Building a Respectful School Environment for LGBT Youth

Sara Train (bio) gives examples of how language discussion and history curriculum can provide teachable moments to help build a respectful environment for LGBT students.

Teachable moments in a school can happen at any time. They don't just happen in the classroom. They can happen also in the playground and/or in the hallway. And one of the more common ones that we hear a lot and that I talk to teachers a lot about, is how often do people hear others say, "Oh, that's so gay." Maybe we've even said it ourselves and our intention was not necessarily to put that person down or to say that gay people are inferior in some way, but it has become so normalized.

And I always think of that as a real teachable moment by expressing, "Do you know what, if you were to replace the word 'gay' what are you really saying? Is it a compliment? And if it's not a compliment then say what you mean. Say that it sucks or that it's lame. And use that language to better describe what your opinion is, versus involving somebody's identity."

But the other reality is that we don't want to create an environment where it's a bad thing to say 'gay' because then your identity isn't celebrated, right, and you don't see yourself. So encourage people to celebrate lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, gender queer, queer students in a way that involves them, and looks at really helping other students interact with people who are different, from a positive place. And that goes to building respectful communities and using language as a way of teaching how to better respect each other.

Outside of language, and I gave you one example, another teachable example is, thinking through our curriculum. How often do we teach history that also includes that this person or this story we're learning about, that that person identified as gay or lesbian, transgender, bisexual?

And they, even in that time of history may not be named that way, but how often do we highlight that that is a part of that historical person or event? Not often! And that's one thing that in California with the passing of the Fair Education Act, it is now encouraging and requires teachers to include, in a positive light, contributions that were made by lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning people as well as Asian, Pacific Islander, and as well as people with different abilities — into our curriculum!

So now you're sitting in your history class, you're learning about the Civil Rights Movement and part of your identity is reflected in that. It doesn't exclude you, and that's a teachable moment. And that's not just for the LGBT young person in there, it's for their peers who are now saying that this is a part of our whole community, right? This is our school.

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Excerpted from an interview at CBITS Summit 2013 in Santa Monica, CA.


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