Are YOU Standing Up for LGBT Students?

Blogger’s Note:  Last spring, I wrote a post here on the Radical asking a simple question – Are our schools safe places for gay, lesbian and transgender students.  Response to that post surprised me — no one read it!  

Given the recent developments in my home state — where the legislature recently passed a set of regressive, discriminatory laws that stripped basic rights and protections away from gay, lesbian and transgender citizens (see here and here) — I’ve decided to repost that entry today.  

The simple truth is that whether the old white men making laws in places like North Carolina like it or not, there ARE gay, lesbian and transgender people who are working to find their place in our communities.  More importantly for Radical Nation, there ARE gay, lesbian and transgender students who are working to find their place in our schools — and it’s OUR job to make sure that they feel safe and accepted no matter what.  

#trudatchat

————————————–

Are Our Schools Safe Places for Kids Who are Different?

Originally posted April 25, 2015

Like many, I’ve been transfixed by the the story of Bruce Jenner.  

My hope is that his willingness to transparently share his experience as a transgendered person will make it safe for others to live openly and to be accepted for who they are.  Awareness is the first step towards acceptance — and if Bruce’s journey builds awareness in a respectful way, it has the potential to radically redefine the conversations that we have about gender identity in America.

#thatmatters

But what I’m wrestling with this morning is whether or not we have worked hard enough to make our schools safe places for students who are different.

To put it more simply, do the gay and lesbian and transgender students in our schools — who deserve the love and support of the important adults in their lives — feel like they belong in our buildings, too?  Or are they forced to live a lie, pretending to fit in because they are afraid of the consequences of standing out?

It’s impossible to underestimate the consequences of living that lie, y’all.

Need proof?

Then spend some time reading about Leelah Alcorn — a transgendered student in Ohio who committed suicide by walking in front of a semi on a Cincinatti highway in December after being rejected by her parents for not being “the perfect straight little Christian boy” that they wanted her to be.  Sadly, students like Leelah aren’t alone:  41 percent of transgendered people attempt suicide at some point in their lives — a number that is NINE times the national average.

Here’s another question I”m wrestling with:  Are the teachers in our buildings prepared to lead open conversations about gender and identity and sexuality that are based in facts?  Or are we, too, hiding from the truth — avoiding difficult conversations about a potentially controversial topic because we are afraid of the shade that will be thrown our way if we even suggest that the students in our building who are different have actually been normal all along?

I only ask because I know that I am afraid of the shade.  

After years of seeing teachers and schools eviscerated by Evangelicals for even suggesting that global warming might be real or that animals adapt to their environments or that homosexuality might be a part of who a person is instead of something that a person chooses to be, I often catch myself dancing around controversy instead of giving it the respectful space that it deserves.  I waver in my commitment to the truth — and to people who are counting on me to speak the truth for them — because I’m afraid of what will happen to me if I speak it.

Heck, if I’m REALLY being honest, this post has me sweating.

If the wrong person reads it, I’ll end up buried in accusations of pushing a liberal, left-leaning, gay loving, anti-family values agenda.  Ultra-conservative whacks and hacks will turn me into another example of the “brainwashing” that happens in public schools even though conversations about gender issues almost never surface in my middle school classroom.  Not kidding:  I’ve been torn apart on local talk radio — and called on the carpet for “being controversial” — for a LOT less than suggesting that gay, lesbian and transgendered students deserve respect.

#sheesh

What’s TRULY frightening, though, is that If I’m the norm rather than the exception to the rule, that means our schools remain anything BUT safe places for kids who don’t fit into the neat, clean boxes that we want to place them in.

Can you imagine how lonely it must be to live in a world where no one openly talks about who YOU are?  Or worse yet, can you imagine how lonely it must be to live in a world where the only open talk about who YOU are is filled with hate?  My guess is that’s all too often the truth for gay, lesbian and transgender students in our schools — and for that, we should be ashamed.

Our job as educators is to create safe spaces for every student to thrive — not to perpetuate a culture where some people win and other people lose based on nothing more than how closely their gender identity aligns with “traditional values.”  Just as importantly, our job as educators is to create learning spaces that are defined by respectful dialogue and critical thinking.  Our society becomes stronger when our students learn to see value in the thoughts and opinions and experiences of people who are different.

Hiding from the conversation helps no one.

#takeTHATchat

__________________

Related Radical Reads:

#ferguson

Are YOU Standing Up for Tolerance?

Lesson: Would YOU Stand Up to Injustice?

Lesson: Learning about Collaborative Dialogue

  • Bill

    Love it
    Thank you. This can’t be said enough, and you’re right – no one is saying it. Maybe it’s fear, maybe we just have so much else to do, but you may be the first educator I have heard really talking about it.

    • billferriter

      Thanks, Bill.  

      Thanks, Bill.  

      Honestly, I’m surprised at how little people talk about LGBT issues.  

      When Ferguson went down a few years ago, there was a huge outpouring of dialogue and conversation in social spaces challenging educators to rethink the role we play in the lives of African American students living in poverty.  That same conversation hasn’t ever happened for LGBT students — and that’s sad.  

