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Most youth begin to realize their sexual orientation at the onset of puberty. This could be as early as fourth or fifth grade. Many know that they are somehow “different” at a much earlier age. Consider the following when addressing the climate in your classroom, school or district:
1. Don’t be surprised when a youth “comes out” to you. They have tested you with a series of “trial balloons” over a period of time. Based on your previous responses they’ve decided you can be trusted and helpful.
2. Respect confidentiality. If a gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender or questioning (GLBTQ) youth shares with you information about his or her sexual orientation or gender identity, you have a trust that must be respected. A breach of this con fidence has led some to suicide.
3. Be Informed & examine your own biases. Most of us are the products of a homophobic and transphobic society influenced by misinformation and fear. You can’t be free of it just by deciding. Read reliable sources and talk to qualified persons.
Help foster a climate for healthy gay and lesbian students. Visit the American Psychological Association’s Healthy Lesbian, Gay, & Bisexual Project.
4. Know when and where to seek help. Know the reputable referral agencies and counselors in your area. Gay helplines can provide professional persons and organizations that are qualified to help. Tell them who you are and what kind of assistance you need.
5. Maintain a balanced perspective. Sexual thoughts and feelings are only a small (but important) part of a person’s personality.
6. Understand the meaning of sexual orientation and gender identity. Each per son’s sexual orientation and gender identity is what is right for that person. It is not a matter of sexual “preference.” In most cases, people do not choose to be gay or lesbian; they simply are. Understand that one’s sense of gender identity is a separate issue with unique complexities and chal lenges.
7. Deal with feelings first. Most GLBTQ youth feel alone, afraid and guilty. You can assist by listening, thus allowing them to release feel ings and thoughts that are often in conflict.
8. Be supportive. Explain that many people have struggled with these issues in the past. Admit that dealing with one’s sexuality or a gender identity that is different from one’s birth sex is difficult. There are no easy and fast answers, whether heterosexual, bisexual, gay, lesbian or transgender. Keep the door open for more conver sations and assistance. Be aware that so-called “reparative therapy” has been discredited by all major mental health professional associations and can be harmful. While some groups promote it, it is not a credible way of offering support.
9. Anticipate some confusion. Most youth are sure of their sexual orientation by the time they finish the eighth grade and the same appears to be true with gender identity. But, some young people will be confused and unsure. They have to work through their own feelings and insights; you can’t talk them into, or out of, being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender.
10 Help, but do not force. If you are het erosexual, or comfortable with your birth sex, you probably don’t understand what it means to be different in these ways. Clues for how you can help will come from the young per son. Don’t force him or her into your frame of ref erence to make it easier for you to understand.
11. Don’t try to guess who’s GLBTQ. It is not helpful for you or for the youth you serve. We live in a world of stereotypes that do people an injustice; do not be tempted to perpetuate old myths.
12. Challenge homophobic remarks and jokes. Speak up when someone makes disparaging remarks about GLBTQ peo ple, or thoughtlessly uses anti-gay language, just as you would any other slurs. Don’t perpetuate injustice through silence. See below for tips on how to deal with anti-gay harassment:
Tips for Educational Professionals to Halt Anti-gay Harassment
There is no great mystery to halting anti-gay or anti-transgender harassment. Yet, all too often it is passed off as normal youthful banter or something a student would not be subjected to if they would just “straighten up.” There is also the fear on the part of some education professionals that if they attempt to intervene, they will be suspected of being GLBT themselves, or that they will not be backed up by their administration. In spite of these rationalizations and concerns, educators have a moral and legal obligation to protect every student from verbal and physical abuse, and resources are available to help navigate the challenges.
1. Intervene Immediately. Stop the Behavior.
Make it clear that anti-gay or anti-transgender language, “jokes,” gestures or physical contact are not OK, even if apparently “all in good fun.” Make sure everyone in the area hears your words. Interrupt the comment or physical harassment with statements like: Hey, that is not acceptable!; You know better than that; That is out of line!; That is not funny; Keep your hands to yourself!; Stop that right now!; (name of offender), I said knock it off!
2. Use the Teaching Moment.
Stopping the behavior is the first step, but the student(s) need to understand that the directive is meant to apply beyond that moment. The lesson is not just for the perpetrator(s), but for the benefit of all within hearing range. Taking the extra step to use the teaching moment can save time and effort later, as well as some child’s feelings, even their life, in the long run. Say things like:
- Whether you intended it to or not, that kind of remark can be very hurtful to someone who hears it and you may never know what damage it caused.
- That was a stereotype and it is unkind. A stereotype is a sort of lie that hurts people’s feelings.
- Do you hear what you are saying? Do you know what that word means? It is a mean-spirited epithet for someone who happens to be gay/lesbian. We don’t tolerate hateful language directed at anyone for any reason. Clear?
- Those kinds of put-downs are not OK here. Got it?
- How does it make you feel when someone treats you like that?
- That is bullying and it is against school rules.
- And so what if someone is gay- that is no reason to be disrespectful.
- Did you know that is sexual harassment and it could get you suspended?
3. Judgment Call for Further Action.
The behavior or circumstance may call for taking the offender aside privately. Depending on the severity of the incident, or if it is part of a pattern of ‘lesser” violations that needs stronger intervention, use regular classroom procedures and school district policies for similar inappropriate language or actions to guide appropriate disciplinary actions.
These tips were developed in large part from material from the Safe Schools Coalition of Washington. For more detailed suggestions for educators and administrators, visit their website at www.safeschools.org, or ask PFLAG Atlanta about additional anti-harassment resources.
Link to this article: http://www.pflagatl.org/2010/08/for-professionals-who-work-with-glbt-youth/