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Diversity, Equity, Research

How can schools support LGBTQ2+ teachers and students?

Despite recent progress towards supporting LGBTQ2+-inclusive education, ensuring that both teachers and students who identify as sexual and gender minorities (SGMs) experience belonging, safety, and security in their schools and communities remains an ongoing challenge. A national survey of Canadian high school students found that 64% of LGBTQ2+ students reported feeling unsafe at school. Similarly, research has shown that LGBTQ2+ teachers are less likely to come out to their administration and 33% had been warned to not come out at school by family, friends, and other educators. 

HERE’S HOW SCHOOLS CAN TAKE A MORE INCLUSIVE APPROACH TO SUPPORT LGBTQ2+ TEACHERS AND STUDENTS:

LGBTQ2+ TEACHERs:
  • Show support: strong support from school leaders can create a more open dialogue and space whereby LGBTQ2+ teachers feel safe to deliver and engage in SGM-inclusive education.
  • Develop inclusive workplace policies: at the school district level, standalone anti-homophobia and anti-transphobia policies covering SGM staff and students – rather than generic equity policy – should be alongside workplace harassment policies and implemented to protect and support LGBTQ2+ staff.
  • Create a professional and/or informal network: LGBTQ2+ teachers within the district can form Gender-Sexuality (or Gay-Straight) Alliance (GSA) groups that meet to share their experiences, learn from one another, and develop trusting and supportive professional relationships.
LGBTQ2+ STUDENTS:
  • Provide staff professional development: ensure introductory and ongoing training for teachers, principals, and school staff members regarding SGM policies, implementation practices, and any changes to them.
  • Have designated safe contact teachers: have trained teachers volunteer to be go-to adults for LGBTQ2+ students and those who may be questioning their sexual or gender identities.
  • Ensure LGBTQ2+ students are treated respectfully and consistently: provide supply/substitute teachers with guidelines and information packages for accommodating these students.
  • Explore various school district and teacher association websites: find information and learn more about important issues including:
  • students wanting to come out to their parents and peers; 
  • mental health concerns; 
  • washroom accessibility for transgender and other gender minorities; 
  • accommodating participation in physical education, athletics, field trips, etc.; 
  • accessing community supports for LGBTQ2+ students (e.g. counselling, connecting to community organizations, events, etc.); and 
  • accessing crosscultural and Two-Spirit information for LGBTQ2+ and questioning Indigenous students.
  • Develop/offer resources: help students, staff, and parents better understand when a student is expressing their gender in unique or creative ways, or when students want to form a GSA Alliance (i.e. a student-led organization that provides a safe, inclusive space for students). 

“What do I do at my school? Certainly, we have our safe-contact teachers identified. We also have the safe and caring rainbow stickers. There’s one right as you enter the school, and there’s one on my office door, my assistant principal’s door, and on the classroom doors of the safe contact teachers and other supportive teachers. I’ve had many conversations with my parent council around the work we’re doing in order to have their support for the SOGI work in our school. Our library collection is also growing as we find more and more stories that depict the LGBTQ+ youth and their families and same-sex families. I also have conversations with my staff about heteronormativity, the gender spectrum, and the language we use with students. So, is it working? I certainly know that my staff is very aware. Also, my sexuality is not hidden from my staff, so my staff know who I am. I also let them know that my partner is male and he’s a grade one teacher. I do it because I want them to know that I believe in the normalization of sexuality and gender in our schools, that it is no big deal. It is just who we are.”

-(Elementary school principal)


Although many school districts have SGM-specific policies in place, research points to the ongoing need for school districts to invest the time into building a genuinely accepting and accommodating LGBTQ2+-inclusive school culture that supports and promotes the well-being of LGBTQ2+ teachers and students. Taking a LGBTQ2+-inclusive approach to education is a shared responsibility and school leaders, colleagues, and parents all play an important role in understanding how to best support and learn from the experiences and perspectives of LGBTQ2+ teachers and students. 

 

 

Grace, A. P. (2015). Part II with K. Wells. Growing into resilience: Sexual and gender minority youth in Canada. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Grace, A. P., & Wells, K. (2016). Sexual and gender minorities in Canadian education and society (1969-2013): A national handbook for K-12 educators. Ottawa, ON: Canadian Teachers’ Federation. (Published in English & French.)

Taylor, C., & Peter, T., with McMinn, T. L., Elliott, T., Beldom, S., Ferry, A., Gross, Z., Paquin, S., & Schacter, K. (2011). Every class in every school: The first national climate survey on homophobia, biphobia, and transphobia in Canadian schools. Final report. Toronto, ON: Egale Canada Human Rights Trust.

Tompkins, J., Kearns, L., & Mitton-Kükner, J. (2019). Queer educators in schools: The experiences of four beginning teachers. Canadian Journal of Education, 42(2), 385-414. Retrieved from: https://journals.sfu.ca/cje/index.php/cje-rce/article/view/3448/2727

 

WITH THE GENEROUS FINANCIAL SUPPORT OF: 
          

Meet the Expert(s)

Dr. André P. Grace

Professor, Faculty of Education, Department of Educational Psychology, University of Alberta

Dr. André P. Grace is Canada Research Chair (CRC) in Sexual and Gender Minority Studies (Tier 1) in the Faculty of Education, University of Alberta.

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