How can I be a better ally to the LGBTQ+ community? What can schools do to educate students about the role and importance of allies? These are the questions that inspired me to create this project. I have found some answers through my research that I would like to share with you below.
For those who may be unfamiliar with the acronym LGBTQIA, it stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, asexual, allied. If you want to know more about the acronym, check out this interesting article about LGBTQ initialism in the Chicago Tribune.
I attend Catlin Gabel school in Portland Oregon. Although my High School works hard to be inclusive, there is still some uncertainty among students, teachers, and parents about how to best support people in the LGBTQ+ community. Even though portland is a liberal city, there is little to no education in schools about gender and sexual diversity, or how to be a good ally. My hope is that in the future, more people will be educated about how to be a good ally and this education will eventually be taught in schools.
In the context of this project, an ally can be defined as “a heterosexual or cisgender person who supports equal civil rights, gender equality, LGBT social movements, and challenges homophobia, biphobia and transphobia.” (Wiki) More people are becoming familiar with the term “ally”, however it is not a simple word. It can be complicated to be an ally but I hope that this project provides clarity and method for people who want to provide support to the LGBTQ+ community. This project seeks to advance the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) #10 which is to reduce inequality within and among countries. I believe that the first step towards diminishing inequality globally and locally is to teach individuals to be compassionate and supportive towards those who are different than them. This project provides information about the role of allies in real peoples lives and concrete things that we can do to support people in the LGBTQ+ community. It also provides background on the sense of unwelcomeness that LGBTQ+ students face in school. I hope that people will be able to use this information to treat people in the LGBTQ+ community equitably and combat the discrimination that they see around them.
Background Research: In recent years, the LGBTQ+ community has become more visible than ever before. This newfound visibility is inspiring more youth to come out. There have been many movements in schools and beyond that work to find ways to best support people transitioning and living in the LGBTQ+ community. Many students have reported being bullied because of their sexual orientation or identity. This tragic but real phenomenon must be stopped in order for students to feel safe and productive in their school environment. Most schools do not explicitly teach students how to be allies because “Generally, teachers and administrators have little professional development focused on gender and sexual diversity” (Leonardi and Staley, 69).
Attempts to train educational professionals to create more inclusive classrooms have been slowly becoming more popular however they are not always successful. Staley and Leonardi report that some challenges include “limited resources, state or district mandated demands on professional development time, and competing conceptions about the need to devote critical attention to issues facing LGBTQ students” (70). Despite these setbacks, educators have overwhelmingly reported that they want to support the LGBTQ youth by paying more attention to sexual and gender diversity. The best way for teachers to achieve this goal is to undergo professional training that gives them strategies to teach inclusion in the classroom. By moving beyond an individualistic approach and focusing on the school system and culture at large, teachers will be able to teach inclusion, acceptance, and support.
It is not just young students who experience harassment based on their sexuality or gender. College students also report facing discrimination in their learning environment because of their sexual or gender identity. Students at Universities in the U.S have reported mental and physical danger at their school. This is something that must be stopped with the combined efforts of students and teachers. A college student named Tiffany was an ally to the LGBTQ community and she “started using social media as a platform to create a safe and welcoming campus environment for LGBTQ students” (Collins and McElmurry, 193). Her efforts were extremely successful as the new media platform gave LGBTQ students a place to connect with others like them and allies. Similar efforts have been successful worldwide as people in the LGBTQ community have been able to support each other through the power of the internet.
This online organization is one of many that provides support groups from people in the LGBTQ community. Social media along with teachers teaching about inclusion could have the power to eliminate a lot of harassment occurring in schools across America. The future is hopeful as more people commit to learning how to be a better ally. A college student named Josh reported that after experiencing many years worth of discrimination for being gay, he “realized LGBTQ people and their allies could access a strong power of their own to help overcome these marginalizing social systems” (190).
Here is a poll I made to see how many people viewing my catalyst project have seen or experienced harassment on the basis of sexual or gender orientation. Please click on this link to participate in the poll. If the results indicate that this sort of harassment is present in schools, we all must work harder to meet the SDG #10. School is challenging but it becomes even more of a task when harassment, discrimination, and bullying are present.
