Back-to-school time means new backpacks and notebooks, making new friends, and learning lots of new things. But for many LGBTQ students, back-to-school time can be a stressful experience as they try to navigate their identities while figuring out everyday school challenges. This is, of course, where PFLAGers can help in developing and supporting more active educator allies in schools.
Jamie Henkel, PFLAG National’s Equality & Diversity Partnerships Manager, shared her own story to illustrate how easy this can be:
“My little brother is a high-school Latin teacher and has just begun his fifth year of teaching at a charter school in North Carolina. (I guess he’s not so little anymore!)
He is a straight ally and has been really intentional about sharing that with the administration at his school, with other teachers, and with his students. A lot of that has been through visible allyship. For example, he participated in the Straight for Equality “I’m an ally because…” photo campaign and has his card, which reads “I am a straight ally because students need one” displayed in his classroom. He never shies away from talking about the fact that I work at PFLAG and how proud he is of the work we do.
For the first time ever, his school has an openly trans student who is now attending school in her affirmed gender. He was worried about how the administration, other teachers, students, and especially parents would react. And so far he has been pleasantly surprised.
Perhaps most interesting for him is that because he’s been so visible and out about being an ally over the years, many people are turning to him for more information. He’d be the first to admit he still has a lot to learn about gender identity and expression but I think he’s excited to learn more and to help everyone around him support this student and help make her feel welcome and accepted.”
This is just one example of the impact of being an out and active ally, especially for LGBTQ students who might face bullying, harassment, and discrimination at school. By openly stating his allyship for the school to see, Jamie’s brother let that student (or any LGBTQ student at his school) know that they could come to him if they were in need of support.
Looking for ways that your chapter can support educators who want to be active allies? Here are a few simple suggestions:
Be sure that they have the facts about what’s happening in schools. The new publication, Schools in Transition: A Guide for Supporting Transgender Students in K-12 Schools from Gender Spectrum is a great place to start. There is also the 2013 National School Climate Survey from GLSEN (Gay, Lesbian, & Straight Education Network).
If your chapter is involved in safe schools work, now is a great time to be sure that schools know about what you’ve got available (including materials from Cultivating Respect: Safe Schools for All) and how to reach you.
If you have questions about how you might be able to up your ally visibility don’t be afraid to reach out to the Straight for Equality team for some great ideas.