1.8 Million LGBTQ Youth Consider Suicide Each Year, But Teachers Have the Power to Change That

1.8 Million LGBTQ Youth Consider Suicide Each Year, But Teachers Have the Power to Change That

Teachers, you can literally save lives. Research provided by The Trevor Project shows over 1.8 million LGBTQ youth consider suicide each year. However, the research also shows having just one supportive adult in their lives reduces suicide risk in LGBTQ teens by 40%. That supportive adult doesn’t have to be a parent. It can be a teacher. It can be you. Here are some ways to support LGBTQ youth.

1. Seek out education and resources. 

Ashley Rhodes-Courter is a clinical social worker and a member of the Parents for Transgender Equality Council with Human Rights Campaign. (She’s also the best selling author the memoir Three Little Words.) Rhodes-Courter says, “continuing education and finding local resources is essential. My favorite is welcomingschools.org. They offer endless resources such as posters, inclusive books, and other diversity materials.”

2. Use preferred names and pronouns. 

Katie Leikam, LCSW, says her clients tell her they feel most supported when teachers use their chosen name and preferred pronouns. “Teachers, please use the name your student wants to be called when calling role or calling on that student in class. Teachers respecting the child’s name and pronouns often lessens the safety concerns of the child and is supportive and affirming all at once,” Leikam explains. Some ways to do this include:

  • Ask students privately. Chat with students privately at orientation or provide a simple form for everyone to fill out. Let students know they can email or talk to you at any time if they’d like to make changes. 
  • Share your own pronouns. Rhodes-Courter says when teachers share their own pronouns as part of an introduction it sets the tone for normalizing gender diversity. This can be as simple as, “Hello! I’m Ms. Moshman. My pronouns are she/her. Welcome to class!”
  • Ask all students to introduce themselves with their preferred names and pronouns. You don’t have to wait for the start of a new school year to do this. 

3. Ensure course material includes positive LGBTQ role models.

Representation is important. Debra Fowler is a teacher who launched History Unerased for this reason. History Unerased brings non-judgmental, age-appropriate curriculum on LGBT+ history into the public school classrooms while striving to affirm LGBT+ identities. 

4. Foster an inclusive environment. 

Get into the habit of saying significant other or partner instead of husband/wife. Talk about all kinds of families, including those with two moms or two dads. Bring in openly LGBT+ speakers. Just as kids need to see they can be a scientist, pilot, chef, etc. regardless of race or gender, they also need to see people of the LGBT+ community achieve success.

5. Be an advocate for your students. 

Make sure the concerns and needs of LGBTQ students are being met by your school. Speak up at staff meetings, go to the principal and attend district meetings. Be the voice your LGBTQ students are still finding for themselves. You might be their only advocate.

6. Tap into support and advocacy groups. 

There’s a lot to learn and understand. No, you don’t have to know it all – your students are still figuring it out themselves – but a willingness to learn about gender terms, social norms, abusive language, best practices in inclusivity, legal concerns, etc. goes a long way in being a powerful advocate and ally. You don’t have to know all the answers, but being tapped into local groups will help you get to know people who know and understand what you don’t. Knowing what resources are available in your area is important when students or parents come to you for support. Rhodes-Courter suggests contacting the Human Rights Campaign for help finding local resources.

7. Be a safe place for all students.

Elena Joy Thurston is a motivational speaker who came out later in life. She knows firsthand many LGBTQ kids don’t have support at home and so a teacher providing a safe space makes a huge difference. Having a small rainbow flag displayed in your classroom, even a small one sticking out of your pencil holder, lets LGBTQ students know you’re an ally. Obviously, no teachers should tolerate homophobic or racial slurs but take it farther by avoiding judgmental labeling of all people. Don’t allow students to call themselves or others words like lazy, ugly or dumb. Talk about how behaviors don’t define a person, for example, just because a person does something disrespectful doesn’t make them a disrespectful person. “Distinguishing the difference can help so much! Show in your words that you don’t judge people, you accept and love them as they are,” Thurston explains.

8. Give out the number for help.

The Trevor Project offers crisis intervention and suicide prevention. Counselors are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Get this info out repeatedly to your students. Hang it on the wall of your classroom, send it in group emails, post it on your class website.  Students can call 1-866-488-7386, start an online chat at https://www.thetrevorproject.org/get-help-now/ or text “START” to 678678.

1.8 million LGBTQ youth consider suicide each year, but one supportive adult can reduce suicide risk by 40%. This adult could be you.

How can parents best support their LGBTQ kids?

PFLAG says “leading with love” is the most important thing a parent can do. PFLAG offers information, resources and support groups to LGBTQ individuals and their families. Parents can also follow the tips above to create homes where children feel seen and supported. In addition, parents should step in if they see LGBTQ students aren’t being supported at school. Jennifer Wakefield is on the board of an LGBTQ youth organization called Side-by-Side in Virginia. She says it’s important to find teachers and principals who accept and support your LGBTQ child. She was very upset to find out her son’s teacher was referring to him as “gay boy” instead of his name, and that another teacher refused to let students make Mother’s Day cards for both of their moms. Wakefield now interviews schools “based purely on gay friendliness.” If just one supportive adult reduces suicide risk in LGBTQ youth by 40%, imagine the impact of home and school both providing safe and accepting environments. 

Teachers, you have the power to help LGBTQ students feel seen, valued, respected, accepted, and supported. Your actions set the tone for the environment in your classroom and can carry on throughout the school. The Trevor Project’s research shows suicide is the second leading cause of death in teenagers and LGBTQ students are four times more likely to attempt suicide than their peers. You have the power to reduce those statistics by being a supportive adult. 

Also Read:

1.8 Million LGBTQ Youth Consider Suicide Each Year, But Teachers Have the Power to Change That

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Rachael Moshman
Rachael Moshman, M.Ed., an editor at Bored Teachers, is a mom, educator, writer, and advocate for self-confidence. She's been a teacher in classrooms of infants through adult college students. She loves pizza, Netflix and yoga. Connect with her at rachael.m@boredteachers.com
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