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Shaping Inclusive Schools: Empowering Educators for LGBTQIA+ Support

Last year, my colleague, Alana Speck and I started a journey as educators, facilitating a teacher training program in Seville to equip educators with the tools to support LGBTQIA+ youth in schools funded by the EU under Erasmus+ KA1. This initiative came from our personal concern about the things we witnessed daily as members of the LGBTQIA+ community and perceiving a more and more unsafe space for all, but especially for kids and youth at schools.

In my former work from 2019 to 2021 for a very large teacher training provider for Erasmus + courses, I developed this idea as I noticed that surprisingly there were barely any course offerings on this topic amidst the thousands of courses offered. Why was this so invisible? I wondered. Is there taboo or fear around this topic?

Now, as we prepare for the third and fourth editions in July 2024, we reflect on the significance of these courses for the LGBTQIA+ community.

Lgbtqia+ youth
Lgbtqia+ youth

We wanted to learn what research says is happening to understand the issue and propose solutions.

Now stop for a second and think... Are you truly aware of the situation of LGBTQIA+ students in schools right now?

1. General Situation: Studies indicate that LGBTQIA+ individuals face disproportionate mental health challenges due to the "minority stress" experienced in their daily lives, stemming from discrimination, victimization, and harassment. Alarmingly, a vast majority of LGBTQIA+ students witness or experience negative remarks related to sexual orientation and gender identity in European schools.

2. Challenges for Trans Students: A significant portion of transgender and non-binary students conceal their identities in educational settings, highlighting the urgent need for inclusive environments. Unfortunately, discrimination and harassment persist, exacerbating the "minority stress" experienced by these individuals.

3. Beyond School: The challenges extend beyond school walls, with many LGBTQIA+ youth facing rejection and isolation within their families and communities. The lack of visibility and inclusion further compounds their struggles, impacting their emotional well-being.

Why Does Teacher Training Matter?

While initiatives like workshops and presentations for students to learn about the LGBTQIA+ community are valuable, they are not sufficient. Teachers play a pivotal role in creating safe and inclusive spaces for LGBTQIA+ students. However, many educators lack the necessary training and awareness to address issues such as bullying and discrimination effectively.

National and Regional Education departments are not investing enough resources to train teachers, even if EU and international reports tell us to be worried and act immediately. Reports very specifically mention that one of the main actions that need to be taken is to train pre-service and in-service teachers. Why aren't they doing it? Well, the gap between what is in the law and real practice can be huge.

The Need for Systemic Change: Despite legislative efforts, tangible progress remains elusive. There is an urgent need to integrate LGBTQIA+ perspectives across the curriculum, providing mirrors for students to see themselves and windows to understand diverse identities.

In my country, Spain, as it happens in other countries, invisibility, traditional culture and fear of angry parents play a big role in this decision to do nothing. It is more like they prefer not to look, they tell themselves that other topics are more of a priority.

Go and tell that to all LGBTQIA+ kids and youth who experience a childhood of fear to be openly themselves, who listen to homophobic slurs regularly at school, and as research shows, sadly have school teachers and staff members as passive bystanders of systemic abuse. The system and adults of reference in these kids' lives are telling them with their actions that they are not worthy enough to be protected and feel safe. The negative effects of this system that consistently fails LGBTQIA+ kids are for life, reflected in increased levels of mental health issues and social exclusion in our community.

Do you want to know some things you can start doing right now in your classes?

  1. Ask and Use Chosen Names and Pronouns of Students: Foster a culture of respect and affirmation by asking students for their chosen names and pronouns and consistently using them in all interactions and communications. Create opportunities for students to update their names and pronouns as needed, ensuring inclusivity and validation of individual identities.

  2. Integrate LGBTQIA+ Themes into Your Curriculum: Infuse LGBTQIA+ perspectives, histories, and contributions into your curriculum across various subjects and grade levels. Incorporate diverse texts, materials, and discussions that reflect LGBTQIA+ identities and experiences, promoting empathy, understanding, and inclusivity among all students.

