the school community.
Inclusive Language that Reflects Diverse Family Structures
Forms that state "mother" and "father" rather than “parent/guardian” are not inclusive of LGBT families. Welcoming schools must change wording on forms to “parent/guardian” and include several “parent/guardian” lines to accommodate blended families. This language should be extended to newsletters, student handouts, letters sent home to families and school directories.
Resources for Students
Students who are questioning their sexual orientation and/or gender identity, or simply curious about LGBT issues, may be uncomfortable talking about these topics with their parents/guardians, teachers or peers. Schools should have LGBT-related resources available in the library or counseling offices and students should be able to access these materials in a confidential manner. For example, students are more likely to pick up a book that is on a bookshelf or a pamphlet freely available in a counselor's office than something kept behind a reserve desk.
LGBT Inclusive Curriculum
Curriculum must be LGBT inclusive starting in elementary school for the following reasons:
- All students should feel that they and their family are included in their school community
- The relationship of young children to their family is central to understanding “who they are”
- Students learn more effectively when they see themselves reflected in the curriculum
- Students’ perception of school/teacher support is directly tied to their academic performance
- Pressure to conform to gender roles can limit social and academic development
- Name-calling and bullying have a negative impact on academic outcomes
From children's first years in school, when classes often take "the family" as their curricular focus, right through high school, there are many moments when LGBT issues are appropriate and relevant to the curriculum. For example, lesbian and gay authors and historical figures can be included in English and history classes; and the LGBT movement, itself, can be germane to civics and social studies courses. Students stand to gain significant advantages in those schools that have LGBT inclusive curriculum. For example, the children of LGBT parents can see themselves as part of the larger world, instead of seemingly left out of it; and all students can develop a better understanding of the diversity of our society.