Thursday, September 25, 2014

School Climate and LGBT Youth

By Sam Piha

Sam Piha
We know through research that school climate has a large impact on how kids view their education, their mental health, sense of well being, and school attendance. It is not clear what impact an afterschool program can have on an entire school climate, but we do know that a sense of emotional and physical safety is key to promoting youth development and is an important component of the new Quality Standards for Expanded Learning Programs in California

Afterschool programs are responsible for the climate within their programs providing a safe place, physically and emotionally. This is particularly important for LGBT youth who are often more vulnerable to bullying and mistreatment at school. 

A recent blog post authored by Matthew Lynch in Education Week called for schools to  improve the climate for LGBT youth. What can afterschool programs do to improve the whole school climate? Below, we share a few strategies that he proposed in his blog. What else are schools and afterschool programs doing to explicitly address this issue? 

Photo Credit: http://www.campkc.com/

"1. Disallow discrimination based on sexual orientation. The National Education Association, the American Federation of Teachers, and the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development have all passed resolutions asking their members and all school districts to step forward to improve the educational experiences of LGBT students. These resolutions call for providing a safe environment, support groups, and counseling options for LGBT students and by employing anti-harassment rules and practices.  In nine states, the state government has instituted legislation prohibiting the harassment and discrimination of LGBT students. We need to continue this trend until every state has these rules in place, in every district and school - no exceptions.

2. Expand "inclusion" policies. There are some schools in which LGBT students are accepted and accommodated.   Same-sex couples are invited to school dances and there are unisex washrooms for transgender students.  School districts in some states include LGBT students in non-discrimination policies with the goal of making schools safe places for all students, parents, faculty and staff.  However, there are also states where it is illegal to even utter the word homosexual and in which the word homosexual (or lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender) can only be portrayed in a negative light within the classroom.  This makes it difficult for teachers to teach about sexual orientation diversity or to make their classrooms and school environment safe and accepting of LGBT students.  Regardless of location, teachers can explain to students that they don't have to agree it is okay to be gay or lesbian, but they do have to agree that it is not okay to discriminate against them.

3. Promote LGBT student groups. It is important that all students, regardless of who they are or their sexual orientation, have a safe environment in which to learn and grow as an individual.  Gay and lesbian organizations have been at the forefront of trying to create safe and accepting environments for LGBT students.  Students have also taken up the cause and student groups have begun springing up in schools all over the country.  There are currently approximately 4,000 Gay-Straight Alliance Groups registered with the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN).  These groups are alliances between straight and LGBT. They work together to support each other and promote education as a means for ending homophobia."

Photo Credit: http://www.jonnydrubel.com/

There are a number of good resources that go into more depth. We have included a few below:

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