A journal article about embracing diversity states that “In a country where equal rights are espoused in the constitution, the systems appears to be failing the LGBTQ+ community – especially youth.” (Stonefish and Lafreniere, 6.) This statement is backed up by statistics reported by the Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network which states that actual and perceived sexual orientation and gender expression are the two main reasons that sexual minority groups feel unsafe at school (6). Van Womer and McKenny have discovered that “failure to take a proactive stance to help youth with gender identity issues is a major cause of psychological problems, leading to in some cases to suicide, alcohol and other drug abuse, and homelessness.” (7). Youth are met with these gender issues when those around them enforce these two gender theories: Gender Essentialism and Gender Policing.
Gender Essentialism can be defined by “Finally, A Feminism Blog 101” as the belief that “there are uniquely feminine and uniquely masculine essences which exist independently of cultural conditioning. Children are taught from a young age that girls and boys have distinct traits.” This belief is harmful because it teaches people to believe that gender and sexuality are binary. LGBTQ+ youth also experience the harmful effects of Gender Policing while at school. Gender Policing is “the imposition or enforcement of normative gender expressions on an individual who is perceived as not adequately performing, through the appearance or behavior, the sex that was assigned to them at birth” (Wiki, Gender Policing). The moving documentary titled Real Boy (Click here for Preview) provides examples of gender policing in the life of a transgender male named Bennett. One example of the gender policing he faces is his family refusing to use his preferred pronouns because they want him to act and look in a way that reflects his assigned gender. Bennett also speaks to the support that he gained through Youtube and other social media platforms. I highly recommend watching this film if you have not done so already!
Have you ever felt unsure of how to be a good ally? Take this poll to submit your answer! If you have had uncertainties about how to be a good ally, keep reading to find some solutions. If not, read on to learn more about what it means to be a good ally.
“CALL TO ACTION” So what can we do as students and educators to make LGBTQ+ students feel more supported? Below I have conducted interviews and provided materials that will give you insight into how to achieve this goal.
This is Levi Mindlin and he uses He/Him/His pronouns. Levi is an 18 year old transgender male who attends Catlin Gabel High School. As part of the transgender community, Levi knows first-hand how valuable and vital allies are in our society. Levi is passionate about gaining equality for the LGBTQ+ community and has worked in the Catlin Community and beyond to teach people about being an ally. Levi has led Catlin’s LGBTQ+ affinity group for the past three years, led the SAFE (students and allies for equality) club for two years, helped direct Catlin’s diversity summit, and works on multiple planning committees for queer youth groups around the city. In an interview with Levi, I asked him the following questions among others and these were his responses:
What roles have allies played in your life? “In my life, allies have been super helpful in advocating for me and offering to come out to other people for me, correcting other people on my name/ pronouns or other things that people around me are getting wrong. The allies that are around me really helped me through my transition and provided emotional support”
In your Opinion, what makes a good ally? “I think a good ally is someone who does their own good research about topics so they don’t ask obvious questions or hold misconceptions that are easily debunked. Also someone who advocates for people in the queer community in front of other people”
In speaking with Levi, I learned that supportive allies can have a huge impact on LGBTQ+ people when they are coming out. Levi came out to his parents, friends, and peers at the beginning of this year (2019) and he says that it was one of the most “emotional times of his life”. Levi said that the allies around him “made it possible for [him] to be the person he was inside”. Levi “can’t imagine what [his] life would be like without supportive people” and I think that this is a testament to the power and necessity of allies.
This is casey Mills and he uses He/Him/His pronouns. Casey is one of the Upper School Counselors at Catlin Gabel High School. He has years of experience working with students, including those who identify as part of the LGBTQ+ community and their allies. Casey collaborates with the other faculty and teachers at Catlin to make the school a welcoming place for all. He works with Allison Ward who is the school’s Inclusion and Outreach Administrative Assistant to provide support for people in sexual and gender minority groups. In an interview with casey, I asked him the following questions and these are his responses:
In your Opinion, what makes a good ally? What can teachers do to teach about being an ally? “I think a person (teachers and others) who listen in an unconditional, nonjudgmental manner is someone who makes a good ally for those who identify as a member of the LGBTQ community as well as other communities or individuals. I think teachers can support students who identify as a member of the LGBTQ by remaining neutral about their own personal beliefs and familiarizing themselves with community resources, such as SMYRC (Sexual Gender Minority Youth Resource Center). These qualities can lead to open dialogue, relationship building, and student support.”
