Making School a Safe Place for LGBTQ Students (2023)

Making School a Safe Place for LGBTQ Students (1)

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Depending on where you live, you might think we’ve reached a point where society has truly embraced people of all gender and sexual identities, making the topic of LGBTQ rights kind of a non-issue. The truth is, for many LGBTQ students, discrimination and harassment are still a daily reality, and school is one of the main places where they experience these things.

A 2015 national school climate study conducted byGLSEN, an organization focused on ensuring safe and affirming schools for LGBTQ students, found that over 85 percent of these students have experienced verbal harassment and 66 percent have been discriminated against based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. As a result of feeling more isolated and unsafe, many of these students miss school, avoid bathrooms, and stay away from locker rooms. Students who experience more victimization are also more likely to have lower GPAs and to report feeling depressed.

And it’s not just other students who create this hostile climate for their LGBTQ peers. Over half of the more than 10,000 students surveyed reported hearing biased remarks from school staff, and school staff often fail to intervene when they hear these remarks at school.

The good news? Overall, the number of students who report being harassed or discriminated against is declining. The climate is improving across the board, but for many students, it’s not happening fast enough.

What Teachers Can Do

As educators, we set the tone for how our students treat each other. No, we can’t control everything, but we can do a lot to influence the climate in our schools and make sure our classrooms are places where all students feel welcome.

The best place to learn more about the specific things you can do is on GLSEN’s website, and I’ve posted two of their best resources for teachers below, but to get you started, I’ve pulled some of the most important steps teachers can take. I also interviewed Becca Mui, GLSEN’s Education Manager, to contribute her insights to the podcast.

These tips, pulled from resources created by GLSEN and my interview with Mui, will give you a good start toward making your school safer and more welcoming for LGBTQ students.

1. Educate Yourself

If you do not personally identify as LGBTQ or spend time in that community, you’ll be a much more effective ally if you commit to listening and learning about the issues. “A huge portion of support is staying educated,” Mui says, “so things like listening to podcasts or just reading some blogs about LGBTQ people and continually learning about that can help you become an ally and an advocate in your school.”

Making an effort to use whatever terminology is currently embraced by the LGBTQ community is another important way to show respect.

“It’s always helpful to have a shared language when you’re talking about identity,” Mui explains. “One of the things that is tricky about LGBTQ and trans identities when people are not part of those communities is that that language is changing, specifically the language we’re using to talk about gender.”

This is a challenge even for people within the LGBTQ community. “It is literally my job to be connected, to be supportive, to know what’s going on,” Mui says, “and I’m constantly finding out that something’s been updated, something’s been changed.” She recommends viewing language as an always evolving process. “Having the attitude that we use the language we have and we are open to learning that something’s been updated can be really useful.”

With that in mind, let’s start here by looking at the acronym LGBTQ:

L = Lesbian
a person who is female-identified who is emotionally or physically attracted to other females

G = Gay
a male-identified person who’s emotionally or physically attracted to other males

In some spaces, the term “gay” is used as a general term to describe the LGBTQ population as a whole, but GLSEN is trying to move toward language that’s more inclusive, rather than placing gay men at the center.

B = Bisexual
a person who is attracted to two genders, or people with your gender and other genders

T = Transgender (or “trans”)
an umbrella term for people whose gender identity doesn’t match the sex they were assigned at birth

The opposite of transgender is cisgender (abbreviated as “cis”), someone whose gender identity is aligned with the one they were assigned at birth.

Q = Queer
also an umbrella term to describe sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression that doesn’t conform to heteronormativity

“Historically, (this term) was used as a slur,” Mui says, “but there is a power in re-claimed words, and we find that across different types of marginalized identities, the power to take a word that has been used negatively and say, ‘This is mine’ that a lot of young LGBTQ people are feeling.”

Another term that comes up frequently in discussions of LGBTQ issues is heteronormativity, which is defined by theQueer Dictionary as the belief or assumption that all people are heterosexual, or that heterosexuality is the default or “normal” state of human being. In our schools and our society at large, we often come from a heteronormative place, speaking of the LGBTQ population as the “other,” which communicates to our LGBTQ students that they are deviant or unnatural. We’ll talk more about that a little bit later.

To learn more about terminology and other important issues, download GLSEN’s Safe Space Kit below.

