Now that the school year is in full swing, we'd like to discuss one of the aspects of inclusive curriculum that we get asked about the most: the importance of incorporating lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) issues in sexuality education. Providing LGBT youth with accurate and useful information that is relevant to their sexual health and development is critical, particularly given the sexual health disparities widely reported for LGBT youth, such as increased rates of sexually transmitted infections. Perhaps these disparities are caused, in part, by the type of sex education LGBT youth receive (or don’t receive) in school. Researchers and health education experts alike have highlighted how sexuality education in U.S. schools often stigmatizes LGBT people and issues or excludes them altogether. For example, in our National School Climate Survey (pdf), we found that only 4% of LGBT students were taught positive information about LGBT people or issues in their health classes. And teachers in some states (i.e., Arizona, South Carolina) and individual school districts are explicitly prohibited from even mentioning any LGBT-related content in a positive way, if at all.
Here we lay out five possible approaches to inclusion of LGBT people and issues in sexuality education – four that are seriously flawed and one that is truly inclusive. Which type have you seen practiced at your school or at schools you have attended?
The Ignoring Approach. The curriculum ignores the existence of LGBT people and non-heterosexual behaviors completely. Not only is there an omission of LGBT people and related topics, but heterosexuality is put forth as the norm and only conceivable option. Given its focus on marriage (almost exclusively defined as between a man and a woman), abstinence-only education often falls into this approach (for more on abstinence-only sex education and how it affects LGBT students, check out p. 50 in our National School Climate Survey (pdf).
The Demonizing Approach. The curriculum includes, yet demonizes, LGBT people and non-heterosexual behaviors by either explicitly teaching that that homosexuality is wrong or implicitly communicating that being LGBT is undesirable and unacceptable. For example, some curricula equate homosexuality with child sexual abuse or insinuate that gay men are responsible for the AIDS epidemic.
The Stigmatizing Approach. In this case, the curriculum may not outright condemn LGBT people or any non-heterosexual feelings or behaviors, but mentions LGBT people only when discussing risk behaviors (e.g., those related to HIV or other sexual transmitted infections). This portrays LGBT people as dangerous and their sexual behaviors as risky and abnormal.
The Transgender-Excluding Approach. The sex education curriculum may include LGB people and non-heterosexuality in an affirming, respectful manner, and yet still exclude transgender people and issues completely, negating their existence and value.
The Truly LGBT-Inclusive Approach. This approach includes and infuses LGBT people and issues throughout the sex education curriculum. It does not assume heterosexuality in its definitions of sexual activities or discussions of romantic relationships. It challenges the gender binary (i.e., that there are only two genders, male and female, and that are mutually exclusive) and pays more than token attention to transgender people and concerns. It avoids relegating LGBT issues to “special topics” and instead includes discussions of sexual orientation and gender identity throughout the curriculum. Unfortunately, this is the least common type of sex education provided in our schools today.
GLSEN believes that sexuality education must be truly LGBT-inclusive. This would benefit not only LGBT youth, but also provide non-LGBT youth with an opportunity to dispel myths about issues of sexual orientation and gender and broaden their understanding about LGBT peoples and communities.
If you want to learn more, these five approaches to LGBT-inclusion in sexuality education are discussed in more detail in our recent book chapter on LGBTQ-inclusive curriculum.
Today kicks off Ally Week! You may be asking, why we love allies to LGBT youth. Here are some answers we got!
We love allies because:
1. Everyone can be an ally to someone else.
2. They use their privilege for good.
3. They choose to learn about other identities, power, privilege and forms of oppression.
4. They stand up for what's right even when it may not be popular.
5. They recognize our awesomeness.
6. They join us in solidarity.
7. Our allies are important in reaching equality.
8. They're part of our chosen family.
9. They restore our spirits when we feel down.
10. Their love and support make us feel warm inside.
11. They make safe spaces even safer.
12. They offer their voice where ours can't be heard.
13. They remind others to use appropriate language around or about us.
14. Together, we can make change happen!
Become an ally.
