What we know about LGBTQ students in our schools

By Blair Mishleau, Technology Specialist, KIPP DC: Heights Academy

Last month, I had the privilege of leading a session at the Human Rights Campaign’s Time to THRIVE conference, a gathering focused on better supporting LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer/questioning) youth. I applied to present because I’ve seen the real effects that a welcoming (or hostile) environment can have on students who are LGBTQ in our schools. Along with a colleague, our session was on supporting LGBTQ students of color.

It was well-received, but it reminded me of how infrequently these conversations happen in most schools. Even at KIPP, an organization that proudly talks about the Black Lives Matter movement, I’ve found that even the best-intentioned educators are not fully aware of the challenges LGBTQ students of color face.

There’s already plenty of data on what’s true for many LGBTQ students of color. They skip school more frequently to avoid bullying. They are more likely to be suspended when they react to bullying that teachers are not addressing, and they are more susceptible to sexually transmitted infections because of sex education that focuses on heterosexual relationships and ignores or condemns LGBTQ folks.

It is far too common in America for students who are LGBTQ to be “pushed out” of schools for responding to unaddressed bullying, missing school due to safety concerns, or being suspended for activities that straight peers wouldn’t get in trouble for.

The School to Prison Pipeline is built on systems of zero-tolerance policies, suspending and expelling students of color more frequently than their white peers, and the heightened police presence in schools and classrooms. The graphic below from the Gay-Straight Alliance Network shows how the juxtaposition of both race and sexual orientation can lead to even more systems working against students achieving lives of choice.

How the School to Prison Pipeline Affects LGBTQ Students:

School to Prison Pipeline

These negative outcomes aren’t just for students who self-identify as LGBTQ or are out. When I taught middle school, I saw students go unchecked as they yelled out homophobic insults to each other in the hallways. This behavior eventually grew physically violent. This type of escalation is easier to catch and stop when teachers are invested and feel comfortable addressing oppressive language.

The silver lining, though, is that there are promising practices that work to combat these issues, bringing better academic results for students while also helping support their emotional wellness. These practices aren’t magic – they’re often common-sense. We need educators and school leaders to make brave choices that put our most oppressed students first to ensure they too have lives of choice and voice.

In my next post, I’ll explore what my region, KIPP DC, has done to better meet the needs of our LGBTQ students. While we still have a long way to go, we have made some moves that I believe are creating more empathetic students, no matter their sexual orientation or gender identity.

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