  3. Implement a Bullying Protocol for Addressing Insults and LGBTQIA+ Harassment: Establish clear and comprehensive protocols for addressing insults, harassment, and discrimination based on LGBTQIA+ identities. Educate students and staff on the protocol, ensure reporting mechanisms are accessible and confidential, and take swift and appropriate action to address incidents and support affected individuals.

  4. Create a Visible LGBTQIA+ Space in Your School: Designate a physical space within your school as a visible LGBTQIA+ resource centre or safe space. Decorate the space with inclusive signage, symbols, and resources that affirm LGBTQIA+ identities and provide information, support, and community connections for students.

  5. Celebrate LGBTQIA+ Visibility Events in Class and School: Organize and participate in events and activities that celebrate LGBTQIA+ visibility, such as Pride Month, National Coming Out Day, or LGBTQIA+ History Month. Incorporate themed lessons, assemblies, or guest speakers to raise awareness, promote acceptance, and foster a sense of belonging for LGBTQIA+ students and allies.

  6. Collect Data on Insults and LGBTQIA+ Harassment: Implement surveys, anonymous reporting systems, or other data collection methods to gather information on incidents of insults, harassment, and discrimination based on LGBTQIA+ identities within your school. Analyze the data to identify trends, assess the effectiveness of interventions, and inform future strategies for creating a safer and more inclusive school environment.

  7. Create an LGBTQIA+ Section in Your Library: Dedicate a section of your school library to LGBTQIA+ literature, resources, and materials. Include fiction and non-fiction books, memoirs, biographies, and educational resources that highlight LGBTQIA+ identities, experiences, and history. This section can serve as a valuable resource for students seeking information, representation, and support.

  8. Establish a Box for Anonymous Questions and Suggestions Regarding LGBTQIA+ Issues in Your School: Set up a designated box or digital platform where students can anonymously submit questions, concerns, or suggestions related to LGBTQIA+ issues. This provides a safe and confidential space for students to seek information, express themselves, and share their experiences without fear of judgment or reprisal.

  9. Connect with LGBTQIA+ Associations in Your Locality and Region: Reach out to local LGBTQIA+ organizations, advocacy groups, and community centres to establish partnerships and connections. Collaborate on initiatives, events, and resources that promote LGBTQIA+ inclusion, awareness, and support within your school and broader community.

  10. Recognize That Gender Identities and Sexual Orientations Are Complex and Fluid; Avoid Fixed Labels: Foster an inclusive and affirming environment by acknowledging the diverse and fluid nature of gender identities and sexual orientations. Avoid imposing fixed labels or assumptions on students and instead encourage self-exploration, self-expression, and respect for individual identity journeys.

  11. Create an Accessible List for Students of Teachers and School Staff Who Are Allies and Have Received Training: Compile a list of teachers and school staff members who have undergone LGBTQIA+ sensitivity training and identify as allies. Make this list accessible to students through digital platforms, bulletin boards, or school newsletters. This enables students to identify supportive adults they can turn to for guidance, assistance, and advocacy.

  12. Facilitate the Establishment and Sustainability of an LGBTQIA+ Youth Group in Your School: Support students in forming and maintaining an LGBTQIA+ youth group or alliance within your school. Provide resources, guidance, and administrative support to help students organize meetings, events, and initiatives that promote LGBTQIA+ visibility, acceptance, and community building. Encourage collaboration with school administration and community stakeholders to ensure the group's sustainability and impact.

  13. Provide Supportive Counselling: Offer LGBTQIA+-inclusive counselling services or referrals to mental health professionals who specialize in supporting LGBTQIA+ youth. Ensure that counselling services are affirming, confidential, and sensitive to the unique needs and experiences of LGBTQIA+ students.

  14. Educate Yourself: Continuously educate yourself on LGBTQIA+ issues, terminology, and best practices for supporting LGBTQIA+ students. Attend workshops, seminars, or professional development sessions focused on LGBTQIA+ inclusion. Stay informed about current research, resources, and developments in LGBTQIA+ advocacy and activism to enhance your knowledge and effectiveness as an ally and advocate for LGBTQIA+ students.

As educators, we must recognize our responsibility to foster environments where all students feel seen, heard, and valued. By prioritizing teacher training and systemic change, we can create truly inclusive schools that empower LGBTQIA+ youth to thrive.

What is your next step?


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