It is back to school time for most students across the country, including LGBTQ+ students, and the majority are doing so by physically returning back to the classroom. Last year, as the coronavirus devastated many public sectors, including public education, students of all ages were forced to rely on virtual settings to continue their education. Some LGBTQ+ students faced additional hardships because their home settings aren’t affirming or supportive.
Now that most students across the country are making their way back to the classroom, it is important for parents or guardians as well as educators and youth-serving professionals to prioritize efforts which help LGBTQ+ students feel welcomed in their school communities and environments, perhaps now more than ever before, even if doing so presents challenges.
“When schools pivoted to remote learning, many LGBTQ+ youth lost connections to supportive friends, and the ability to be out and accepted — just as many had the direct opposite experience and were relieved to be at home where they are safe and supported, compared to the hostility and rejection they experienced at school,” said Ellen Kahn, HRC Foundation’s senior director of programs and partnerships. “Whatever LGBTQ+ students may be facing this year, whether it is ongoing remote learning or a return to the hallways and classrooms of their schools, it has been one of the most challenging years for all of them and it will be imperative for educators and all school personnel to go the extra mile to make all students feel welcome, safe and supported.”
Crucial and astonishing findings substantiated the need to address the unique challenges and circumstances that LGBTQ+ students face, regardless of whether they were learning in person or virtually.
In 2020, the HRC Foundation analyzed key findings from a report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and found that 31% of LGBTQ+ youth, 43% of transgender youth and 40% of questioning youth had been bullied at school, compared to 16% of their non-LGBTQ+ peers, while 17% of LGBTQ+ youth, 29% of transgender youth and 30% of questioning youth have been threatened or injured with a weapon at school, compared to 6% of non-LGBTQ+ youth.
Further findings corroborated the need for the campaign: According to the analysis, 24% of LGBTQ+ youth, 35% of transgender youth and 41% of questioning youth have skipped school because they felt unsafe at school or on their way to school, compared to 8% of non-LGBTQ+ youth, confirming that LGBTQ+ youth face ridicule and violence within schools across the United States, and it is negatively impacting their school attendance and academic performance.
Additionally, HRC Foundation data has shown that while learning from home, many LGBTQ+ youth may experience family rejection, with 67% of youth reporting that their family makes negative comments about LGBTQ+ people. In addition to these adverse circumstances, the health and well-being of LGBTQ+ youth have been jeopardized by political and legislative assaults. This year, a record-breaking 25 discriminatory, anti-LGBTQ+ state bills have been enacted, including 13 specifically targeting transgender people. Most of these state bills banned transgender athletes from participating in sports consistent with their gender identity; some prohibited gender-affirming care.
With HRC staff engaged in conversations about the unique climate that LGBTQ+ students were going to face as they made their ways back to school, the dire need to connect them, their parents or guardians and educators with helpful resources became apparent. HRC recognized that this particular back-to-school season was unlike any other. After more than a year of students navigating the complexities of online learning, including virtual spaces that might or might not be inclusive and affirming of their queer identities, they were now returning to the classroom under the weight of a frequently hostile political agenda.
The conversations led to the creation of a comprehensive campaign highlighting resources from across the organization. HRC’s Back to School campaign connects students, educators and parents or guardians with resources from across the entire organization to help students excel at their studies in inclusive and affirming school environments and help educators and parents or guardians create those environments for the students.
HRC’s Back To School campaign’s compiled resources included exclusive reports, checklists, lesson plans and booklists to facilitate the implementation of inclusive classroom environments which affirm LGBTQ+ identities while also enhancing student’s learning experiences. The campaign also offered special events specific to the issues and topics related to LGBTQ+ students and schooling. From spotlighting the need for LGBTQ+ resource centers on college campuses to exclusive Q&As with young LGBTQ+ students themselves, the Back To School campaign centered the needs and experiences of LGBTQ+ students. Welcoming Schools also released a kit for educators interested in improving their classroom’s inclusion of LGBTQ+ identities.
"Now more than ever, LGBTQ+ students, like all students, deserve a safe, welcoming and affirming place to learn,” said Dr. Vincent Pompei, director of HRC Foundation’s Youth Well-Being Program and the annual Time to THRIVE conference for youth-serving professionals. “For that to happen, educators need professional development and resources to help them create learning environments where each student has an equitable opportunity to thrive.”
Ashely Rhodes-Courter can attest to the impact these resources can have on parents just as much as they can on educators. Rhodes-Courter is a member of our Parents for Transgender Equality Council based in Florida.
"As a therapist and parent to an elementary-aged trans child, I am so thankful for the tools and resources provided by the Human Rights Campaign Foundation,” said Rhodes-Courter. “Our daughter now faces each day feeling safe, included and confident knowing there are affirming educators and professionals within her school and community.”
While supporting LGBTQ+ youth in the classroom, HRC has also been defending their well-being in state legislatures, knowing that their educational prosperity is contingent on their social prosperity. We continue to remain vigilant against discriminatory state bills and policy affecting our entire community, while we also prioritize the creation of schools and school environments that embrace LGBTQ+ identities and are equipped to support and tend to the unique needs of LGBTQ+ students.