This is the first year that I will not be returning back to school, and I can finally say that I am envious of all of you who get to return to the classroom. As an LGBT person, school was always complicated, regardless of which school. I went to them all. I went to public schools, private school, a school in the country, and different schools in towns and cities. Being a student is hard enough balancing classes, extracurriculars, and friends. Being LGBT and going to school can be a bit worrying -- if not terrifying -- at times. I worried each school year about how my teachers, classmates, and administrators would treat me. I never fully understood what my rights were. However, this year, I come to you with some answers, a little advice, and support that we at PROMO have to offer you.
GLSEN has nationally been conducting research on school climate for LGBT students since 1999, and I have some good news. GSAs, or Gender and Sexuality Alliances (formerly and still in some places known as Gay Straight Alliances), are at an all time high making schools a better place to be for all of us. Schools are improving for all of us. In reality, this may not be your everyday experience. But hopefully with some of these resources and help from those around you, your school experience can be safer and fulfilling, just as it is meant to be.
Schools exist to educate our population, to give students opportunities, and most importantly, keep students safe. It is the obligation of a school to keep you safe. Public schools have the responsibility to address harassment and bullying. Reach out to your teachers and administrators if you witness bullying or if you experience it yourself. You deserve and have a right to a safe school.
Remember that there are always allies here for you, including PROMO, to help you. Did you know that Title IX protects students from discrimination based on sex? You have the right to affirm your gender identity., you have the right to be YOU. You have the right to use the bathroom that is right for you. You have the right to your preferred pronouns. You deserve respect, just like every other student in your school. Every year, we see LGBT students gaining more access in more welcoming schools. Here at PROMO, we help students all across Missouri with access to these spaces and solutions for any problems.
My number one tip for the school year? Find your allies. Classmates, teachers, administrators, and outside organizations are here to help you navigate school as an LGBT student. Here are some great places to find your allies:
If you meet an amazing ally in a teacher or administrator (maybe a GSA sponsor), then I recommend that you share some of our other school guides with them. It takes all of us together to make our state and our schools inclusive for everyone! Sometimes it is hard to find allies in teachers especially if your school doesn’t have a GSA with a sponsor. Take time to find a teacher you trust. Have a teacher who you feel understands you? Simply ask that teacher about their opinion on a recent LGBT related event. Such a question will not out you, but it may offer insight on whether this teacher will be an ally and give an opportunity for the teacher to be your ally in a way they haven’t been able to do before. Only come out in school when you feel ready and safe. That advice includes your teachers. I found my one teacher I trusted as an ally, and that one ally made all the difference before my school established a GSA.
Looking for allies or refuge outside of school? The GLO Center in Springfield has an LGBT youth group that meets Tuesdays after school and in Kansas City, check out Passages or the Kansas City Center for Inclusion, which has lots of groups to meet fellow LGBT students. In the St. Louis area, check out Growing American Youth or Prism at The Center Project in Columbia.
Not all of us are lucky enough to live in areas with LGBT centers and groups to meet more people in the community. This reason is why GSA’s are so vital in schools. Reach out to GLSEN chapters if you’re interested in starting an organization in your school. The more LGBT groups in schools, the better these schools become for ALL students. GLSEN helps K-12 students and schools: Springfield and Kansas City Chapters
Did you know GLSEN will help you find or start a GSA in your school creating a community of fellow LGBT students? Carrie with GLSEN Springfield’s chapter is also dedicated to working with PROMO to advocate for you and help create more welcoming schools. Look out for safe zone or safe space stickers in your classrooms. GLSEN offers these to educators showing you that they are your allies!
Administrators want to make school the best it can be for all its students. Have you ever thought that school policies could get confusing? Well, administrators struggle with federal, state, and board policies, too, especially because those policies are constantly changing and regularly affected by ongoing court decisions. Sometimes those policies affect you as an LGBT student. If that comes up, don’t hesitate to contact PROMO. We are here to help you navigate the world of policy, and make sure your school is doing what they should be doing while giving you your right to be in school. Additional organizations like the ACLU of Missouri and national organization, Lambda Legal are available as well.
Sometimes things aren’t going well, and you need more immediate help, and that’s okay. There are some amazing organizations here for you. The Trevor Project is here for any TIME of crisis as an LGBT person. Don’t be afraid to give them a call when you need someone to talk to: 1-866-488-7386. You can also text or chat with someone on their website. Have some crisis come up and you’re transgender or gender nonconforming? Trans Lifeline has got your back 1-877-565-8860. You are never alone in this life. LGBT people are everywhere, and we welcome you to this amazing community.
It is time to learn and explore, not only in classes but yourself as well. Schools are meant to be places that foster exploration of both your intellect and your true self. I hope that these resources and bits of advice help you along the way. Still have questions? Contact us at PROMO, and we are always happy to connect you with the answers.