The Importance of Creating a Nurturing, Safe Environment for LGBTQ Students

If you have been following my work, you know I spent 7 years a K-12 teacher and 7 years as a university professor, eventually becoming the dean of a school of education. As a teacher, I was passionate about helping students reach their academic potential and become productive citizens. As a professor and education dean, I was devoted to developing the next generation of teachers and education administrators. For the last two and a half years, I have been an education entrepreneur, launching an education company, Lynch Educational Consulting, which also manages the following web properties: The EdvocateThe Tech Edvocate, and Edupedia.

However, I often miss being in the classroom, and when I do, I usually channel this energy in an article, resource, or project that will benefit educators everywhere. This time I decided to create a series of case studies that are meant to help pre-service teachers get a glimpse into the problems and issues that they will encounter in the field. These case studies will also give them a chance to reflect on how they can use each scenario to inform their own practice. Let’s get started.

As teachers, we must be champions of all our students, regardless of their race, religion or sexual orientation. We must treat them with respect and make our classroom and the entire school a safe zone, where they feel protected. Read the case study below entitled “Amanda: Classroom Climate to Support Student Individuality and Safety,” where a teacher is confronted with an instance of LGBTQ bullying and fails to handle the situation in an appropriate manner. This could potentially lead to physical harm being done to the student being bullied. Afterward, reflect on the questions below, using your thoughts to shape your own practice.

  1. Consider Tom Gates’ remark. Is Josh “asking for it” by wearing a dress? What might this reveal about Gates’ attitude?
  2. How does Amanda respond to Ben’s remark?  Is her response specific enough to address the issue? How might she have handled this more effectively?
  3. What hints does Amanda have based upon Josh’s behavior toward Ben, after Ben’s remarks?
  4. What action, if any, should Amanda take at this point? Whom might she speak with, about the situation? An administrator? A counselor? What might be an appropriate intervention?
  5. Amanda didn’t respond to Josh’s comment that being called gay was “insulting.” How might Josh ’s comment be hurtful to other LGBT classmates?

West Ridge High School was buzzing with excitement. Student government officers had received permission from the principal to arrange “spirit days” the week before homecoming. Each school day, students could wear outfits with different themes, as long as they didn’t violate the dress code. Skirt lengths had to be within regulation, and off-the-shoulder tops were forbidden. Boy’s torsos had to be covered, and shorts had to meet length requirements. Within those parameters, students were free to be expressive.

Although the celebration required a little extra diligence and supervision, teachers and administrators agreed it was a fun tradition that promoted school spirit. For the most part, it didn’t interfere with instruction, and all accepted it with grace. Some teachers joined in the fun and dressed up as well. Amanda had taught American History for 6 years at West Ridge and looked forward to spirit week. She enjoyed working with the junior class officers to coordinate their float.

Monday was “cartoon character day.” Students dressed as Looney Tunes characters, SpongeBob, and other favorites. One group organized themselves and represented the cast of Scooby Doo. Tuesday was “kindergarten day” and Wednesday was “career day.” Most wore business apparel or uniforms, but a few were extremely imaginative.

A group of boys wore blue coveralls and hard hats. They cordoned off a section of hallway with striped tape, orange street cones, and a “Men Working” sign. Between classes, they redirected “traffic” around the “road work.” Thursday was “movie character day.” Some were instantly recognizable: Rambo, James Bond, and a few Lara Crofts. One girl was a dead ringer for Elle in Legally Blonde. It was a lot of fun.

That morning, Amanda’s students filed into first period, laughing and admiring each other’s wild attire. Amanda enjoyed their outfits but had carefully prepared lessons that week, to ensure that students were focused on academic content for most of the period. Students were expecting a quiz, and, in good spirits, they settled in for some last-minute studying.

Just before the late bell rang, someone appeared in the doorway, in a white sleeveless dress that flared at the knee, red pumps, and a glamorous blonde wig—the perfect picture of an Asian Marilyn Monroe. It took a minute for Amanda to recognize Josh. Students were speechless as he posed suggestively, framed by the doorway. As the bell rang, he tottered into the classroom in his high heels. The class reacted with giggles, whistles, and sneers.

“That’s quite a costume, Josh! You’re a looker.” Amanda said with a smile and a giggle. “Let’s get ready for your quiz; you’ll need to use your time wisely.” Josh nodded and smiled at the class as he pulled paper out of his backpack. Students continued to snicker as they found pens and paper.

“Dude, you look totally gay!” Ben bellowed from across the room. “Did you shave your legs too?”

Josh puckered and blew a big red kiss in Ben’s direction. “Thanks for looking, but I didn’t have to shave. I’m Japanese; we’re not all hairy like you.” Students laughed. “Anyway, just because I wore a dress doesn’t mean I’m gay. That’s insulting. Marilyn was totally hot!”

Amanda cleared her throat and began to distribute the quiz. “All right, boys, that’s enough! A quiz means silence! Any talking will result in a zero.” She raised an eyebrow at Ben and handed Josh a stack of quizzes. “Please take one, and pass the rest back.”

As Josh complied, Ben whispered audibly, “She said boys. Not fags.”

“Ben! I will not tolerate insults in my class. We will talk about this later.” Amanda said emphatically, her eyes locked with Ben’s, as she handed a stack of quizzes to Gabrielle. “Take one, and pass them back, and no more talking until everyone has finished with the quiz.”

“Yes, ma’am.” Ben nodded, but cut his eyes menacingly at Josh. Students worked quietly for the next 30 minutes. Amanda walked around the room, checking their progress. She eyed Josh cautiously. He seemed agitated, glancing furtively at Ben, who seemed oblivious. Amanda continued to watch as students finished the quiz. Afterward, there was a brief discussion of the Alien and Sedition Acts, and students had time to talk about the group projects due the following week.

Josh took off the wig and joined his group, taking charge of their planning. He made several suggestions about their skit, which his group adopted eagerly. They agreed to meet over the weekend to rehearse. Amanda saw that Josh was still keeping a close eye on Ben, as the bell rang. The class gathered their belongings and bustled out the door. Josh seemed to take longer than usual to get his backpack arranged. He put his wig back on and rearranged it carefully.

“Josh . . . is everything okay?” Amanda asked.

Josh smiled apprehensively, and nodded.

“I really like your costume,” she smiled. “You went to a great effort. I think there were people who were surprised by it. Maybe it made some of them feel uncomfortable with you.”

“Will I get in trouble?” Josh winced.

“No, Josh, probably not. Technically, you’re decently covered and not violating the dress code,” she said, trying to put him at ease. Josh looked a little nervous. Amanda escorted him to the hallway. He checked to see if Ben were lurking nearby, and then made his way down the hall through the crowds of other “movie stars.” Tom Gates, an administrator, stopped at Amanda’s door to chat as he wandered through the hall on his rounds.

“That boy is going to be bloody by the end of the day,” Tom said, shaking his head. “But he’s asking for it, dressing like that. What a terrible idea.”

Choose your Reaction!