You should too.
Why? Well, did you know only 26% of LGBTQ youth feel safe in their classrooms, and 27% of LGBTQ+ youth feel they can definitely be themselves in school? These facts came from the Human Rights Council (HRC) 2018 survey of over 10,000 LGBTQ+ youth ages 13-17 across the USA. Another fact discovered; only 25% of LGBTQ+ youth have families who show support.
Peers and family members are a major influence in how adolescents shape their identity, yet children do not feel safe exploring their identities in the environments with their peers and family. The outcome of this is high rates of depression, suicide, and chronic stress. This is is our why.
Children are curious, and natural observers. They notice when someone is acting or dressing differently than the majority or mainstream. They notice when someone’s parents are the same gender, or when the boy comes to school wearing pink nail polish. Without guidance on what to process about this information, students who look different or come from different backgrounds can be stigmatized, and then bullied.
A social stigmatization is a term used to describe what happens when a person receives a stigma label, or a mark of disgrace, as a result of being perceived as part of the “out-group”, or different from the majority norm. In this case, the stigma toward the LGBTQ+ community is based on sexual orientation or gender identity. To combat stigmas, the out group characteristics need to be normalized and considered mainstream. Easiest way to do that is to talk about it!
My background is in teaching young kids, ages 7-11, or grades 3-5. I primarily taught art, and would have diverse artists represented in lessons to strike conversations. One of the benefits to teaching art is that the act of creating, and analyzing contemporary and historical artworks, deep conversations about our society, personal identity, and experiences are begun. Through the shared experience of observing a work of art students will open up about what they have observed and their experiences or feelings. Some may giggle, some may think they are getting in trouble for saying the words gay or transgender while others will excitedly share information about their family member who is in a same sex relationship or a friend who has two dads. Having these conversations, acknowledging these relationships and experiences exist, is what normalizing LGBTQ+ vocabulary and therefore begins to remove the stigma around talking about it.
Tips for a safe conversation:
- Model how to have respectful conversations
- Know what homophobic language and why
- Check your assumptions
- Create an atmosphere of trust and privacy
- Sexuality is understood as relationships for younger children.
- Lesbian, gay, bisexual, pansexual, asexual, and other sexuality labels can all be explained as ways people love and have relationships, or family structures.
- Practice active listening
- Eye contact, body language, rephrasing what was said are all important
- Validate how people feel
- Acknowledge someone’s silence as their right to pass
- Ask student or person to use “I” statements with their feelings, and not accuse others of feeling something
- Honor differences
- Ask for pronouns at the start, use their chosen pronouns, and offer your own
- Don’t point out someone’s difference but accept their perspective when it comes up when discussed appropriately (family of origin, race, class, gender, etc.
- Challenge the idea, not the person
join the conversation
Include LGBTQ LLC: Listen. Affirm. Include.