Making School a Safe Place for LGBTQ Students (2)GLSEN Safe Space Kit
A Guide to Supporting Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual
and Transgender Students in Your School

2. Check Your Biases

As with any kind of advocacy, it’s crucial to understand your own background and biases. “All of us, LGBT and non-LGBT, have learned messages about LGBT people,” reads a passage from the Safe Space Kit. “What were the earliest messages you received about LGBT people and where did they come from? Were they positive, negative or neutral? Understanding the messages we receive can help us identify our own beliefs and biases that we can then challenge, helping to make us stronger allies.”

The GLSEN Safe Space Kit provides a “Check Yourself” exercise that will help you take a close look at your own underlying beliefs.

3. Teach Inclusively

The things we teach and how we teach them can send important messages to our students about whether or not they are valued as they are. “So much of our language is gendered in ways that we’re not really thoughtful of,” Mui explains. “Just saying, ‘Boys and girls,’ and not really thinking about who we’re saying that to, or addressing the compliments that we’re giving to students, really thinking about how are we using language, how are we making space in our language for students to identify and be whoever and however they want is a really important step.”

Here are some things you can do to make sure you’re nurturing your LGBTQ students in your instruction:

  • Include a variety of gender representations.
    When students are presented with a narrow picture of gender roles—and they don’t see themselves in any of them—they develop a sense early on that something is wrong with them. GLSEN’s Ready, Set, Respect! toolkit for elementary teachers (link below) encourages teachers to make sure that classroom books and materials include diverse families and people whose careers and other life roles don’t conform to gender stereotypes.
  • Group neutrally.
    Out of habit, teachers will often divide students into “boy” and “girl” groups. This can make students who don’t conform to gender-based stereotypes feel uncomfortable and isolated. The Ready, Set, Respect! toolkit recommends that instead, we divide students more neutrally by birthday month or by numbering them as 1s and 2s.
  • Evaluate your speech and materials for heteronormative and gender-normative bias.
    In casual conversation, in the examples we use while teaching, and in our materials, we often communicate assumptions about gender and sexuality: Boys are attracted to and will grow up to marry girls (and vice-versa), girls will naturally prefer activities like shopping while boys will naturally be interested in athletics, and so on. All of these send the message that there is only one way to be “normal” and that students who don’t fit these descriptions are abnormal. As you talk, teach, and look at your materials, ask yourself whether you’re communicating these messages, and find ways to replace them with more inclusive examples.
  • Include positive representations of LGBTQ people in your curriculum.
    “Whatever curriculum that is,” Mui says, “there are usually people involved in that, whether that’s the people you’re listing in a math problem or the histories that you’re teaching in a history class, there are ways to bring about diversity. Integrating that into your learning helps all of your students to learn more about the world and it helps LGBTQ students see themselves in their learning.” GLSEN has resources on LGBTQ history that can help with this. As with all resources, teachers should preview these material before offering them to students. GLSEN serves K-12 students, and you will know best which activities and lessons will meet your students’ needs. When sharing facts about LGBTQ history, it’s important for educators to balance a positive influence and celebration of icons and leaders while not hiding the truth behind historically important events.

Making School a Safe Place for LGBTQ Students (3)Ready, Set, Respect!
GLSEN’s Elementary School Toolkit

4. Be Visible

Let your LGBTQ students know that you are an ally by displaying some visible sign of your support. Hanging a rainbow flag or a Safe Space Poster or Sticker in your classroom can accomplish this. GLSEN’s Safe Space Kit points out that this kind of visibility affects students more than we might even realize. “Even if students don’t come to you directly, the kit says, “research shows that just knowing that there is a supportive educator at school can help LGBT students feel better about being in school.”

5. Respond to Anti-LGBTQ Behavior

When students experience harassment in your presence, take action. Simply saying something like “That language is unacceptable,” is enough to acknowledge the act and stop it. The Safe Space Kit includes more detailed information on turning incidents like these into teachable moments and how to respond in more specific situations, like when a student says “That’s so gay.” But the most important thing to remember is to not ignore it. “Remember,” says the Safe Space Kit, “no action is an action — if an incident is overlooked or not addressed it can imply acceptance and approval.”

6. Support Students Who Come Out

As you make yourself more visible as an ally, students may be more likely to come out to you about their sexual orientation or gender identity. This important and sensitive conversation needs to be handled carefully, and the Safe Space Kit offers detailed advice for teachers.

