As PRIDE month wraps up, we took a moment to catch up with some of our faculty in the University of Redlands School of Education, which trains future educators, administrators, school counselors, and mental health counselors, to discuss the ways LGBTQ+ issues are, or could be, handled in school and counseling settings.
Many teachers and administrators find issues surrounding gender and identity difficult to address, considering the wide variety in opinions among not only students, but parents and teachers. “How gender and identity issues are addressed really depends on the age of the children,” noted Professor Ann Blankenship Knox, an expert in educational law and policy who teaches aspiring school administrators. “However, regardless of age, school should be a place where students learn how to respect and honor the differences in others.”
Professor Mikela Bjork, who works primarily with special education teachers, underlined the importance of listening to and honoring the experience of students who have been “othered” based on their gender or identity. In addition, Bjork advised teachers, “Do not accept hate speech or action of any kind! Every act of violence—from a snicker to a special education label—needs to be called out and used as a teachable moment for a zero tolerance of hatred in and outside of the classroom.”
May people assume that LGBTQ+ issues effect only those who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer, or anything other than heterosexual, but these issues are important for all those who work in school settings, since they play a role in the learning environment and by extension our greater society. It is important school leaders at all levels ensure appropriate steps are taken to protect the emotional and physical safety of all students.
Professor Hideko Sera instructs future school counselors and clinical mental health counselors to address the health disparities experienced by LGBTQ+ students using evidence-based research and reminds counselors that, “No one person has only one simple and single identity.” This support, protection, and education of LGBTQ+ students is a collective obligation no matter how we identify or where we feel most comfortable. Bjork added, “We need ( … ) people to use their voices not to speak FOR queer/gender non-conforming people, but in support of queer/gender non-conforming people.”
Professor Greg Hamilton has found success preparing aspiring teachers through sharing his own coming-out story. He points new teachers toward literature with an LGBTQ+ focus, including his own publication Teaching the Difficult (English Journal 2004). As another resource, Sera suggests the American Psychological Association journal called Psychology of Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity.
It is important that everyone with a role in education keeps the best interest of the students in mind at all times. Every student needs to know they are loved. We must take time to get to know our students, our community, and, no matter the challenge, our own identity. We must work toward creating an environment that promotes kindness, acceptance, and understanding.