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Supporting LGBTQ+ Persons in Schools: What’s at Stake for Teacher Educators?

In the summer of 1969 — 53 years ago this June — the infamous Stonewall Riots took place in New York City, launching the modern LGBTQ+ movement for equity and freedom. For this reason, June has become synonymous with PRIDE celebrations across the nation. Rainbows color many storefronts and major retailers launch their PRIDE-related marketing blitzes. I, for one, love the proliferation of the rainbow across our neighborhoods, retail districts, and campuses. Afterall, visibility matters. As a gay man who came out during his senior year of high school 30 years ago and who worked hard to advance an agenda of openness and support for LGBTQ+-identified individuals, first as a high school teacher and later college professor, I look back on these decades with pride as we acknowledge where we were so many years ago. And yet, PRIDE takes on a new meaning this year, as schools increasingly become the battleground in the fight against LGBTQ+-equity and in particular trans lives.

What are the stakes in this culture war? What are the possible ramifications of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation and censorship? Most notably, our children are the ones who suffer in these baseless attacks against trans and queer kids. LGBTQ+ students report harassment at rates much higher than their peers (and the highest of all minority populations, GLSEN). LGBTQ+ students in many states report that their school does not feel safe, and that teachers do not feel supportive. According to the Trevor project, LGBTQ+ students report higher rates of depression and anxiety than their peers and rates of suicide in this group are by some estimates 7X higher than other peer groups. Indeed, this is a matter of life and death for our kids.

In addition to these deplorable statistics around mental health and suicide, LGBTQ+ students note the absence of queer protagonists in their studies — a continual perpetuation of silence around LGBTQ+ topics and identities in the curriculum. While there are many schools and teachers who do an exceptional job of supporting LGBTQ+ students (and we must applaud the teachers and leaders who often lead those efforts), sadly it is not the norm. Most elementary, middle, and junior high schools across the nation still do not have a GSA (Gay Straight Alliance, the name commonly understood to represent LGBTQ+ focused student groups). Furthermore, teachers report fear of backlash from parents and administrators if they approach and include LGBTQ+ protagonists/topics in their courses. Many states have attempted to pass, or successfully passed strict laws against LGBTQ+ inclusion in the curriculum — a gag order on LGBTQ+ identities.

So, if schools are the new battleground in this culture war, and if we, as a profession, are responsible for educating teachers and leaders for those schools, what is our responsibility as a profession to address this challenge? We, as teacher educators may face no greater challenge than that of producing educators who are capable of creating inclusive classroom spaces that celebrate all identities. I encourage all teacher education programs across the nation to really think about where in the curriculum you make space for addressing LGBTQ+ topics in education? Where and how do you support and encourage your own LGBTQ+-identified students and faculty? Where are your blind spots in helping students learn how to create effective and safe classroom spaces for LGBTQ+ students? If you are wondering where to start, I applaud AACTE for the creation of the new racial & social justice resource hub to support teacher educators in this effort. The resources curated here are tailored to support ongoing inclusion efforts in our programs. Do your homework, start learning about effective ways to engage your students, faculty, and staff in learning more about how to create learning spaces that celebrate and lift all, including our schools’ most vulnerable populations.

The LGBTQ+ Inclusion in Teacher Education TAG is pleased to share a series of blog posts this month written by our members to commemorate PRIDE and provide you, the membership, with resources and ideas to support LGBTQ+ students, faculty, and staff in programs. All of this with the goal of preparing teacher candidates who are truly capable of supporting LGBTQ+ students and families in the eventual schools and communities they will serve. Next week (June 14) you’ll hear about the experiences of one of our teacher education candidates, Tommy Stevens; (June 21) Lesley Siegel of West Chester University will share about LGBTQ+ focused research in teacher education. Finally, Christine Gentry of New York University will share resources and ideas around LGBTQ+ inclusive curricula (June 28).

I think back to those who rallied at Stonewall, trans-identified people of color. Let us lift up the voices of people of color in this fight and work hard to understand the history and the intersection of this work with other movements for social justice. This is tantamount to our success as a profession and indeed as a nation. To be a leader in teacher education today means to create programs and learning experiences that bring people together in a shared community vision for liberation and joy for all. Let us fulfill our commitment as a profession and work hard this Pride month to join together and fight for the freedom, dignity, and value of all in our schools and communities.


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