Throughout the pandemic, we repeatedly have been reminded about the crucial role that teachers and youth workers play in creating affirming and supportive environments for our kids. This month, as we celebrate LGBTQ History Month, we highlight the impact educators have in ensuring that LGBTQ students feel protected and empowered.

LGBTQ is an umbrella term referring to people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual and/or transgender. Sometimes the acronym is written as LGBTQ+, with the “Q” referring to those who identify as queer and/or questioning. The plus sign (+) denotes that potential new terms can be added at the end of the acronym. Understanding the historical and current challenges that LGBTQ+ community members face, policies and practices are needed to provide support and positive change.

As of September 2020, Indiana was home to 43,000 LGBTQ youth ages 13 to 17, including more than 3,000 transgender youth. Two out of three Indiana LGBTQ students hear their families make negative comments about LGBTQ people. Furthermore, our LGBTQ youth of color, due to their intersecting identities, often face additional stress and adverse impacts on their health and well-being.

Students spend large amounts of time at school, surrounded by teachers, counselors, administrators, support staff, coaches, and many other adults. Our LGBTQ students look to each of these individuals for signs of understanding and caring.

Indiana Youth Institute recently released a three-part series of data reports, including Supporting LGBTQ+ Youth in Schools. Research in the report highlights how LGBTQ students in schools with more positive school climates were at lower risk of suicidality and reported fewer depressive symptoms. Schools that intentionally build and sustain environments free of bullying, name-calling or harassment report fewer skipped classes, missed days of school, and lower dropout rates. Schools that provide caring environments find that more LGBTQ students report being open about their identity at school.

Both the Indiana State Teachers Association (ISTA) and the National Education Association (NEA) have tools and training to ensure that students that identify as LGBTQ receive the support they need to succeed and thrive. ISTA stresses the importance of providing students a larger, more inclusive world context, aiming to increase understanding and a wider sense of belonging. The ISTA website spotlights the origins and importance of LGBTQ History Month, specifically addressing gaps and inequities. It also provides a link to Learning for Justice, a site providing both information and a guide to creating classroom learning plans.

NEA’s website also provides actionable resources grounded in the stance that educators are often on the leading edge of efforts to build lasting support for LGBTQ student rights. What follows are links to NEA resources:

School staff are critical allies of our LGBTQ youth. Ninety-seven percent of students identifying as LGBTQ reported at least one supportive school staff member, and 55% could identify six or more supportive educators in their school. Nearly half of LGBTQ students state they have access to Gay Straight Alliance clubs, or similar student groups, that bring together LGBTQ and allied youth to build community and positive school environments.

Schools around the state and country are adopting programs, policies, and initiatives that address LGBTQ bias, bullying, harassment and discrimination. Educators, youth workers, indeed, all of us, can benefit from continued professional education on LGBTQ student issues, ideally including feedback directly from students and families. The benefits of these efforts are clear. By uniting around students that identify as LGBTQ, educators, youth workers, parents, and students uphold our vision of communities where all students can learn and thrive.

For more context, key data and recommendations to support LGBTQ youth in schools, the child welfare system, and through mental and physical health, find our Supporting LGBTQ+ Youth at iyi.org/data-report-supporting-lgbtq-youth-in-indiana.

For over three decades, Indiana Youth Institute has supported the youth services field through innovative training, critical data and capacity-building resources, aiming every effort at increasing the well-being of all children. To learn more visit iyi.org and/or follow us on Facebook or Twitter.

Tami Silverman is the president and CEO of the Indiana Youth Institute. She may be reached at iyi@iyi.org or on Twitter at @Tami_IYI.

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