The grace and love of the moral universe gives us the right and responsibility to offer transformative education—education that is based on love, equity, and justice, and that teaches reverence for all humans and all creatures. Education that teaches “difference” contributes to abundance. And that “safety” unlocks creativity. – Richard Koch
LGBTQ+ support and healing remains a fundamental issue for us in schooling in this decade and beyond. As I write this, LGBTQ+ students often are in school situations where bullying and stigma are common, where policies do not support freely naming gender identity or free access to suitable restrooms. In some places the systems in place do support these freedoms, but in many, they do not.
Although there are now many resources and materials in the world to help support gender-transitioning adolescents and other queer students, these are not as widely known as they need to be for effective help to be available. So, in this blog I hope to present a foundation for going forward in a more dynamically helpful way.
WHAT WOULD MINDFUL AND TRAUMA-INFORMED SUPPORT OF LGBTQ+ STUDENTS
AND COLLEAGUES LOOK LIKE AND SOUND LIKE?
What would a mindful support of LGBTQ+ students look like? First, we must understand that mindful, trauma-informed practice is an act of love. Within school then such practice must include these traits:
TRAUMA-INFORMED TEACHING IS AN ACT OF LOVE
We listen attentively and appreciatively.
We hold positive regard for the other person.
We receive and care for their concerns or problems.
We support with words and actions.
These four actions are guides to being kind and helpful to all people in all situations. However, there are two reasons for including them here. First, they are simple and approachable as guides for action. Second, these are easy to lose sight of in a time of trauma and yet even more urgently needed. In a situation where someone is stressed by bullies or by systems, and they need our help, this is where help begins.
LGBTQ+ YOUTH TRAUMA—LGBTQ+ YOUTH ON THE STREETS
We live in a society, and in a world, where trauma is not only common but prevalent.
Hunger and homelessness are widespread. Domestic terrorism threatens our democracy. Racism causing racial trauma is at a high level. We are living in a pandemic. Carolyn Baker and Andrew Harvey, two spiritual writers, suggest “It is as if the whole world has PTSD.” And teachers are in the frontlines when it comes to dealing with student trauma.
In addition to this context of trauma that we are living in, LGBTQ+ youth encounter a whole additional and complex layer of trauma. Some of these trauma sources are:
BULLYING AND HARRASSMENT
PHYSICAL AND SEXUAL ABUSE
TRAUMATIC FORMS OF SOCIETAL STIGMA, BIAS, AND REJECTION
SYSTEMS—SCHOOL AND PUBLIC—NOT ACCEPTING OF THEM
ABSENCE OF CLEAR AVAILABLE SUPPORTS
Surveys suggest that 20 per cent of youth and adolescents have “seriously considered suicide” in the past year. Among LGBTQ+ youth that figure is 50 per cent. And of those, half have considered how they would do it. In her book Unconditional Telania Eriksen reminds us, “In the United States, 1.6 million youth experience homelessness each year. Of that number, 40 percent of those youth identify as LGBTQ.” (P. 16)
She explains, “Food, shelter, safety, affection, and a feeling of belonging should never be conditional. And that’s the difference between tragedy and a success story.” (P. 13)
I’d like to begin with two understandings. First, this is a complex problem and no one has all of the solutions. However, second, it is imperative that we, each of us, begin, or continue, to act. Jeannie Gainsburg, in The Savvy Ally, argues there are many “ally wannabes”—people who are fully on board with providing LGBTQ+ rights and support but who don’t know what is needed to be done or how to get involved. She suggests that when we take steps to help we become “Possibility Models” for those people. (p. 4)
LGBTQ+ ALLIES: TIPS TO PREPARE FOR ADVOCACY
Especially for those who are early on in this journey of preparing for being an advocate, here are some often recommended preparation steps:
OBTAIN RELEVANT EDUCATION FOR YOURSELF
BE A VISIBLE ADVOCATE
RECOGNIZE SYSTEM FAILURES THAT IMPACT YOUTH
ASK WHAT TERMS PEOPLE PREFER TO BE INDENTIFIED WITH—TRY TO RESPECT THAT
ENSURE SAFETY FOR LGBTQ+ YOUTH—ACT ALONE IF NEED BE
CASAPPR.ORG, Sioux Falls, S . D.
A simple step that can make a big difference is careful mirroring of the terms used by the LGBTQ+ person.
Use the term the other person uses.
If they call themselves “queer” you say “queer” to them.
