Group Shares Ways to Create a Safe Learning Environment for LGBTQ Students

By Jessica Mitchell

It is important for school counselors and educators to have access to tools and support that will help them create a positive, safe learning environment for all students. At a recent youth conference, I was able to listen to a panel of teens from Prism Youth Community in Bloomington, Indiana speak to youth professionals about creating a supportive and safe environment for all students. Prism is an inclusive space for youth ages 12-20 supporting students of all sexual orientations, gender identities and expressions. The group holds weekly meetings, special events and field trips and educates people about LGBTQ issues through service and outreach with underserved communities.

Something that really stuck with me was the simplicity of a statement one of the youth speakers made during the question and answer session at the end: Remember that the comfort of non-LGBTQ students, parents, and teachers should not reprioritized over the safety of LGBTQ students.

The group provided information on how teachers, counselors and youth workers could help create a safe learning environment for LGBTQ youth.

Embrace teachable moments. Make the most of teachable moments to reinforce guidelines and build social skills such as listening, conflict resolution, friendship and diversity. Interrupt hurtful teasing and name-calling when it occurs. When students use words like gay or queer as putdowns, they are using these words to hurt, exclude, intimidate or bully. To create a safe atmosphere, ensure this kind of talk is stopped and educate students. Do not ignore the behavior, excuse the behavior, or base your response on how upset you think the bullied student is. Support the bullied student by maintaining their privacy, listening, determining their needs, providing space, and offering ongoing support.

Help students build support systems. Identify teachers, counselors and administrators that will be supportive of LGBTQ students. Communicate these support staff to students, so they can feel safer in the school environment. One student mentioned than one of the most helpful things a school can do is create a Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) or similar student club within the school.

Assess for safety outside the classroom. Be aware of whether students feel safe beyond the classroom, such as in the lunchroom, on the playground, in gym class, in the restrooms, and on the school bus. Engage adults in charge of those areas in discussions about safety of all students. Likewise, advocate for parental support. It can be difficult to support a student in the classroom when they are not supported in the home environment. Consider advocating for a parent support group or workshop, where parents of LGBTQ children can share their feelings and experiences, and learn best parenting practices.

Advocate for staff development. Ask your administration to organize staff development opportunities to explore issues of LGBTQ competency, family diversity, and bullying. Being uncomfortable is not the same as being unsafe, and school officials have a responsibility to ensure the safety of all students.

If we know that academic achievement correlates with a student’s safety and comfort with oneself, it’s important that we work to create a safe learning environment for all youth.

Jessica Mitchell is the Marketing & Design Coordinator at Youth Resources of Southwestern Indiana.