Final Thoughts

I have learned a lot in researching this question about what we, as teachers, can do to support LGBTQ students.  Considering how many students experience discrimination (or worse) in school every day, it is no surprise that their academic experience is negatively impacted.  I mentioned earlier that 30% of students surveyed by the GLSEN Research Division in 2013 felt so unsafe at some point in the month prior to the survey that they missed at least one day of school because of it.  Students being so afraid for their own safety that they choose to miss school is certainly not conducive to learning.

As many people have observed, students need to have at least one place in their school where they feel safe to be themselves, free from judgement and bullying.  Teachers can create that space in their classrooms using all of the resources listed in my LGBTQ Resources list.  If you’re a UGA student and would like to go through Safe Space Training, you can sign up here to get training through the LGBT Resource Center.  You can join or start a chapter of PFLAG to support LGBTQ students and community members near you.  You can also start a Gay Straight Alliance (GSA) at your school so that students have a safe space to be after normal school hours are over.

Another important thing I learned is just how important staff and administration training is.  The failure of teachers and administration to act in response to bullying and harassment of LGBTQ students perpetuates said bullying and harassment, creating a fearful environment for students.  We need to find a way to train teachers, no matter what their personal beliefs, in how to educate, advocate, and provide support on behalf of LGBTQ students.  This need is one that would require further exploration.  In the meantime, individual teachers can take the responsibility of training themselves through the resources in my list.

I hope my exploration has been helpful for you all!  Let’s make sure we’re working together to support all of our students – especially the ones who currently need us most.

Find my LGBTQ Resources list here!

Wrapping It Up

My research on this topic has reaffirmed just how important it is to ensure that LGBTQ students feel safe in schools and other youth organizations.  Two videos from the Georgia Safe School Coalition contain stories from LGBTQ youth about their high school experiences, both positive and negative.  One of the reasons I decided to teach middle school is that I find that high school students are at the age where they’ve become jaded; they are already set in some of their opinions (often those of their family members and religious organizations).  Middle schoolers, on the other hand, are old enough to have those tough conversations but not so old that they’re not open to new ideas and alternative views.  If we can take advantage of this and target middle school students for social justice education, we might be able to nip some of the LGBTQ-related bullying in the bud.

One of the things that most surprised me (which, upon reflection, actually does make sense to me) was that bullying in schools and unsafe environments do not fall solely at the feet of the students.  In their article “‘It’s Complicated’: Collective Memories of LGBTQQ Youth,”** Johnson et al. mention that “[systems] of discrimination and prejudice appear to be the main obstacles in implementing personnel training on heterosexism and homophobia” (2014, p. 421).  Even more disturbing, they reveal that “data reveal that school personnel seldom intervene when bullying or harassment of LGBT students occurs, which further isolates those students being victimized. Consistent with these findings, researchers concluded that increased rates of LGBTQQ bullying are the result of school personnel (e.g., teachers, counselors, psychologists) looking the other way when heterosexist/homophobic incidents of bullying occur” (2014, p. 420).  In other words, teachers, administrators, and other school personnel are just as responsible as students for making LGBTQQ students feel unsafe because they do not take action when discrimination and harassment occur.

In my last post, I included a lot of resources for teachers to use who want to create a safe space for LGBTQ students.  It seems that the next step in investigating how to support LGBTQ youth in schools is to investigate how to overcome that barrier in order to train school personnel how to create that safe environment and to step in when bullying occurs.  While school personnel do have a right to their own beliefs and opinions, I think the majority of us would agree that that right ends where the creation of an unsafe environment begins.  If your beliefs are interfering with your responsibilities to all of your students to make them feel safe and accepted, then something has to give.