If they introduce someone as their ”husband” or “wife”—then refer to that person as “husband” or “wife”—not “partner.”
GAINSBURG (P. 52)
Some people see an awkwardness to a person using the “they/their/them” pronouns. The short solution to this is to see it as an opportunity to honor another person in an important way, and not to see it as about you. So, the guideline might go like this—Do not consider a person using “they/their/them” as pronouns to be difficult. We already use these pronouns often— “Someone forgot their cell phone. I hope they come back to get it.”
“ALLOW YOURSELF TO BE RAGGEDY”
It is important, probably crucial, for all of us working to be allies that we, as Gainsburg says, “allow ourselves to be raggedy.” We are human. We will make errors. Be self-forgiving. Be open to learning to do better. This will get you such a long way with other people of good will.
ASK—”How may I respectfully refer to you?” Or, “What pronouns do you prefer?”
RESPECT THEIR RESPONSE—Calling a person what they wish to be called is a
fundamental act of respect.
*EXPRESS HUMILITY. Forgive yourself for errors. Correct them.
* “I mean to be respectful, please forgive me if I mess up initially.”
* “A lot of this is new to me. Please feel free to correct me if I use the wrong term.”
GAINSBURG (P. 61)
Of course, we must also be assertive and active in helping institutions and systems keep moving forward on these issues. For that here are a few of the basics.
MAKE MANDATORY LGBTQ+ WORKSHOPS A PART OF YOUR DIVERSITY AND INCLUSION EFFORTS.
INCORPORATE LGBTQ+ AWARENESS IN NEW STAFF ORIENTATION.
BE CLEAR ABOUT WHERE AND HOW LGBTQ+ YOUTH CAN SEEK SAFETY.
MAKE POLICIES THAT ESTABLISH REQUIRED MUTUAL RESPECT AND NO BULLYING.
EDUCATING OURSELVES ON BEHALF OF LGBTQ+ YOUTH (BOOKS)
QUEER: THE ULTIMATE LGBTQ GUIDE FOR TEENS, Belge and Bieschke
UNCONDITIONAL: A GUIDE TO LOVING AND SUPPORTING YOUR LGBTQ CHILD, Ericksen
THE SAVVY ALLY: A GUIDE FOR BECOMING A SKILLED LGBTQ+ ADVOCATE, Gainsburg
IF I WAS YOUR GIRL, Russo (Adolescent Literature)
The first three books, as their titles suggest, serve three different purposes—advice to teens, help for parents, and a guide for how to become an effective ally. If I Was your Girl is an award-winning work of adolescent literature. It is the story of a trans girl at a new high school and the way she navigates her complicated and difficult world, and it is written by a trans female, Meredith Russo. It would make a great Book Club discussion book if there is an LGBTQ+ club, or if the high school is flexible enough to allow it.
To calm their own ignorant fears there are those in society who would implement anti-gay and anti-transgender laws and school policies. This cannot be allowed. I believe we educators might share the quote at the start of this essay and make it the basis for conversations—to help us achieve schools that are loving and that love diversity—the schools of our dreams.
One key resource both individuals and school teams should be aware of is the Trevor Project. Please join the Trevor Project to receive LGBTQ+ information and updates— The Trevor Project believes “Trans is beautiful.”
(Trevor Project LGBTQ+ Suicide Hotline--866-488-7386)
I close with two statements from the author of If I Was your Girl, Meredith Russo. I would love it if these words were on the wall in a prominent place in every school.
TO TRANS PEOPLE—
“It’s okay to be trans and also gay, lesbian, bisexual, asexual, or anything else. It’s okay to be trans and not pass (and you can still be legitimately beautiful without passing), and it’s okay to be trans and pass and go completely stealth. . . . You are beautiful, and you deserve to have your body and identity and agency respected.”
Meredith Russo (p. 277)
FOR TRANS PEOPLE CONTEMPLATING SUICIDE:
“I know it hurts. I know it hurts so bad you can barely breathe sometimes. I know because I’ve been there. Please don’t leave us. I promise life can be good, and we need you too much.”
*Trans Lifeline—Call: 877-565-8660 - (Staffed entirely by trans people)
Meredith Russo (p. 277)
Trauma-informed teaching and mindfulness practices are acts of love—based on increasing our awareness and proceeding with kindness. We must enact these practices for all students, but we must especially commit our hearts to these practices for our students who might most need them.