      Anyway…Hope you are well, 

      Bill

       

  • Nathaniel

    I’ll be honest. I don’t specifically stand up for LGBT students!

    Not because I don't care for them but because I try to make my classroom safe place for EVERYONE. I try to treat everyone with respect. I know students in my class that have been bullied for having English as a second language, for not living with their parents, etc. Basically anything that makes them different. I don't see the point of singling out a single group that needs help at the expense of these other students that also need help.

    Part of the reason why I do this is because I was bullied in school because I was different (smart & socially awkward in a small country town). If we only focus on LGBT at the expense of other students then other students will fall through the cracks. For this reason I disagree that we should focus on making school safe for just LGBT students and focus on initiatives that make school safe for everyone not just a specific groups that are popular at the moment. It may require different things for different but focusing on one group instead of all student is short sighted in my view.

    • billferriter

      Hey Nathaniel, 

      Hey Nathaniel, 

      I’m with you:  We shouldn’t have to single out any group in our classrooms if we are creating a safe space to begin with.  That’s a legit point.  

      But at least here in North Carolina — where hate is literally spewed about homosexuality or gender identity issues — I believe that students need to hear the people who they trust speaking openly about acceptance.  It’s just not enough to BE open and accepting.  You have to advocate for openness and acceptance of marginalized populations simply because the very public messages sent by important figures aren’t just hurtful.  They are hateful.  

      Maybe I’d think differently if I lived in a place where tolerance was the norm.  But that’s not what life is like here in my state.  

      Good thinking with you, 

      Bill

       

  • Amy Illingworth

    Re-post this every month!

    Thank you for re-posting your blog.  This continues to be a timely and sensitive subject that we, as educators, need to address openly.  I encourage educators and parents to read the book Raising Ryland by Hillary Whittington.  It's a powerful story about a family supporting their young transgender child.  

  • Pamela Ferrante

    Thank you!

    As an educator I feel it is our first priority to protect our students and make school a safe place to learn.  You are right about the stigma that is attached to standing up for our LGBTQ students.  These students deal with so much hatred thrown at them for nothing more than being themselves.  I know that this is nothing new, kids that are different have always been the target for bullies, and we should make every effort to protect them all.  Yet, our LGBTQ students are not only the target of school yard bullies, but also of society.  This is especially true for our transgender kids who face the most difficult of all discrimination.  I should know, my daughter is transgender.  She is an amazing young woman who even with a loving family was petrified to come out and live her true identity.  She is not a freak or mentally disturbed.  My daughter suffered through her public school years living a lie and I am thankful everyday she didn’t become one of the statistics of trans teens who commit suicide.  At college she found a group of other LGBTQ kids that support one another and try to raise awareness about discrimination.   I know there are trans kids in our school and I know they are suffering.  Many don’t even have support from their own families.  By creating a culture in our classroom and our schools where we openly value ALL people and embrace ALL children as they are, we might be the only person standing between an LBGTQ child and a decision to commit suicide.  You might just save a life.  As a colleague and more importantly as a mom, I beg you to be that person!

     

  • Emma

    I completely agree with your

    I completely agree with your argument about supporting LGBT students, and how being passive about addressing it in the classroom can cause these students to isolate themselves. Cultivating a safe environment for all students means, as teachers, we must make known to our students we are accepting of all life choices. If this means taking action by having an LGBT flag on the corner of your desk, then so be it. Students need to feel safe and encouraged to share the desires of their heart, because we are not just teaching them content, but how to be respectable citizens. You stated some powerful statements about nurturing a classroom environment where students allow to share in each other’s experiences and values. You powerfully stated how, “our society becomes stronger when our students learn to see value in the thoughts and opinions and experiences of people who are different;” which hit home for me. Thank you for standing up for these students, and being vulnerable enough to admit how you have fallen short in standing up for them. 

  • jamekurt

    help: If we only focus on

    help: If we only focus on LGBT at the expense of other students then other students will fall through the cracks. For this reason I disagree that we should focus on making school safe for just LGBT students and focus on initiatives that make school safe for everyone not just a specific groups that are popular at the moment. It may require different things for different but focusing on one group instead of all student is short sighted in my view.

  • samirsingh

    As per my opinion everyone

    As per my opinion everyone should have equal rights, we are living in 21st century, we should be enough broad-minded in this respect. We should not impose our thought on others. Schools are for education, they should be little concerned if the person comes from LGBT community or not.

  • nyasagupta

    It is essential for everyone

    It is essential for everyone to have minimum qualification so that everyone can earn for their living. There should not be an restriction on this. Schools should take care of this.

  • sscgov

    My Views on your blog post

    You powerfully stated how, “our society becomes stronger when our students learn to see value in the thoughts and opinions and experiences of people who are different;” which hit home for me. Thank you for standing up for these students, and being vulnerable enough to admit how you have fallen short in standing up for them.  I encourage educators and parents to read the SSC book Raising Ryland by Hillary Whittington.  It's a powerful story about a family supporting their young transgender child.