Organize Ally Week at your school.
Learn how to become an even better ally.
Educators often worry about “saying the right thing” when confronted with conversations that they might not feel entirely comfortable engaging in with their students. A teacher once described to me how these moments made her feel like she was walking on “squishy ground.” A student “coming out” is one such moment that may create a heightened level of anxiety for you as an educator. While each such conversation is unique, there are some simple pointers that may help the ground feel less “squishy” and will ultimately help the student feel more supported. Since it’s National Coming Out Day, we wanted to share these with you as well as encourage you to learn about these in greater detail on pages 14-15 of GLSEN’s Safe Space Kit.
When a student comes out to you and tells you they are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) your initial response is important. The student has likely spent time in advance thinking about whether or not to tell you, when and how to tell you and it’s likely that they chose to tell you because they see you or already know you as a supportive ally - so congratulations and thank you for being that person in the first place! So, here are some things to remember when a student comes out to you…
Offer support but don’t assume a student needs any help.
Be a role model of acceptance.
Appreciate the student’s courage.
Listen, listen, listen.
Assure and respect confidentiality.
Remember that the student has not changed.
Challenge traditional norms.
Be prepared to give a referral
Of course, it’s equally important to avoid saying things like: “I knew it,” “Are you sure?” “You’re just confused,” "It’s a phase – it will pass,” “Shhh, don’t tell anyone,” or “You can’t be gay/lesbian – you’ve had relationships with members of the opposite sex.” These kinds of questions or statements are simply not appropriate and will not help the student feel supported. Instead, ask questions that demonstrate understanding, acceptance and compassion such as "have you been able to tell anyone else?" "Do you need help of any kind?" or "Do you feel supported by the adults in your life?" Again, the Safe Space Kit has other suggestions for these moments and for many other ways you can demonstrate that you are a supportive ally to your LGBT students.
Above all, remember that when a student has made the decision to come out to you, they've probably chosen to do so because they trust you. It is important to reassure them of that trust by engaging in this moment with respect, dignity and (as with all you do as a supportive ally), with affirmation.
Happy National Coming Out Day...or any coming out day!
This August, GLSEN Student Ambassadors attended a screening of HBO's new documentary "Valentine Road." We invited them to share their experiences and reactions to the film as it is released to general audiences.
Have you ever seen a film that moves you so much, you leave the room a different person?
That is what happened to me this past August when I had the opportunity to watch HBO’s documentary “Valentine Road.” This film follows the aftermath of the murder of Lawrence King, a 15-year-old student who was killed by one of his classmates in 2008.
Watching this documentary was an extremely emotional process for me. In my life, I try and surround myself with supportive people. My friends and family help me feel safe, and I cannot imagine where I would be without their support. Knowing that a kid was brutally murdered as a result of homophobia and transphobia is heartbreaking, but it all gets worse once you see the people who disagree. Valentine Road showcased all sides of the story, from his friends and supporters to the prejudiced teachers, jurors and members of the community who believed Larry deserved his death. I was angry and sad, but also very inspired.
Larry’s death was a tragedy, and sadly it is only one of the many that happen every day around the world. And that is why we need to keep working every day to change the hearts and minds of those who still believe that being who you are is wrong. After watching “Valentine Road,” I wanted to make a change, and I knew that this was not going to happen unless I worked hard every day.
Sadly, we still live in a world full of hate, and this is why watching this documentary is a must for everyone. As horrifying as it can be, it is important that we all know such crimes occur, because looking the other way won’t make them go away. So, understanding that this film is very emotional and crude, I believe that everyone should watch it, and I strongly encourage anyone to see it with a proper support system in place. This film changed me for the better, and I am so thankful I had the opportunity to watch it.
Paulina Aldaba is a GLSEN Student Ambassador.
