By Kelly Huegel Madrone, author of GLBTQ: The Survival Guide for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, and Questioning Teens
On April 27, 2018, thousands of students across the country will take a vow of silence to highlight the silencing of LGBTQ students and the invisibility of LGBTQ issues in schools.
As an educator, you can support students in many ways on this day. I’ve included at the end of this post a link to GLSEN’s (the organizer of this annual event) Educator Guide, which details many ways to support students. Rather than repeating the information in that excellent resource, I’d like to focus instead on other ways to support all students—those who identify as LGBTQ and those who don’t—on this and every other day.
1. Don’t let the Day of Silence be the only day you address LGBTQ issues.
The Day of Silence and events like it provide excellent opportunities to bring attention to issues faced by LGBTQ young people, but if you truly support queer youth, these events won’t be the only times you talk about LGBTQ issues. Create your own opportunities to have focused discussions about issues and challenges faced by LGBTQ people.
Curricular suggestions from GLSEN and other groups abound. The history of civil rights movements, for example, is an obvious tie-in. (The first Day of Silence was organized in 1996 by students at the University of Virginia in response to a class assignment on nonviolent protests.) But beyond that, look for everyday teachable moments that normalize the experiences and ideas of LGBTQ youth.
True normalcy is seamless.
2. Recognize that until LGBTQ students are safe, no students are safe.
It’s important to have discussions specifically about LGBTQ people and issues. At the same time, it’s also important to create links between queer folks and the struggles of other marginalized groups. Create opportunities for students to learn that we’re all part of a marginalized group—or several—at some point in our lives, and help them understand that until we’re all heard and appreciated, none of us has a truly safe space.
I’m big on using LGBTQ issues as a lens to understand issues that affect us all. Being silenced and feeling invisible is something most young people can identify with.
3. Teach listening.
Day of Silence and the days that follow are a perfect opportunity to teach something that even most adults have yet to learn—how to be great listeners. Two ideas are giving communication skills lessons and conducting research to uncover hidden voices and opinions.
Giving students opportunities to engage not just in debate—where they’re trying to persuade others to adopt their views—but in discussion—where the point is to walk away with an understanding of where the other person is coming from—can prove invaluable for students’ development (and for our development as a nation that could use a lot more listening).
Again, using this as an opportunity to teach students that the world is a richer and happier place when we’re all heard—by looking at life through the experiences of LGBTQ people—helps link Day of Silence to issues and challenges that affect us all.
4. Don’t just focus on students.
As someone who’s interested in supporting LGBTQ students, you can be a voice for these students among your colleagues. Talk to colleagues about these issues, the strategies and ideas you’re reading here, and why they’re important to you.
Many adults want to be supportive but simply don’t know where to start, and they are afraid to ask because they don’t want to accidentally offend anyone. Put yourself out there as a resource not just for students, but for fellow staff and administrators.
5. Ask and listen.
Some of the best opportunities adults have to teach kids are through modeling behavior. If you want to teach listening, then listen.
One of the most powerful questions you can ask someone is simply, “How can I support you?” Ask students who are participating in Day of Silence, ask the student leader of the GSA, ask the GSA faculty advisor. And then listen to their answers.
Kelly Huegel Madrone is a freelance writer, writing coach, and speaker. She has worked for the Metropolitan Washington, D.C., chapter of PFLAG where she helped provide support and educational services to LGBT people and their families. The author of two books and more than 100 published articles, Kelly holds a degree in secondary education. She lives in New Mexico with her wife Mala and their daughter. Kelly welcomes readers to follow her on Twitter @GLBTQguide or visit her website at kellymadrone.com.
Kelly is the author of GLBTQ: The Survival Guide for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, and Questioning Teens.
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- GLSEN’s Day of Silence: Educator Guide
- “12 Ways to Make Your Classroom Safe for LGBTQ Students”
- “LGBT-Inclusive Curriculum”