Back To School Like Never Before

by Ellen Kahn

A diverse group of children holding up a book titled "I Am Jazz"

In past years, we approached our “Back to School” campaign with an emphasis on creating safe, welcoming environments for LGBTQ students who are heading back into the hallways and classrooms of their schools.

With few exceptions, the start of the school year entails virtual classes -- engaging in distanced learning via computers from their homes. The reality of this pandemic is hard on all young people -- social isolation from friends, the lack of structure and the challenge of learning outside the classroom all add up to increased stress and anxiety for students. It is a school year like no other.

For LGBTQ students who lack safety and support at school, but have affirming families, there can be some relief in staying home this fall: relief for the transgender middle school student who got on the school bus every morning only to face stares and jeers; relief for the high school senior who received daily threats of physical violence after coming out as gay; or relief for the first grade male student who was relentlessly teased for dressing “like a girl.” On the other hand, for LGBTQ students who are not supported at home -- or perhaps not even out at home, they are more eager for schools to reopen. School may be their only source of support and affirmation around their LGBTQ identity, and an affirming teacher or school counselor can’t entirely mitigate their daily discomfort of being stuck at home with a rejecting family.

In light of this reality, our focus this year will be to shine light on the unique, compounding challenges facing LGBTQ students during this period of extended school closures and to highlight the breadth of resources and best practice guidelines that help administrators, educators, parents and other school-based professionals create LGBTQ-inclusive learning environments -- both virtually and within the actual bricks and mortar school buildings. All of us have a role to play in creating a welcoming virtual classroom environment, in addressing anti-LGBTQ sentiment that shows up in online spaces and in looking out for LGBTQ students who may be feeling unusually disconnected and alone.

From today through September, we will be featuring back to school blog posts, videos, book lists, tip sheets and other tools aimed at promoting LGBTQ safety and inclusion. We await the publication of the CDC’s Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance (YRBS) data later this month, which will include a snapshot of how LGBTQ students are faring compared to their non-LGBTQ peers -- we will dig into that data and identify interventions and strategies to address the needs of LGBTQ students. As we start off this back to school campaign, we wanted to highlight the following three new resources that provide some basic guidance for educators to ensure that LGBTQ students feel seen and included in your virtual environments.

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Supporting LGBTQ Students During the Coronavirus Quarantine: A Tip-Sheet for School Counselors

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Supporting LGBTQ Students During the Coronavirus Pandemic: A Tip-Sheet for School Social Workers

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In Response to COVID-19: A Checklist to Support LGBTQ Students During Distance Learning

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We wish all of you a safe and healthy school year -- together we can make this work for all students!