In honor of World Teachers’ Day (October 5th), Education International (EI), the global association of national education unions, launched its “Unite for Quality Education” campaign today with simultaneous events at UNICEF in New York and UNESCO in Paris. This new mobilization effort calls upon member unions, governments and civil society to demand a free, high-quality education for every student. GLSEN applauds EI’s new campaign and we are particularly heartened that one of its key pillars is to promote supportive and safe environments for teaching and learning.
At the launch event at UNICEF this morning, speakers from around the world talked about how one supportive educator can make a world of difference in the life of a student. GLSEN’s two decades of experience underscore how true that is for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) youth here in the United States. And, since 1999, the GLSEN National School Climate Survey has consistently shown that when an LGBT student is able to identify supportive educators in their school, it benefits their individual well-being, their sense of belonging in school and their academic achievement. When educators intervene when hearing anti-LGBT remarks, when they intervene in the face of bullying or harassment, when they include positive representations of LGBT people, history or events in the curriculum and when they support a school’s Gay-Straight Alliance, they help to create an affirming learning environment for LGBT students. These supportive actions by educators can also promote a message of respect to all students, LGBT and non-LGBT alike.
GLSEN’s programmatic priorities reflect the importance of supportive teachers. Our professional development trainings for educators provide educators with the knowledge of LGBT student experiences and the skills to create safer and more affirming classrooms. Our curricular resources on LGBT issues provide materials for teachers to present positive and accurate representations of LGBT people, history and events. Our Safe Space Campaign is designed to make those supportive educators visible to LGBT students everywhere in the United States.
This past June, GLSEN, in partnership with UNESCO, convened an all-day meeting of activists and scholars from across the world to strategize about how to coordinate our collective resources and knowledge to reduce homophobic and transphobic prejudice and violence in schools globally. In honor of World Teachers’ Day, I would like to highlight some of the important work our partner organizations are doing with and for educators:
South Africa: GALA (Gay and Lesbian Memory in Action) and UNESCO will be hosting a colloquium: Transforming Classrooms, Transforming Lives: Combating Homophobia and Transphobia in Education in November in Johannesburg. The event will provide an opportunity for educators, policymakers, researchers and activists from across Southern Africa to discuss the scope and impact of homophobia and transphobia in the education sector.
Poland: Kampania Przeciw Homofobii (Campaign Against Homophobia) recently conducted research on student and school staff on attitudes regarding homophobia in school and found that 8 in 10 teachers in Poland (82.6%) believe that the topic of homosexuality and homophobia should be present in the school curriculum and about 8 in 10 (77.7%) reported that they do discuss LGBT issues in class.
Brazil: Through their Gênero e Diversidade na Escola (Gender and Diversity in School) professional education program, CLAM (Centro Latino-Americano em Sexualidade e Direitos Humano) has trained over 35,000 educators across Brazil.
Australia: Safe Schools Coalition Victoria (SSCV) is a coalition of schools and individuals working toward safer educational environments for the whole school community. SSCV offers a myriad of training opportunities for educators, including their recent workshop: Beyond the Gender Binary: Creating inclusive environments for transgender and gender diverse students, staff and families.
We at GLSEN applaud the work of all our partner organizations across the globe working on LGBT issues in education. And moreover, we honor all educators everywhere who are making schools safer and more affirming for LGBT youth.
This August, GLSEN Student Ambassadors attended a screening of HBO's upcoming documentary "Valentine Road." We invited them to share their experiences and reactions to the film leading up to its official release.
Stunned. Appalled. Riveted. Frightened. Enraged. Energized to demand change.
I experienced all of these feelings and more during GLSEN’s Student Ambassador Summit in August while viewing the groundbreaking documentary "Valentine Road," about the senseless murder of young Lawrence King. As one of the first youth to see this emotionally charged film before its official release on October 7, I had a unique glimpse at its extremely disturbing and sensitive material.
No matter how much the subject matter horrified me, I am definitely changed for the better having seen the depths some can go to punish alleged violations of gender roles and expectations, even those of a 15-year-old child. It has given me even more drive to rectify King’s death and make sure that such a purely homophobic/transphobic murder may never occur again.
