National Coming Out Day, October 11, is an annual event to recognize the power in living authentically. It is also a day that educators can use to make their classrooms safer for LGBTQ students. Here are five ways educators can support students after they come out and use National Coming Out Day to start meaningful conversations around making schools safer for LGBTQ students.
1. Acknowledge that it is National Coming Out Day.
While National Coming Out Day ultimately belongs to the LGBTQ community, you can still help raise awareness around it and show your support as an ally to the LGBTQ rights movement. Acknowledge that, despite recent societal progress like marriage equality in the United States, coming out is still a very brave thing to do and still isn't safe or feasible for many people.
2. Establish your classroom as a safe space for LGBTQ students.
Even gestures as simple as hanging a rainbow flag or a safe-space sticker on your classroom wall can go a long way in making clear to your students that you support justice and equality for the LGBTQ community. But, while gestures are great, they should be coupled with action: Speak up if you hear anti-LGBTQ comments, and turn them into teachable moments about tolerance and respect.
3. Incorporate LGBTQ issues into your curriculum and dialogues.
Representation matters, and students are more likely to engage with classroom content they can relate to. Depending on the age of your students and the classes you teach, you can discuss past and present LGBTQ rights movements, current events about LGBTQ experiences and issues and media (books, movies, and television shows) with LGBTQ characters.
4. Do your research and advocate for positive change.
What is your school’s stated protocol on addressing anti-LGBTQ bullying? Are trans students allowed to use gender-affirming or gender-neutral bathrooms? Are students allowed to bring same-sex partners to prom? These are all good policies to research and understand so you can be a source of knowledge and allyship to students. And, if such policies are lacking, you can advocate for change to make your school safer on an administrative level.
Also, be sure to check out online resources for teachers like yourself, including Teaching Tolerance’s Best Practices: Creating an LGBT-inclusive School Climate, My Kid Is Gay and GLSEN. Remember that you are not alone in working to make schools safer for all students.
5. Ask your out students what they need.
This is crucial. The coming-out process can be really stressful and emotionally draining, especially if coming out to unsupportive parents or other family members. If you know that one of your students is in the process of coming out, be sure to check in with them and see how you can help. Make sure they are getting the support they need and are taking care of themselves mentally, emotionally and physically. Coming out can be scary, but knowing you have people standing by you can make all the difference on your road to living authentically.
Editor’s note: For more help understanding gender identity and sexual orientation, read “Sex? Sexual Orientation? Gender Identity? Gender Expression?” and check out the accompanying downloadable poster.
Manger is a writer and activist living in Portland, Oregon.
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