Their most important advice is to listen. Instead of assuming that you know what the student needs or that their situation will be similar to that of other LGBTQ people you have known, treat each student as an individual and just let them talk. Ask them what they need and how you can help. You can give GLSEN’s new Coming Out Resource to students who are thinking of sharing this part of their identity. It may be useful to let students know about hotlines they can call to get out-of-school support. The LGBT National Help Center at has a collection of numbers that can help.

Remember that this student is trusting you with confidential information that you should not share until they are ready. To be on the safe side, talk to your administrator and guidance counselor about what your school policy says about confidentiality. If it doesn’t go far enough to protect the rights of students, work to change that. Policies regarding confidentiality should also take gender identity into account. GLSEN provides guidelines for these considerations in its Transgender Model District Policy: “It is critical that parental/guardian approval is never a prerequisite for respecting a student’s chosen name, appropriate gender, and pronouns… Staff should take guidance from and work collaboratively with the student to ensure that the student remains safe, both at school and at home.”

7. Support a Student GSA

GLSEN’s research has shown that the existence of a student GSA, or Gender Sexuality Alliance, can go a long way toward improving a school’s climate for LGBTQ students. “Those need to be started by students,” Mui explains, “but asking students if that’s something they want support around” can be a good place to start. A GSA will also need a faculty advisor, so offering your services in that way can make a GSA a reality in your school.

8. Revisit Your School Policies

Making sure that your school’s anti-bullying and anti-discrimination policies include language specific to sexual orientation and gender identity can also improve your school’s climate, and GLSEN’s research has found these types of policies to have significant impact on quality of life for LGBTQ students. Part of your work as an advocate is looking into these policies and working toward real change. Use GLSEN’s Model Policies as a reference:

9. Educate Your Colleagues

Apart from being more vocal and open with your own support for LGBTQ students, you can also conduct your own workshops for colleagues. The Safe Space Kit includes a sample 20-minute presentation teachers can give to school staff. GLSEN also offers in-person professional development. “We are a national organization, but we also have 40 local chapters which are amazingly volunteer-run by humans who are really dedicated and fantastic in this work,” Mui says. “They’re doing this work on the ground, and so we support them here from the national office with resources.”Click here to view a map of local GLSEN chapters.

All of these actions will send a message of love and acceptance to your LGBTQ students—those you know about, and especially those you don’t. Committing yourself to taking even a few of these steps can make such an incredible difference, impacting students’ mental health, their safety, their academic success, and their overall quality of life. It just takes one person to start tipping the scales, to start moving a school culture in a more inclusive direction; I very much hope, for the sake of the students who need you, that you’ll be that person.♥

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Posted In:

Categories: Classroom Management, Equity, Podcast

Tags: cultural competence, LGBTQ, social justice, teacher-student relationships, whole child


How do you promote a safe space in LGBTQ? ›

Tips for creating a safe environment for LGBTIQ+ people in your organisation
  1. Use the right language. Inclusive language can go a long way to making LGBTIQ+ people feel safe and welcome. ...
  2. Maintain confidentiality. ...
  3. Celebrate unity and achievements.

What can teachers do to create inclusive and safe classrooms for LGBTQ students? ›

10 Simple Ways Educators Can Create An LGBTQ+ Inclusive Classroom
  • Post a safe space sign. ...
  • Use inclusive language. ...
  • Include inclusive learning materials in your teaching practice. ...
  • Introduce your pronouns. ...
  • Acknowledge diverse family structures. ...
  • Introduce gender-neutral bathrooms. ...
  • Invest in PD.
Jun 8, 2021

How do you create a welcoming environment for LGBTQ? ›

  1. Listen to and reflect patients' choice of language when they describe their own sexual orientation and gender identity and how they refer to their relationship or partner. ...
  2. Refrain from making assumptions about a person's sexual orientation or gender identity based on appearance.

Why are LGBTQ safe spaces important? ›

Moreover, supportive environments result in overwhelmingly positive outcomes: people who are LGBTQIA+ miss less school or work, are more productive and earn higher grades. Safe spaces allow marginalized people to be heard and to contribute more freely. This safe space training caters to varying levels of experience.

How can I make my LGBTQ classroom inclusive? ›

General Tips
  1. Ask students for pronouns and their chosen name on the first day of class, and use those identifiers throughout the semester.
  2. Integrate LGBTQIA+ topics throughout classroom content — you can find more ways than you think!
  3. Create comfortable classroom climate.