As angry as I was to see many of the testimonials of prejudiced teachers or jurors and the results of the trial of Larry’s killer, the film did not simply blame Brandon McInerney for his crime. Instead, the documentary chose to analyze the story from both sides of the gun, providing a complete tableau of the factors which contributed to Larry’s murder. It left no stone unturned, addressing homophobia and transphobia, racial prejudice, class, abusive histories, family and community support, mental illness, school violence, the failings of the “justice” system, safe schools legislation, and the complications of age in the eyes of the court, among other issues.
"Valentine Road" is a must-see for GSAs and other similar school or community clubs. However, the nature of the film is wrought with emotion and sensitive material. In fact, I was so affected that I cried in the theater, and I was most certainly not alone. Thus, GSAs should be careful before showing this powerful film to students. A safe space filled with ample amounts of tissues, love, and support is required before anyone sees the film.
Most of all, I deeply recommend that a time be provided to discuss its themes and details, whether that be directly following the film showing or a week or more afterward, though, frankly, I would recommend both. This way, immediate reactions may be shared in addition to feelings that emerge after an audience has had time to process the film.
This documentary empowered me to continue my crusade to support LGBTQ* students in and out of our nation’s schools, and I am thankful to have seen it. Please consider watching it to learn more about the life-and-death situation of bullying and discrimination facing LGBTQ* students, the brief but impactful life of Lawrence King, and what you can do to make a difference for students at risk.
Liam Arne is a GLSEN Student Ambassador.
Each year, we select a group of outstanding students from around the country to serve as GLSEN Student Ambassadors. These hard-working and enthusiastic young people help advance our work by sharing their stories and advocating for LGBT issues in K-12 education in all forms of media. Please click to watch this video and meet our nine newest Ambassadors for the 2013-2014 school year.
In August, our Student Ambassadors (pictured below) traveled to Los Angeles for a four-day media training summit. There they attended workshops and coaching sessions to learn how to interact with the media and gain the skills needed to return to their hometowns and begin sharing their stories and working towards creating safer schools in their communities.
Please join me in welcoming these exceptional students to the GLSEN family!
P.S. The Student Ambassador program is just one of the many GLSEN programs supported by your gifts. Thank you!
P.P.S. Two of our Ambassadors, Liam and Paulina, will be participating in the State of Out Youth town hall next Tuesday to discuss the most pressing issues facing LGBT youth. The event will be held at the New York Times Center and you can RSVP to attend or watch the live webcast.
With the start of October, many parents across the country will be attending Back-to-School Nights at their children’s schools. The start of the school year can prompt lots of excitement as well as stir up anxiety, not only for students, but for their parents as well. For LGBT parents in particular, this season may be a time of trepidation, as they may be wondering whether their family will be treated equally and with respect: will the emergency contact forms allow for more than one mother? Will their student be the only child with two dads? Will LGBT parents be included in books and lessons about families?
You may or may not be familiar with GLSEN’s report (produced in collaboration with COLAGE and Family Equality Council), Involved, Invisible, Ignored: The Experiences of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Parents and Their Children in Our Nation’s K-12 Schools. The report examines and highlights the school experiences of LGBT-headed families using results from surveys of LGBT parents of children in K-12 schools and of secondary students who have LGBT parents. Findings reveal that LGBT parents may be highly engaged in their child’s school, even if they sometimes encounter non-welcoming environments.
LGBT parents said they were highly involved, as LGBT parents were found to be more active in their children’s education than the general population of parents. For instance:
- 94% of LGBT parents had attended a Back-to-School Night or parent-teacher conference in the past year, compared to 77% of a national sample of K-12 parents.
- 41% of LGBT parents of a high school student said they were members of their school’s parent-teacher organization, compared to 26% of the national sample of parents.
Nonetheless, LGBT parents often said that they felt invisible in their child’s school.