Casey provides the voice of a faculty member in my school community. One of the goals of my project is to teach people at Catlin how to be better allies. Listening to and working with teachers plays a vital role in achieving this goal. Casey made me realize that being an ally is not always a complicated thing. He says that all students and teachers have the capability to “listen to and be accepting of each other”. I was excited to hear that casey has a collection of resources available to students on how to be a good ally. He said that “the faculty at Catlin work hard to utilize these resources”. In the future, I hope to work with casey to encourage more students to engage with these resources.
This is Lilah King-Hails and she uses She/Her/Hers pronouns. Lilah is a senior at Catlin Gabel High School and she considers herself an ally to the LGBTQ+ community. She has friends and family who are in the LGBTQ+ community and has recently been working on educating herself so that she can become a better ally to the people she currently interacts with and those who she will meet in the future. Here are some of Lilah’s responses from our interview:
What have you learned about being a good Ally? “I have learned that a good ally needs to be educated, supportive, and understanding. We can’t be afraid to stand up for others in tricky situations. I also think we need to do our best to show respect by treating others the way that they want to be treated”
What can our teachers do to help people be allies and help students in minority groups feel supported? “I think that for starters, teachers need to make sure that all of their material is inclusive to the LGBTQ+ community. They can also provide resources to their students. Sometimes though resources are not enough because students don’t always take the time to read them. I think Catlin as a whole could do a better job of teaching this information in the classroom so that all students have the knowledge they need to be an ally.”
It struck me when Lilah said that “not all people want to be treated the same.” She reminded me that respect means different things to different people and so allies must listen carefully when someone is explaining how they want to be addressed. Lilah is a great example of someone who stepped up and became an ally. She did her own research to set herself up to support the LGBTQ+ people in her life. I agree with her that inclusivity conversations should be included more often in the classroom. Lilah says that one thing that she is getting in the habit of to be a good ally is “introducing myself with my pronouns”. This encourages others to share their pronouns and be open to addressing people in new ways.
These are 18 students who were selected to be in a group of LGBTQ youth for GLSEN’s national student leadership team. They dedicated a year to making school a more affirming and safe place for students in the LGBTQ+ community. To learn more about what these inspiring students did in their campaign, click here.
For some people, it can be overwhelming to understand how to be a good ally. I collaborated with the LGBTQ+ affinity group at my school to generate a short list of concrete things people at Catlin and others can do to be good allies. We have made this document into posters which we spread throughout our school. If you would like access to this poster to share with your community, please comment below and I will send you the PDF file. I encourage you to share these types of resources with people in your community! Here is what we came up with:
Here are Links to Organizations that support LGBTQ+ youth. One way to be an ally is by supporting these types of organizations through volunteer work and or donations! Equality Federation is building leadership in every state so that we can win full equality for LGBTQ people and our families. The LGBTQ Victory Fund is dedicated to electing openly LGBTQ people to all levels of government. The Trevor Project is a leading organization in providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention for LGBTQ youth. The It Gets Better project is dedicated to uplifting, empowering, and connecting LGBTQ youth across the country. These are just a few of many awesome organizations that are dedicated to improving the lives of LGBTQ youth. I challenge you all to take action to become a better ally and educate others on the topic. You can start by acting on some of the recommendations I provided above in my poster and below in the short video clip. Everyone deserves to feel included and supported, especially at school.
Interacting with members of my local community throughout this project has showed me that being an ally is not easy however everyone is capable of it. There are many published resources available to those who are curious about learning how to support people in the LGBTQ community. This project highlighted the harms of Gender Essentialism and Gender Policing in schools. I learned that many students do not feel safe in their place of education because of their sexual or gender orientation. This saddened me and instilled in me a passion to teach others how to be a good ally. I am still wondering about the best way for teachers to teach about inclusion of the LGBQ+ community in the classroom. If you have any ideas, or other solutions on how to work towards SDG #10 in regards to the LGBTQ+ community, please leave them in the comments below.
Thank you all for taking the time to interact with my project. I hope that you learned more about how to be a better ally and are inspired to put your new knowledge to use in your community. Here is the link to my work cited page: Link l