We hope that going back to school – safely and in person, when possible – will be a positive opportunity for growth and learning for everyone; yet this is often not the case for LGBTQ youth. According to GLSEN’s 2019 National School Climate Survey, a staggering 60% of LGBTQ youth felt unsafe at school, and 77% reported avoiding school functions because they felt unsafe or uncomfortable. 25% of young people even faced physical abuse by their peers or adults around them. How we respond to this does matter in the lives of youth.
Here are some suggestions to support youth:
- Bless the children and youth in worship or prayer time as they head back to school. This reminds young people that they are loved by God and their community.
- Emphasize the importance of supporting one another during children’s and youth programs, such as children’s time in worship, youth group meetings, or other family-oriented gatherings. Take a clear stand against bullying and stop it immediately if it occurs.
- Use the resources of your faith to talk about treating others as you would want to be treated by them. At this divisive time in our nation, you can speak about the importance of standing up to bullies who are targeting others because of their sexual orientation, gender identity, race, ethnicity, religion, immigration status and more.
- Provide pastoral care for LGBTQ youth and their siblings, letting them know that their faith community supports them and is a place they can turn for encouragement and help.
- Review strategies with kids, such as those on StopBullying.gov, which includes suggestions for children and youth who are being bullied as well as those who may have bullied others.
- Support GSA’s (Gay Straight Alliances) and other programs to connect LGBTQ youth and allies within schools.
- Check out GLSEN’s 2021 Back to School resource—this organization is dedicated to improving education for youth of all sexual orientations and gender identities.
- Know your resources for those in more urgent need of support: The Trevor Project, a crisis hotline for LGBTQ youth; the LGBTQ National Help Center, which has youth specific resources, and the Trans Lifeline, a crisis line for transgender and gender non-binary people.
- The National Runaway Safeline also offers these Back to School Safety Tips for LGBTQ Youth.
- Additional ways to welcome LGBTQ youth within your community of faith can be found in our own CLGS resource, Transitioning to Inclusion: Embracing Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning Youth in Faith Communities.
By offering support to youth within your congregation and community, you can make a tremendous difference. Below are some ideas for supporting parents and teachers.
Creating affirming learning environments for youth in your community includes involving and supporting adults as well. Both parents and teachers play critical roles in the lives of our youth and have their own needs.
To Support Parents:
- Parents of LGBTQ youth may face particular stress as their children return to school, knowing the odds of their child being bullied or mistreated. Offer pastoral care to families and be alert to parents’ needs to talk about any concerns they may have.
- PFLAG (an support and advocacy group for parents, families and friends) offers these Top Ten Ways to Make Schools Safe.
- LGBTQ parents may face challenges in schools that do not recognize or support their relationships. Many feel invisible at their children’s schools, even though they are more involved than other parents. Here are some suggestions from the Family Equality Council for parents.
- Gender Spectrum, an organization for families with gender expansive children, and the National PTA have produced a video of back to school tips for parents; these two organizations have produced other helpful resources as well.
To Support Teachers:
- Remember that LGBTQ teachers may be working in an environment where they are not out or are not supported. Sometimes teachers who are allies face some of the same hostility and discrimination. Offer pastoral care to all teachers and let them know that your community of faith values their dedication and work.
- GSA offers these tips to teachers on Best Practices for Supporting LGBTQ Youth as They Return to School.
- Check out GLSEN’s 4 Ways You Can Support Black, Queer, Trans & GNC Educators Today.
- Teaching Tolerance, a project of the Southern Poverty Law Center, offers this resource on Creating an LGBTQ Inclusive School Environment.
As school starts again, remind young people, their families, and their teachers that they are a cherished and important part of your faith community.