In order to share my work with the other students in class, I’ll create a list / annotated bibliography of all of the sources I’ve discovered so far so that they (and anyone else interested) can easily find these resources for their own use.  Below is the rubric that will be used to grade this project:

  3 Points 2 Points 1 Point 0 Points
Genius Hour Question Genius Hour Question is
(a) relevant to current day middle grades education, and
(b) narrow enough to be appropriate for this format.
Genius Hour Question is
(a) mostly relevant to current day middle grades education, and
(b) could have been more narrowed in order to be appropriate for this format.
Genius Hour Question is
(a) only loosely tied to current day middle grades education, and
(b) almost too broad to be appropriate for this format.
Genius Hour Question is much too broad and completely unrelated to current day middle grades education OR there is no Genius Hour Question.
Blog Posts All blog posts meet the required length and contain ample information related to answering the Genius Hour Question. 3 out of 4 blog posts meet the required length and contain ample information related to answering the Genius Hour Question. 2 out of 4 blog posts meet the required length and contain ample information related to answering the Genius Hour Question. Only 1 out of 4 blog posts meets the required length and contain ample information related to answering the Genius Hour Question OR no blog posts are completed.
Resources Resources include:
* At least 3 Twitter handles
* At least 3 Twitter hashtags
* At least 3 other resources (articles, websites, etc.)
Resources include:
* 2 Twitter handles
* 2 Twitter hashtags
* 2 other resources (articles, websites, etc.)
Resources include:
* 1 Twitter handle
* 1 Twitter hashtag
* 1 other resource (article, website, etc.)
No resources are mentioned in any of the blog posts or in the final project.
Spelling & Grammar No errors in spelling or grammatical forms. A few minor errors in spelling or grammatical forms. Many minor errors and/or a few major errors in spelling or grammatical forms. Many major and minor errors in spelling and grammatical forms.

**Johnson, C. W., Singh, A. A., & Gonzalez, M. (2014).  “It’s complicated”: Collective Memories of Transgender, Queer, and Questioning Youth in High School.  Journal of Homosexuality. 61(3), 419-434.

Resources Abound

One of the best resources I found is from GLSEN (thanks to Lane for pointing this one out to me!); the Safe Space Kit outlines how educators can create a space in their schools for LGBTQ students and allies to feel safe in.  GLSEN explains in their “Guide to Being an Ally to LGBT Students” that “research shows that LGBT students with many supportive educators feel safer at school, skip fewer classes, and earn higher grades than students without supportive educators” (p. 2).  This just goes to show how important it is to make sure LGBTQ students have at least one teacher and one classroom where they feel safe, understood, and respected.  The kit has a Guide to Being an Ally, which takes you through what an “ally” is (with a personal beliefs self-assessment), terms you need to know, how to support LGBTQ students (including how to support them when they come out to you), how to handle instances of discrimination and hate speech in the school, how to educate others regarding LGTBQ issues, and how to advocate for LGBTQ students within your school.  You can use this kit to learn what you need to know to be an ally and create a safe space in your classroom, and the kit has printable Safe Space stickers you can use to let students know your classroom is a Safe Space for them.

GLSEN also has a research division – you can follow @GLSENResearch to keep up with them!  Some of their research was assembled into this 2013 National School Climate Survey infographic.  One of the most heartbreaking pieces of information for me was that 65% of students surveyed had heard homophobic remarks at school, 85% were verbally harassed in the past year, and 30% felt so unsafe at some point in the last month that they missed at least one day of school because of it.  If our students are feeling so unsafe and unsupported that missing school becomes their best option, we are obviously not doing enough to help them.  If you’re interested in doing your own School Climate Survey, GLSEN provides a free online survey tool.

If you want to make LGBTQ students feel included not just in the classroom, but in the curriculum as well, GLSEN provides LGBT-Inclusive Curriculum and Lesson Plans on Bullying, Bias, and Diversity.  These would provide teachers with fantastic opportunities to make LBGTQ students feel like their experiences matter and to help establish lines of communication (hopefully leading to understanding and tolerance) between LGBTQ and non-LGBTQ students.

Another resource (thanks again, Lane!) I’m going to explore further is the PFLAG website.  Their mission is to support LGBTQ people, families, and allies in their own communities.  PFLAG has 400 local chapters across the US and many corporate sponsors (i.e. Walmart, USA Network, McDonalds, etc.).  They also have a national scholarship program and chapter scholarship programs for LGBTQ students and allies who are active in advocating for and within the LGBTQ community.  PFLAG has an online academy where PFLAG members can receive learning sessions on LGBTQ issues.

