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Helping LGBTQ students feel safe

Stressing safety, tolerance and inclusion

Every Class in Every School was published in 2011 and focused on homophobia, biphobia, and transphobia in Canadian schools, it is the first national survey of its kind. The results - and what it means for our LGBTQ students (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning) - demands attention.

Did You Know?

Part of students’ everyday school experience includes hearing expressions like, “that’s so gay” and words like “faggot”. Students report that teachers often look the other way when they hear homophobic and transphobic comments, and some teachers even make these kinds of comments themselves.

LGBTQ students and students with LGBTQ parents do not feel safe at school and experience much higher levels of bullying, discrimination, harassment and other abuse than other students do. School is especially bad for trans (transgender and transsexual) students, who are a small but highly visible group of students. They are frequent targets of harassment and discrimination, even from LGBTQ youth. Trans youth are particularly vulnerable to bullying and in need of adult support at school.

How Can Teachers Reduce Victimization of LGBTQ Students?

Create a safe space in your classroom

Develop school-wide policies that will prevent homophobic behaviour. Because so many LGBTQ students feel unsafe at school, classrooms that are safe spaces are especially important. Remind students that everyone is entitled to full respect, safety and acceptance when they are in your classroom. If you have a Classroom Code of Conduct, your students will already have “signed on” to this commitment. It is also important for the whole school to establish and publicize policies that specifically address homophobia. When such policies are in place, LGBTQ students feel safer at school and are less likely to be bullied; they are exposed to fewer homophobic and transphobic comments, and their teachers are more likely to intervene when such comments are made. Students who are harassed or assaulted are more likely to report it. They more often feel they can talk to teachers, principals, counselors, coaches and classmates. Notably, 80% of LGBTQ students from schools with specific policies to prevent homophobia reported that they have never been physically harassed.

Address homophobic language

Eliminating homophobic language in your classroom is an effective way to help everyone feel welcome and safe. Tolerating comments such as “you’re so gay,” “lesbo,” or even “you throw like a girl,” communicates to all students that it is not ok to be an LGBTQ individual.

  • Teachers and students can address homophobic language by referring back to the Classroom Code of Conduct.
  • If you hear homophobic language being used, address it immediately and let the individual know that this type of language is disrespectful and hurtful.
  • Deconstruct students’ comments such as “that’s so gay” by asking them what they think it means, what it implies and how they would feel if they heard someone using their sexual orientation as an insult.

Support the efforts of students to build a more LGBTQ-inclusive school environment

One of the consequences of homophobic bullying is that LGBTQ students feel isolated from the rest of the school community. Teachers can be an important source of support and become someone that LGBTQ students feel they can talk to, but young people also need to build sustaining relationships with peers. Although the majority of students do not find bullying of LGBTQ students acceptable, and would like it to stop, they remain a largely untapped resource when it comes to social support. They may not stand up for LGBTQ students because they don’t know what to do, or they fear becoming targets of bullying themselves. Teachers can counteract these tendencies by setting a strong positive example and consistently maintaining a safe environment. They can also directly promote the development of friendships and connections that help LGBTQ students find social support and inclusion among their peers. One way of doing this is by supporting the efforts of students to form Gay Straight Alliances (GSAs) or other LGBTQ-inclusive student-led clubs, and offering to work with students who want to start such a group.

Download our LGBTQ Tip Sheet  

Download the full Every Class in Every School report 

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