How educators can play a key role in making the return to school safe, welcoming for LGBTQ+ students

KING COUNTY, Wash. — As students return to in-person learning, it can bring about stress, especially for LGBTQ+ youth worried they could face harassment.

“For many of the LGBTQ+ middle schoolers I’ve talked to, over the last couple of months, so many of them are terrified to go back to school to see their bullies again,” said Jared Stern-Rogers.

Sterns is the GLSEN Washington chapter youth and leadership coordinator. The nonprofit was started by educators in 1990 to create a more inclusive environment for LGBTQ+ students.

If you want students to learn, I think feeling unsafe is the number one distraction to learning. If somebody doesn’t feel safe stepping into the classroom, then they’re not going to be able to learn in the classroom,” Stern-Rogers.

GLSEN has a nationwide network of educators and students working together to provide resources that promote a safe space, giving teachers the tools to make the classroom welcoming and supportive for LGBTQ+ students.

“When you are doing introductions, encourage people to use their names and pronouns just because it makes it so much easier for students to actually tell their classmates and you how they’d like to be called, what makes them feel most validated, what makes them feel most safe,” Stern-Rogers said.

Another way of being supportive is asking educators to share their pronouns to set an example for students to follow and advocating for an inclusive curriculum.

“If you are teaching literature, try to look for books that feature characters who share similar identities with your students, try to feature authors that have similar identities to students,” said Stern-Rogers.

GLSEN also provides a back-to-school guide for LGBTQ+ students, helping them prepare and navigate in an environment where they feel respected and protected against harassment or bullying.

“One of the big things, is about how you present yourself. You’re allowed to present yourself in a positive way that relates to your LGBTQIA identity, so wearing any T-shirts with LGBTQ graphics on them you’re allowed to do that,” said Coleman Hunter, a queer student union leader and GLSEN youth leadership member. “If they come out to a staff member, about their LGBTQIA identity that staff members should keep that information private and we also taught them that with the teacher things like really making sure we have this connection between students and teachers and they both feel comfortable and safe with each other.”

As a student and youth advocate, Hunter hopes to help create an affirming environment where LGBTQ+ students feel physically and emotionally safe.

“I really hope that if we can all listen to each other, if teachers can listen to students and students can listen to teachers, and students listen to other students, then really we can create this environment where everyone is sort of pitching in and everyone is helping to create a more inclusive environment,” said Hunter.