In high school, I was a quiet, serious student. I worked hard to get good grades so that I could reasonably apply to top-tier colleges. As high school graduation got closer and closer, I began realizing that I was attracted to women. My plan shifted from getting into the most academically rigorous college to getting into the most queer-friendly (and still academically rigorous) school I could find.
I went to a public high school in a small town, so everyone knew everyone–usually from kindergarten onward. Even though I was out to my close friends and my family by my senior year, I did not want to be out at school. I was afraid that people would think I was being dramatic, and I didn’t want to be the only out kid I knew. Looking back now as I finish my doctoral degree, I wish my high school teachers would have talked about their identities as members of the LGBTQ+ community, or that they had been more explicit about their support. My teachers were my heroes, and I would have felt seen and safe if they had made it clear that they were supportive of LGBTQ+ students. Even if teachers are uncomfortable with a personal reveal, there are so many ways to incorporate awareness of the diversity of gender and sexual identities within the curriculum.
As an educator, you can talk with your students about LGBTQ+ identities in any subject. If you teach biology, talk about same-sex attraction as a natural variation of human difference. If you teach world history, highlight the many gender identities present in native cultures before colonization enforced adherence to binary gender identities. Teach students in U.S. history about the origins of the gay rights movement, emphasizing the Stonewall Riots and the activism of the Gay Liberation Front. If you are a math or computer science teacher, talk with your students about the contributions of Alan Turing to technology as we know it today, and about the terrible price he paid for his homosexuality. Read literature and poetry by queer authors with your students in your English classes; explore how the authors’ experiences and worldview were shaped by discrimination, and by the queer communities they found. If you teach health classes or other sex education courses, spend time covering LGBTQ+ identities. Make clear to students the difference between biological sex and gender identity, and between sexual orientation and gender identity.
If you are an ally to the LGBTQ+ community, make this stance obvious to students, other educators, and the administration. Volunteer to help run a straight-gay alliance. Volunteer to chaperone prom in order to provide support to queer, transgender, and gender nonconforming students who go alone or with a date. Advocate for individual-use bathrooms and locker rooms for transgender and gender nonconforming students. Make it clear to everyone that you will support LGBTQ+ students because it is the right thing to do as an educator.
If you are LGBTQ+ yourself, please, please be out at work. There is nothing more powerful than letting your students see you living your life as an out, queer professional. Have a photo of you and your partner on your desk and talk unapologetically about your life together. And find your people, LGBTQ+ and otherwise, who will vouch for you if any student, parent, or administrator tries to say that you are being unprofessional by being yourself. You are already making a difference every day for your students. Know that your acceptance and support for your LGBTQ+ students will have an impact far greater than you can imagine.
Meg Collins, MA, received their Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Smith College, and expect to graduate from the Clinical Psychology doctoral program at the University of Indianapolis this summer. They are pursuing a career in college counseling, with a focus on working with LGBTQ+ college students.