How do you promote safe spaces? ›

Tips for creating safe spaces
  1. Learn and pronounce students names correctly.
  2. Address challenging behaviour head on and use these as teachable moments.
  3. Use micro-affirmations.
  4. Establish ground rules for interaction with your students at the beginning of the course.
  5. Write a diversity and inclusion statement for your syllabus.
Apr 27, 2020

How can we create a safe classroom environment for both genders? ›

7 Tips for Creating a More Gender-Inclusive Classroom
  1. Start the conversation. ...
  2. Don't just correct stereotyped beliefs—challenge them. ...
  3. Watch your language. ...
  4. Avoid labels. ...
  5. Read good books. ...
  6. Let kids play with trying on different identities. ...
  7. Make sure toys and activities are open to everyone.
Jun 20, 2017

How do you create a safe and inclusive school environment? ›

5 Inclusive Classroom Strategies To Build A Safe Community
  1. Get to Know Your Students and Let Them Get to Know You. Establishing a bond with your students takes time. ...
  2. Create a Safe Space for Students to Share. ...
  3. Deliver Instruction in a Variety of Ways. ...
  4. Choose Relevant Literature. ...
  5. Invite Guest Speakers to Share Their Stories.

How do you create a gender inclusive school? ›

Use inclusive phrases to address your class as a whole – students, children or scholars. Group students in ways that do not rely on gender – table groups, letters in their names, colors of their clothes… Be a role model! Give examples of how you or people you know like to do things outside of gender stereotypes.

How can I make my school more welcoming for LGBTQ families? ›

8 Ways Parents Can Create an LGBTQ+ Friendly Classroom
  1. Assess the school's progress in creating an LGBTQ+ friendly classroom. ...
  2. Fix the school's forms and paperwork. ...
  3. Be out. ...
  4. Get involved in the school community. ...
  5. Look for LGBTQ+ friendly classroom policies and practices.

How to make your online class a safe space for LGBTQ students? ›

Here are some tips on how to make your (online) class a safe space for LGBTQ+ students:
  1. Be visible as an ally.
  2. Support students when they come out to you.
  3. Respond to anti-LGBT language or behavior.
  4. Educate others.
  5. Recognize and respect students' lived names, pronouns, and titles.
Jun 25, 2021

What are some ways you create a welcoming and affirming environment conducive to learning in your own classroom? ›

Tips for Setting Up a Warm and Welcoming Classroom
  1. Establish relationships early on. Allow your students a glimpse at who you are outside of the classroom. ...
  2. Build relevance between your classroom and your students' lives. ...
  3. Create space for curiosity and discovery. ...
  4. Inspire confidence in each student in your classroom.
Aug 3, 2021

Why is it important to create a safe space? ›

Safe spaces can provide a break from judgment, unsolicited opinions, and having to explain yourself. It also allows people to feel supported and respected. This is especially important for minorities, members of the LGBTQIA community, and other marginalized groups.

Why are safe spaces important for students? ›

Safe spaces are places where children can go to calm down, be alone, and recharge so they are ready to learn. Experts know that when children don't feel safe or are in a state of emotional upset, they can't learn. Safe spaces are an effective way to help children return to a relaxed state that is optimal for learning.

What is the importance of keeping a safe space in our class? ›

If you're using interactive approaches such as small groups and cooperative learning, it's especially important to create a classroom where students feel safe asking questions and contributing to discussions. Students need to feel safe in order to learn. They need to feel secure in order to want to participate.

How can LGBTQ be supported in schools? ›

Schools can support LGBTQ+ youth by encouraging respect for all students and developing and implementing nondiscrimination and anti-bullying policies that include actual or perceived sexual orientation as well as gender identity and expression.

What are three ways to create an inclusive classroom? ›

Tips for Making Classrooms More Inclusive as Students Head Back To School
  1. Use inclusive language on all forms. ...
  2. Stock your library shelves with diverse books. ...
  3. Create a welcoming bulletin board. ...
  4. Develop clear classroom and/or school agreements. ...
  5. Prepare for teachable moments. ...
  6. Model inclusive language.
Aug 24, 2018

How do I make my classroom more culturally inclusive? ›

For example, some classroom practices may include: providing students with opportunities to share stories of their life, showing students everyday photos of people from different ethnicities making a positive impact when opportunities are presented during instruction, welcoming guest speakers making positive ...