- 15% said their child’s school didn’t acknowledge their family type at least some of the time.
- 32% said that their child’s school was “not at all” or only “a little” inclusive of LGBT families (see chart below).
Finally, some LGBT parents said that they felt less than welcome or even ignored in their child’s school:
- 16% said they felt they could not fully participate in their child’s school community.
- 12% said they did not feel comfortable talking to their child’s teacher about their family.
It’s important that schools are welcoming to ALL families. For resources about including LGBT families in schools, see GLSEN’s Ready, Set, Respect! toolkit for elementary schools or its Unheard Voices lesson plans for secondary schools.
With two month-long celebrations and Ally Week on the calendar, October holds such great possibility for making change in schools. Ironically, though, while thousands of schools across the country will focus their attention on recognizing Bullying Prevention Month with assemblies, special theme days and activities focused on addressing the issue of bullying in a broadly defined sense, fewer will recognize October as LGBT History Month – a strategic time of the school year to include positive representations of LGBT people, history or events in lessons and other school activities – and as a result, achieve outcomes that many strive for in their bullying prevention efforts.
Consider the following outcomes:
Fewer students reporting that they feel unsafe
Fewer students missing school
More students reporting a greater sense of being a part of their school community
Would your school community consider your Bullying Prevention Month efforts a success if you were to achieve these? We all would!
For LGBT students, these outcomes can be achieved by including positive representations of LGBT people, history, or events within the school curriculum. Unfortunately, even though GLSEN’s National School Climate Survey identifies these outcomes as being linked to LGBT-inclusive curriculum, only 16.8% of LGBT students reported having positive representations of LGBT people, history or events in classes.
LGBT History Month is the perfect time to make a special effort to include LGBT content in lessons and activities. This year, why not incorporate both month-long celebrations into your school’s programming? To help, GLSEN has developed resources like the popular Unheard Voices – Stories of LGBT History as well as other lessons and a Guide to Developing LGBT-Inclusive Classroom Resources that can help with the LGBT History aspect of October, while tools like Ready, Set, Respect! and the Safe Space Kit can complement your Bullying Prevention Month activities.
Working together, the recognition of these two months can make a real difference in your school! Happy October!
Throughout my time as an organizer, I have learned a few things about Organizing:
- Organizing is about connection
- Organizing is about stepping out of one’s comfort zone and into a place of action
- Organizing is about Community and allyship
A few weeks ago speakers upon speakers took to a simple podium, with a backdrop of the grandest scale, in order to honor a moment 50 years earlier that changed the course of this nation: the March on Washington. Community Leaders, including GLSEN’s own Eliza Byard, spoke about what the March meant to the movement. And over the roars of applause, I heard an overarching message of joining hands marching forward; this, I thought to myself, is allyship.
After about the third speech, I was taken back to those core organizing principles. I began to ask myself questions around allyship, around my privilege in the safer schools movement, and perhaps most of all, what can be done to join hands and move the movement forward. I thought about my work at GLSEN and our programs. I thought about Ally Week.
Ally Week is nearly upon us and this year we’re asking ourselves, “how can we become an even better ally?” The fact is, everyone, no matter who you are in the school community or community-at-large, can do something to become an even better ally to someone else. As a cisgender, male-identified, gay adult, I know my privilege provides me with access that I can, and must, use to move the movement forward; I can become an even better ally to LGBT youth, trans & gender non-conforming students, and differently-able bodied persons, to name a few. Ally Week is a week where we can create the time and space to ask ourselves insightful questions, join hands, and to march forward in solidarity toward our dream of safer schools for all!
Do I have you inspired yet? If so, here’s my call to action (it comes in two parts - ask & act):
- Ask yourself, “how can I become an even better ally to ____________?”
- Take actions to better your allyship!
No matter if you have a minute, an hour, or an afternoon, we have actions you can do!
Know that whichever actions you choose, by stepping up and participating you are moving the movement forward.
Collectively, we are all working on becoming #BetterAllies.