The Summary: Why to Train Teachers, Administration, and Staff on LGBTQ+ Issues
One important action school administrators can take on the path to making their schools more accepting of LGBTQ+ diversity is the training of teachers, staff, and even themselves!
WHY train about LGBTQ+-related issues?
Because training teachers and staff on those issues is one of the cornerstone ways to reduce bullying and create an accepting school climate, which benefits the ENTIRE student body.
Summary: Important Training Topics
- The experience of being LGBTQ+ in school and society, and the protective role supportive adults fill.
- Specific ways faculty and staff can support their LGBTQ+ students every day.
- How heteronormative/cis-normative environments negate LGBTQ+ individuals and reinforce anti-LGBTQ+ norms, and what the school can do to change that.
- The details of the anti-bullying policy, with clear training on how to enforce that policy.
- Perhaps most important is to let faculty and staff know that every one of them is in a position to make a positive difference in the lives of their students!
Tips for Successful Training
Do a needs-assessment for your school, if possible. Talk with students, faculty, and staff – what will best improve your school environment? If you do not have the resources for a school-specific needs-assessment, look at the available research to see where the need lies. GLSEN updates its school climate survey every 2 years. The Trevor Project releases a national survey of LGBTQ youth mental health.
Have educators train educators, which can be more effective than hiring off-site consultants (Mayberry, 2012)
Use research-based content, as specific to the school in question as possible (Mayberry, 2012)
Partner with university educators in schools of education, social work, mental health, and pediatrics in creating and providing the training (Mayberry, 2012)
Additionally if the school has a GSA, the GSA advisor(s) and members can be enlisted to train the faculty and staff on LGBTQ+ issues. That empowers the students while putting known faces to the issues LGBTQ+ students face at school (Mayberry, 2012)
The Details: Why Training is Effective
Why Training is Vital: The School Environment
The school environment reinforces heteronormativity on many levels, often without overt intent. The intrinsic nature of much of society negates LGBTQ+ people on a daily basis. The message sent to LGBTQ+ people is often that their identities are lesser, or not valid (Sinclair & Reece, 2016). Examples of heteronormativity include: anything divided by gender, to which students are either assigned, or must choose, a gender – bathrooms, locker rooms, etc.; curriculum that does not discuss the history or contributions of LGBTQ+ people, and does not cover the fight for LGBTQ+ rights; messaging about gender expectations in such things are prom king or queen, dress codes by gender, and permitted dates to events (Elliott, 2016).
The common messaging is that sexuality and gender are natural, binary, and fixed, which stigmatizes students whose sexuality and gender does not fall under traditional expectation (Elliott, 2016). Administration, faculty, and staff should also be trained on examining their behavior, in order to understand the ways that they inadvertently or intentionally reinforce an anti-LGBTQ+ climate at school (Stonefish & Lafreniere, 2015).
Teachers and administrators alike benefit from training that educates about hostility within the school environment, and the harassment, bullying, and threatening behavior faced by LGBTQ+ students (Swanson & Gettinger, 2016). Training should make sure to cover students who are marginalized because of their gender expression. Gender non-conforming students are the most likely group to experience harassment, regardless of their sexual identity or gender identity (Elliott, 2016). Training on these issues makes faculty, staff, and administration more aware of student interactions and more responsive when interference is needed (Swanson & Gettinger, 2016). In fact, studies have found that principals are often unaware of the bullying occurring in their schools (Sinclair & Reece, 2016). When asked to rate school safety, administrators consider their schools far more safe that the students do (Sinclair & Reece, 2016).
Train School Staff about What LGBTQ+ Students Experience at School
Faculty, staff, and administration need to be educated on what it means to be LGBTQ+ in school. This training can be through local LGBTQ+ community speakers discussing the specific needs of LGBTQ+ students, or through YouTube videos or podcasts. Whatever the format, it is important that all school employees understand what LGBTQ+ students experience and endure (Underhill, 2017). The faculty and staff training with the greatest impact focuses on education about the discrimination and victimization LGBTQ+ adolescents experience (Swanson & Gettinger, 2016).
Train Teachers (and Staff and Administrators) on What They can do to Support Their LGBTQ+ Students
Look at the page on Actions Allies can Take to see a more comprehensive list of actions teachers can take to support LGBTQ+ students. Awareness of heteronormative practices is the first step in stopping those practices. Active anti-bullying intervention is vital. Including LGBTQ+ individuals and their experiences and contributions in classroom curriculum acknowledges and empowers LGBTQ+ students. Daily actions that demonstrate support include attending/supporting GSA activities, displaying rainbows and other LGBTQ+ colors in one’s classroom/on one’s door, and stating your preferred pronouns while using your students’ preferred pronouns.
Training on How to Enforce the School Anti-Bullying Policy
Most teachers understand the importance of being supportive of their LGBTQ+ students, but often do not follow up. Eighty-five percent (85%) of teachers said that lack of training in how to be supportive of their LGBTQ+ students was a barrier to providing that support (Swanson & Gettinger, 2016).
With training, teachers express more confidence in knowing how to intervene in negative interactions, and they intervene more frequently (Swanson & Gettinger, 2016). Teachers engage in supportive behaviors more frequently in schools with: active GSAs, enumerative anti-bullying policies; and LGBTQ+ specific training (Swanson & Gettinger, 2016). Training on enforcement of the school anti-bullying policy is one of the most impactful types of teacher training (Swanson & Gettinger, 2016).
Train Teachers on the Protective Role Supportive Teachers Provide
Teacher support was rated by LGBTQ+ students as the most important buffer from negativity, even ahead of parental or peer support (Swanson & Gettinger, 2016). Having a supportive teacher is one of the highest predictors of various positive outcomes for LGBTQ+ students.
Teacher engagement had the highest influence on student self-esteem, academic achievement, and attendance. LGBTQ+ students with supportive teachers completed more homework, were more involved in school, and were more likely to plan for college (Swanson & Gettinger, 2016).
Elliott, K. O. (2016). Queering student perspectives: Gender, sexuality and activism in school. Sex Education, 16(1):49-62. doi:10.1080/14681811.2015.1051178
Mayberry, M. (2012). Gay-straight alliances: Youth empowerment and working toward reducing stigma of LGBT youth. Humanity & Society, 37(1):35-54. doi:10.1177/0160597612454358
National survey on LGBTQ youth mental health 2021. (n.d.). The Trevor Project. https://www.thetrevorproject.org/survey-2021/
Sinclair J., & Reece, B. J. (2016). Gay-straight alliances in the battle for rights: A tipping point for progress over prohibition. Interchange, 47:109-120. doi:10.1007/s10780-015-9257-3
Stonefish, T. & Lafreniere, K. D. (2015). Embracing diversity: The dual role of gay-straight alliances. Canadian Journal of Education, 38(4). https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1086834.pdf
Swanson, K., & Gettinger, M. (2016). Teachers’ knowledge, attitudes, and supportive behaviors toward LGBT students: Relationship to gay-straight alliances, antibullying policy, and teacher training. Journal of LGBT Youth, 13(4):326-351. doi:10.1080/19361653.2016.1185765
The 2019 national school climate survey. (n.d.). GLSEN. https://www.glsen.org/research/2019-national-school-climate-survey
Underhill, C. (2017). Navigating spaces: Moving along the (dis)enfranchisement spectrum through a high school GSA. Theory in Action, 10(4):89-99. doi:10.3798/tia.1937-0237.1728