LGBTQ youth spend the majority of their time in school, so it is imperative that schools create accepting and supportive environments to ensure safety and wellbeing. When schools create inclusive environments, LGBTQ youth are at a lower risk of developing depression, becoming addicts, and committing suicide. There are several things schools can do to create inclusive environments, as listed below.
Educate and Promote Inclusive Leaders and Allies
Studies show that creating supportive school environments for LGBTQ youth improves their educational outcomes. Inclusive schools such as this significantly reduce the amount of physical and verbal abuse, and overall discrimination that LGBTQ students face on a daily basis. In fact, these students report being verbally and physically harassed at school twice as often as their heterosexual peers. By educating faculty and staff on how to support their LGBTQ students in meaningful ways and implementing inclusive policies, administrators can ensure their teachers and counselors are able to create an educational environment that includes all students.
Keep Lines of Communication Open
Communication is key in order to create a supportive environment for LGBTQ youth. Administrators and counselors should encourage parents and students to start a discussion about students who struggle with sexual orientation or gender identity. School officials also need to communicate with teachers and other staff members when LGBTQ students experience bullying so that they can be extra diligent in watching for the warning signs of LGBTQ victimization.
It’s also important for school nurses and health teachers to have accurate information about gender identity, sexuality, and health. This will equip them to teach LGBTQ students and treat them with compassion and understanding.
School officials and counselors especially need to be available for these students to come to them for support. Offices need to be established as safe havens for LGBTQ students so they know they have a place to go, and can feel comfortable approaching school staff. This is important, since issues like victimization and problems at home should be expressed by students in a safe setting.
Understand the Risks LGBTQ Youth Face
LGBTQ youth are harassed more often than their heterosexual peers. A national survey shows that nearly 80% of LGBTQ students are harassed at least once at school. Victimization affects students’ school performance, but it also leads to depression, anxiety, and other health issues. As a result, these youths are more likely to have discipline issues, or even drop out of school. Teachers and counselors should meet with these students and help them to stay on track at school while maintaining a safe environment for learning.
With this comes a higher risk for substance abuse. These youths have to deal with the typical challenges of going through adolescence in addition to the harassment and possible rejection by their peers and families. They often turn to alcohol and/or drugs to cope with their challenges. It’s important to note that transgender youths often experience more harassment, and suffer more emotional issues as a result, than their LGBTQ peers. Thus, they are at a very high risk for substance abuse. That’s why school counselors and teachers should be aware of the warning signs for substance abuse and have a protocol in place for helping students.
LGBTQ youth are also at a higher risk for suicide. Schools may help to prevent suicide by “addressing stigma and prejudice at the institutional and individual level, forming partnerships across youth-serving, suicide prevention, and LGBT youth agencies… and responding to the issues of LGBT youth.” Schools may begin by implementing training for faculty and staff members to recognize and respond to warning signs for suicide and other risk factors. Developing peer support programs and implementing staff advocacy programs are also helpful actions.
Schools have a responsibility to create a safe, welcoming environment for all of their students. Education, communication, and awareness are the first steps toward helping LGBTQ youth.
Jennifer McGregor has wanted to be a doctor since she was little. Now, as a pre-med student, she’s well on her way to achieving that dream. She helped create PublicHealthLibrary.org with a friend as part of a class project. With it, she hopes to provide access to trustworthy health and medical resources. When Jennifer isn’t working on the site, you can usually find her hitting the books in the campus library or spending some downtime with her dog at the local park.