How can schools create the most inclusive environment for LGBT students?
In this project, I examine the issue of LGBT inequality in my own school: the private institution of Hawken Upper School that dwells in the suburbs of Cleveland, Ohio in the United States. The problem at hand is that LGBT students at my school, such as myself, often feel ostracized, silenced, and underrepresented in the Hawken community. I aim to help this issue through discussion with faculty and students at my school about what is needed to make the LGBT student community feel like we are truly valued by the school and welcome in the larger Hawken community.
Because of my emphasis on inclusion in the absolutely crucial sphere of education, my project directly aims to advance Sustainable Development Goal 10: Reduce inequality within and among countries. Through promoting the inclusion of LGBT studies in curriculum, sustaining truly safe spaces for LGBT students, and combatting homophobic and transphobic microaggressions, I hope to establish equitable opportunities for LGBT students at my school, which could then set an example for other schools to follow.
Over the past decade, there has been a large shift in American society’s view of LGBT people. We have grown from simply stating tolerance of LGBT folks to taking real action to protect their rights. Currently, there are several federal statutes such as the Equal Access
There are court cases such as Henkle vs. Gregory, where a gay student took legal action against his school for not stopping violent physical and verbal harassment against him and the school ended up paying an almost half a million dollar settlement, which show us how the marginalized identities of LGBT students are truly being backed by legislation (Lambda Legal). This is huge progress for the LGBT community, but this protection needs to start happening before the harassment can even begin, otherwise LGBT kids are going to continue to endure pain at the cost.
In what ways can we prevent these acts of violence? One way might be to start including LGBT studies in
Another important facet of inclusivity is designating spaces for healthy discussion between members of specific communities, also known as affinity groups. These spaces allow for students to feel safe in expressing their identity, and confidentiality rules protect from any information about students being spread outside of the space. This means that students who do not want to come out to the whole school can still show up to affinity group meetings, so they too can have time and space to express themselves freely. These spaces let LGBT students finally feel visible, even if just for a limited period of time, which can be powerfully beneficial to the members. Affinity groups have even been instituted at highly-respected universities such as Princeton and Harvard!
Here is an excerpt of an interview I conducted with a teacher at my school who identifies as a lesbian. She is the faculty adviser for the school’s Gender Sexuality Alliance club and the LGBT Affinity Group, both of which I am the student leader. Ms. Wilbrandt discusses the struggles of being “tokenized,” or being expected to speak on behalf of the entirety of one’s community. She also talks about how important implementing DEIJ (Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Justice) work into daily school life can be towards creating a more welcoming environment. Finally, she talks about the need for allyship, the act of supporting and helping marginalized communities, in our school community.
I also conducted a number of interviews with students with the help of the LGBT Center of Greater Cleveland, a safe space that offers a plentitude of resources for queer folks including classes, group activities, books, or even just someone to talk to. The center is open to anyone and everyone and is free of charge. There is a Queer Youth program in place that offers activities for LGBT people aged 11-20, and often there are kids hanging out in the center even when there aren’t scheduled activities going on, just to enjoy being in a safe and welcoming place.
This interview is with a sophomore at a public high school named Ian, who identifies as a transgender male. We discuss the complexities of feeling safe vs. feeling respected, and what a school’s role should look like in these regards. Ian explains how he feels like the school is pushing their opinions too much onto his identity, trying to make him conform to what they want of him. He also discusses how effective implementing LGBT information in health classes could be towards shifting student social culture.
My next interview was with a friend from the center named Morgan who identifies as bisexual. I asked her about her experience at a public high school in a rural, conservative town. We discussed some of the dangerous inequalities she faced at her school, including having her and her friends’ identities invalidated by both students and teachers. We also discussed the importance of finding unity in the school environment, and how a Gender Sexuality Alliance club would have helped her find more comfort at school.
My time in high school as a queer kid has been long and arduous. I have continually felt silenced and invisible within the student community. But the implementation of affinity groups has absolutely changed my life, for it has allowed me to finally have a place where I can be fully and truly me. I now have a place where I can express my feelings and have them be heard and understood by others, a place where real empathy can take place. This has done wonders to make me feel more comfortable at school. I may not feel welcome by the entire school, but I now have a close-knit community that I can identify with, which is so powerfully healing to me.
Through this project, I have been able to strengthen my connections to the LGBT community at my school. I have also begun
What You Can Do
Students and teachers: something here is not working. Kids are still feeling targeted, tokenized, and/or unsafe in schools, a place where they have to be for 8+ hours a day, 5 days of the week. We need to work to fix this. Here are some things you can do to help.
Ask a queer person how they are doing and truly listen to what they say. Ask what you can do to help them. Tell them you are here for them, let them know they are safe with you.
Avoid asking invasive questions. Examples of these questions would include: inquiring about the person’s genitals if they are transgender, questioning the validity of someone’s sexuality, asking transgender people what their “real name” is, etc. If you wouldn’t ask the same thing to a straight/cisgender person, you likely shouldn’t ask a queer person.
Speak up if you hear a homophobic/transphobic comment (ex: calling someone “gay” as an insult, “did you just assume my gender” jokes, etc.). This is especially important for teachers to do. Tell the person that it’s not okay to say something like that, and explain why. Try to create healthy dialogue on acceptance towards queer students.
Ask your school administration what they are doing to accommodate for LGBT students. Suggest ways they could be more inclusive, such as allowing for transgender students to use their preferred name instead of their birth name, stronger regulations around bullying on the basis of gender identity/sexual orientation, training for teachers on how to help LGBT students, or something more specific to your school.
View this post on Instagram
This National Volunteer Week, we are reminiscing on a year’s worth of incredible volunteers who have provided their time and energy to support the LGBT Community Center. We have so much love and gratitude for the folks who have staffed our front desk, supported our youth and senior programs, energized Pride in the CLE, served on our board, tabled in the community, cleaned and decorated our space, and showed UP! THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU!
If you are interested in further reading on this topic, Lambda Legal has an extremely informative digital pamphlet that goes into greater detail on ways to promote