For ELA educators specifically, it is immensely important for students to find themselves represented in the literature on your shelves.  I took to Google to find lists of LGBTQ literature.  I found:

This is by no means an exhaustive list, and new books exploring LBGTQ themes are being published more and more frequently.  Google is your friend here – please continue looking for books to add to your classroom shelves!

I’m finding that there are a lot more resources out there than I initially imagined – you just have to look for them.  I intend to investigate these resources more fully, and I will certainly complete the Safe Space Kit so that my classroom will be a safe space for all of my students.  I hope all of you educators out there reading this will consider doing the same!!

We’re all in this together!

It turns out that great minds do think alike!  One of my classmates, Lane, will be doing their Genius Hour project on how to support queer students in the classroom.  Since Lane is queer, it will be interesting to see how their project develops in comparison with mine, since we’ll be approaching similar questions from different backgrounds.  Lane posts items they find about their topic frequently on Twitter (@LaneMHopkins), if you’re looking for awesome resources!

On a similar note, Jessie (@JessieLGrant9) is exploring bullying in schools.  She discovered that most people agree bullying stems from an imbalance of power.  I think a lot of what Jessie discovers will be pertinent to my topic, since LGBTQ students are frequently the victims of power (and/or privilege) imbalances.

It will be interesting to see if some of the team-building exercises Brittany Bennett (@britt_l_bennett) finds can be used to promote acceptance and cooperation in the classroom, thus helping LGTBQ students feel like they belong in the classroom.  It would also be cool to take advantage of what Erin (@ewedereit) discovers on using technology to help students find their voice; helping LGBTQ students find their voices will enable them to advocate for themselves (and others) as they continue to grow and become adults.  On a one-to-one, student-to-teacher level, Virginia’s exploration (@virginia_jayne) into the implications of developing (or not developing) positive relationships with each student will provide helpful insight into how teachers can become personal allies to individual LGBTQ students.

Lane pointed me in the direction of two organizations that will help me explore my topic: GLSEN (@GLSEN) and PFLAG (@PFLAG).  The #TeacherFriends Twitter chat I participated in last week discussed the importance of character education and social-emotional learning in the classroom.  I think character education, social-emotional learning, and support of LGBTQ students can all go hand in hand; teaching students how to understand and interact with their own emotions and the emotions of others, as well as guiding students in how to be the best versions of themselves they can, will help to empower LGBTQ students and encourage non-LBGTQ students to be accepting of others.

On an unrelated note, please excuse the High School Musical quote.  Here’s a corny HSM gif to make up for it:



The question I want to explore for my Genius Hour project is this: “What can we, as teachers, do to support LGBTQ students in our classrooms?”  (Side note: There are many different acronyms and terms to describe this multi-faceted and diverse community; I am choosing to use “LGBTQ” since it seems to be the most familiar for most people.)

Ever since Diane Sawyer interviewed Bruce Jenner before he (the pronoun he requested be used until he completed his public transition) revealed Caitlyn to the world, I’ve had countless conversations with my family, friends, and Facebook connections about trans issues, trans awareness, and trans acceptance.  As a straight, cis woman, I fully acknowledge that I will never be an expert on the subject.  What I can be is an ally.

Since students in the middle grades are either beginning to go through puberty or are in the full throws of it, gender and sexuality issues are prevalent concerns in the middle school.  Teachers must know how to make all of our students feel welcome, accepted, and safe in our classrooms.  In consideration of that fact, I specifically want to research ways teachers can make LGBTQ youth feel like they are just as welcome, accepted, and safe as their straight, cisgender classmates.

In order to answer my question, my first step will be (as always) to go to my handy friend Google.  Through Google, I’ve found several Twitter accounts to follow, such as @HRC@ACLULGBT, and @GSANetwork.  I’ve also located the hashtags #lgbt, #lgbtq, #pride.  I’ll also comb through the UGA library for helpful resources.