How do you promote a safe school? ›

Promoting Safety in Schools
  1. Positive school climate and atmosphere.
  2. Clear and high performance expectations for all students.
  3. Practices and values that promote inclusion.
  4. Student bonding to the school.
  5. High levels of student participation and parent involvement in school activities.

How can schools be made a safer learning environment? ›

Manage Classrooms to Prevent Bullying

Create ground rules. Develop rules with students so they set their own climate of respect and responsibility. Use positive terms, like what to do, rather than what not to do. Support school-wide rules.

How do you create a culturally safe space? ›

Culturally Safe Spaces can be achieved by ensuring that cultural safety and cultural security is considered and imbedded in all aspects of:
  1. The built environment and design.
  2. Governance.
  3. Staffing.
  4. Language.
  5. Laws, policies, guidelines, procedures and dispute resolution.
  6. Programs, training and resources.

What are 3 ways to help Lgbtq+ peers feel safer? ›

Use these ideas and resources to create a safe and welcoming environment for every student in your school.
5 Things You Can Do to Support Your LGBTQ Students
  • Post Safe Space Signs. ...
  • Start an LGBTQ Organization at Your School. ...
  • Stand Up Against Homophobia. ...
  • Integrate LGBTQ Topics into the Curriculum.

What is positive space LGBTQ? ›

A "positive space" is a place that is open and welcoming to people with marginalized sexual orientations and gender identities, including people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and queer (LGBTQ).

How do girls create safe space? ›

Emotionally Safe Spaces
  1. Invite the girls to define what is important for the creation of their safe space.
  2. Have girls create and sign a code of conduct for training sessions and sensitive discussions. ...
  3. Teach girls communication skills to help them peacefully resolve conflicts among one another.

How would you make your online class a safe space for LGBTQ students? ›

Here are some tips on how to make your (online) class a safe space for LGBTQ+ students:
  1. Be visible as an ally.
  2. Support students when they come out to you.
  3. Respond to anti-LGBT language or behavior.
  4. Educate others.
  5. Recognize and respect students' lived names, pronouns, and titles.
Jun 25, 2021

How to be an LGBTQ ally in school? ›

7 ways you can be a better LGBTQ+ ally
  1. Be open to learn, listen and educate yourself. ...
  2. Check your privilege. ...
  3. Don't assume. ...
  4. Think of 'ally' as an action rather than a label. ...
  5. Confront your own prejudices and unconscious bias. ...
  6. Know that language matters.
Dec 5, 2020

What teachers can do for LGBTQ students? ›

5 Ways Educators Can Help Support LGBTQ+ Students
  • Create space for sharing pronouns. ...
  • Embrace a diverse, intersectional curriculum to include LGBTQ+ experiences. ...
  • Rock pride in your safe space. ...
  • Get involved. ...
  • Listen to youth.
Oct 24, 2022

What does C mean in LGBTQ? ›

C. Cisgender: A person whose gender identity is aligned to what gender/sex they were assigned at birth; 2) A non-trans* person.

What does QT stand for in LGBTQ? ›

Most people are familiar with the term LGBT—lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender. The acronym increasingly includes the letter Q, LGBTQ, referring to queer and/or questioning individuals.

Is positive space white or black? ›

If you are seeing faces, then you are seeing the black areas as the positive space, and the white area as the negative space.

How do students create safe space? ›

10 Ways to Make Your Classroom A Safe Space For All Students
  1. Start With Empathy. ...
  2. Build a Sense of Community. ...
  3. Encourage Students To Share Opinions. ...
  4. Encourage Student-Driven Classroom. ...
  5. Build Relationships With Students. ...
  6. Add Humor to Your Pedagogy. ...
  7. Encourage Classroom Creativity. ...
  8. Creating Structure and Routines.
Dec 10, 2021

What way can I create an environment of safety for my students to respectfully disagree with one another and me )? ›

Create a Safe and Supportive Environment
  • Establish a culture of inclusion and respect that welcomes all students. Reward students when they show thoughtfulness and respect for peers, adults, and the school. ...
  • Make sure students interact safely. ...
  • Enlist the help of all school staff. ...
  • Set a tone of respect in the classroom.
Sep 8, 2017


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