Supporting LGBTQ+ Students - A Guide for School District and Campus Leaders
With increased tension around social issues including gender identity, gender expression, and sexual orientation, it has never been more important for California’s educational institutions to show support for LGBTQ+ students and staff. More than 400 bills targeting trans and nonbinary people were introduced in state legislatures last year. We know from both national data and our own YouthTruth surveys that LGBTQ+ students have great need of a sense of belonging, and suffer from higher rates of depression and suicidal thoughts.
As you review the following recommendations and resources, remember that California Education Code, sections 200 and 201, highlight that public schools must not only serve all students, regardless of their race, gender, sex, and other protected identity classes. They also have “an affirmative obligation to combat racism, sexism, and other forms of bias, and a responsibility to provide equal educational opportunity.” This document includes recommendations from North Bay LGBTQI Families, Amor Para Todos, Our Family Coalition, and Positive Images, and was edited by the Sonoma County Office of Education.
Supporting students’ identities is crucial to fostering an inclusive campus culture. Here are a few ways to accomplish that for LGBTQ+ students:
- Encourage school staff to go first in sharing things about themselves, including preferred pronouns, to provide an example.
- If a student asks to be called by a different name than what is on your roster, honor that.
- Use the pronouns that students identify for themselves and normalize pronoun-sharing on your campus or district site by including them in email signatures, name tags, and other relevant instances.
- Make pronoun disclosure optional, as some students may not be ready or feel safe sharing their pronouns.
- Note that students may not express their gender identities openly in all contexts, including at home. Revealing a student’s gender identity or expression to others may compromise the student’s safety. The right of transgender students to keep their transgender status private is grounded in California’s antidiscriminaton laws. Although parental consent is required to change a student’s name in official school records or on official school documents, it is not required if a student wishes to use a name or pronouns other than those assigned at birth in the classroom or in other interactions with school staff.
- Use gender-inclusive language and non-heteronomative language. For example, “students” instead of “boys and girls” or “parents and guardians” or “school families'' instead of “mom and dad.”
- Promptly respond to bullying and harassment that targets students’ gender identity, gender expression, or sexual orientation.
Administrators have the ability and, in some cases, legal responsibility to make changes on campus signaling support for LGBTQ+ students, including:
- Display rainbows or LGBTQ+ pride flags, including flags such as those representing the trans, nonbinary, and/or intersex communities. You may wish to display or make available other inclusive posters, pins, lanyards for ID badges, stickers, or other items in the classroom. This can provide an important signal of affirmation and support to LGBTQ+ students, families, and staff.
- Ensure that gender affirming groups such as Gender and Sexuality Alliance (GSA, formerly Gay Straight Alliance) or Amor Para Todos (APT) student clubs have the support they need to meet regularly, during or after school hours. Research demonstrates that there are benefits for all students who attend schools that have such clubs. The final section of this document includes resources that support APT Student Clubs and how to start one at your school.
- Make sure your campus complies with state law requiring single-stall restrooms to be labeled for use by all genders. Such restrooms, with proper signage and usage protocol, provide a private space for all students who may need them.
- Be aware that recent changes in state law require instruction that features fair, accurate, inclusive, and respectful reference to contributions by people with disabilities and members of the LGBTQ+ community in history and social studies curriculum.
- Ensure that all health and sex education curriculum is compliant with the California Healthy Youth Act, which requires that lessons be LGBTQ+ inclusive. In addition to ensuring compliance in the secondary grades, offer puberty lessons in the elementary grades that are equally inclusive.
- In addition to incorporating gender-inclusive books into your lessons, encourage teachers to take the opportunity to critically examine and discuss gender roles and the gender binary when any opportunity arises, as they do come up in all books taught in your classes.
Administrators and school staff may find the following recommendations and resources helpful as they seek to ensure a safe and welcoming learning environment for their LGBTQ+ students.
- Ensure that school counselors, teachers and district staff are aware of the following free Sonoma County and other nearby LGBTQ+ youth and family support resources, including those that students and families can access online:
- Positive Images LGBTQIA+ Center Peer support groups for youth/transition-age youth (TAY) and adults, leadership development program for youth/TAY 12-24, LGBTQ+ cultural competency trainings and consultation, community outreach events, resources and referrals.
- North Bay LGBTQI Families Community building events and school advocacy resources for LGBTQ+ families, and monthly social and family gatherings for gender expansive youth under age 12.
- Amor Para Todos Advocacy resources on creating more gender and LGBTQ+ inclusive school and community environments.
- LGBTQ Connection Peer support and youth leadership development programs for ages 14-24, GSA support, LGBTQ+ cultural responsiveness trainings, community events, LGBTQ+ affirming counseling, workforce training and technical assistance.
- Our Family Coalition Statewide trainings and professional development for educators and others on topics including LGBTQ+ cultural responsiveness and FAIR Act implementation; LGBTQ+ parent and family support resources based in San Francisco and the East Bay.
- Sonoma County Library’s LGBTQ+ Picture Books
- Sonoma County Library’s LGBTQ+ Books for Kids
- Sonoma County Library’s Queer Books for Teens
- Consult the following national resources to learn more about additional direct support options for LGBTQ+ youth and families:
- The Trevor Project provides 24/7 LGBTQ+ youth support services, with program options including the peer support community TrevorSpace, trained crisis service counselors, and support resources for LGBTQ+ youth on issues including coming out and being an ally to transgender and nonbinary youth.
- Gender Spectrum provides an array of services including annual family and professional conferences, online support groups for LGBTQ+ youth and their parents, caregivers, and families.
- Welcoming Schools offers a wide range of resources for educators and school districts.
- Teaching LGBTQ History contains resources for educators regarding the history of California’s FAIR Act.
- A list of California and national LGBTQ+ laws and how they support teaching gender and LGBTQ+ lessons in schools.