Gay and lesbian students kiss in front of protestors from the Westboro Baptist Church at Oberlin College, in 2000. Ohio lawmakers are pushing for three bills to protect LGBTQ people from discrimination and hate crimes.Photo: Paul M. Walsh
As students head back into the classroom to start a new year, some of them are forging a new life.
Students may be coming out for the first time, switching schools for more of an inclusive environment, returning to a hoard of classmates in a classroom they never felt safe in the year prior, or learning to understand their LGBTQ peers as an ally.
Regardless of the circumstances surrounding students and their return to school this year, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) has suggested a few tips to help keep the kids in the education game – as their whole selves.
Make the lesson plan inclusive – It’s suggested that teachers take the time to get to know their students and appreciate them for their individual needs. Teachers can start the year off on the right foot by teaching students how to be allies and learning about what makes each child special.
Make everything gender-neutral – Ditch the pink and blue. Stop making cubbies for boys and girls and divide these special spaces by numbering or lining them up by birth month, color of clothing or alphabetically by name.
Stop it already with the gender – Instead of calling students “boys and girls,” try using non-gendered terms like “students,” “scholars” or “friends.” This shows the attempt to be more inclusive of all identities in the classroom.
Embrace the teachable moments – Educators can practice how to respond when they hear students say things like, “That’s gay!” or “You act like a girl!” or “You’re not a real family because you don’t have a dad!” Be prepared to interrupt mean teasing about a child’s identity or their family.
Prevent bullying – Educators must ensure that bullying policies specifically name groups that are disproportionately bullied or harassed, and then make it clear to students that this means no put-downs about who someone is or who their family is. Preventing bias-based bullying starts on day one.
Announce a safe space – Making it known that the classroom is a safe space will go a long way in setting the tone for the year ahead. Since most classrooms have a variety of displays, why not switch out the apples and school buses for a display that shows diverse family structures and people of different races, gender expressions and abilities? Use slogans that encourage respect for all people. For an easy visual, print a Welcoming Schools safe school sign.
Regardless of the type of structure planned for welcoming students back into the classroom, a little effort ahead of the first day will go a long day.