8. Sexual and Gender Identity Development and School Climate: What do Professional Educators Need to Know? (3/3) – Best Practices for Education Professionals

students to drop by. Literature that encourages acceptance of GLBT students should be
present in the school diversity room, school counselors’ ofces, and the library.
Inclusive Curricula
Strategies that professional educators can utilize in developing inclusive curricula
include the use of LGBT-themed materials, such as books, videos, and posters, for
example, focused on LGBT history, people, and/or events; the use of adult and youth
guest speakers; testimonials of LGBT students who have been bullied; and materials
that communicate the realities faced by GLBT students. Classroom guidance units can
help educate students on these issues as well (Hall, 2006).
It is also important that educators establish comprehensive sexuality education
that is age-appropriate and medically sound, and, in order to overcome the bias against
GLBT youth, it is imperative that sexuality education programs include information
about sexual orientation (PFLAG, n.d.). All students must have a clear understanding
of their bodies and sexual health in order to respect themselves and their classmates.
Avoidance of abstinence-only programs is paramount, as these programs exclude sex-
ual minority students from lessons and information (PFLAG, n.d.), and leave GLBT
students feeling isolated, unsupported, and misunderstood. Abstinence-only education
funding is provided only for programs that dene marriage as a union between a man
and a woman, essentially giving the message to GLBT students that they cannot have
safe, valid, or healthy sexual relationships or experiences. Inclusive curricula should
not teach or promote a religious perspective (Kilman, 2009), or teach that abstinence
is the only certain way to avoid sexually transmitted infections (STI’s) or pregnancy
(PFLAG, 2010). The curriculum should validate the experiences of all sexual orien-
tations, and provide accurate information about the health benets of condoms, and
other methods to reduce the risk of STI’s.
As Matthews (2005) emphasizes, “Infusion does not always mean that gay, lesbi-
an, and bisexual issues should be the focus of discussion. It does mean that their lives
ought to be visible and considered. [Further], when gay, lesbian, and bisexual concerns
are addressed, they should not always be seen as a liability or struggle” (p. 179).
Anti-Gay and Anti-Bullying School Policies
Another significant step that can be taken in schools toward supporting safety of all
students is implementing and, most significantly, enforcing policies that protect both
the students and the school. Polices that directly address bullying of GLBT students
can help create a more positive school experience for all. Students from schools that
have adopted more comprehensive anti-bullying policies report a safer school climate,
hearing fewer homophobic remarks, experience lower levels of victimization in re-
gards to sexual orientation, were more likely to report that school staff intervened,
and were more likely to report bullying to school staff members (Kosciw et al., 2008).
There are two critical components for every policy: 1) to enumerate, or spell out,
specific categories covered by the policy, and 2) to include GLBT students and those
perceived to be GLBT students in the policy. Spelling out specific categories ensures
that the policy is meaningful and is also an important guideline to ensure proper train-
ing for school personnel (Kosciw et al., 2008). Schools, however, are not the only
Sexual and Gender Identity Development and School Climate 113
114 Best Practices for Education Professionals
institutions that need to make improvements. Development of a supportive climate for
people who do not conform to traditional gender norms is essential within the larger
society (Kilman, 2009). Mule, Kippus, Santora, Cicala, Smith, Catald, and Li (2009)
note that policies not only need to be improved at the district and state level, but also
need to be developed at the federal level to ultimately advance social justice.
Training All School Personnel
Some, but not all, professional preparation programs for educators (teachers, school
counselors, school psychologists, etc.) require courses that address professionals’ de-
velopment of multicultural competencies. However, inclusion of sexual and gender
identities as an essential area of cultural competence is a relatively recent addition to
the curriculum in higher education (Matthews, 2005). This could perhaps be due to the
broader U.S. cultural valuing of traditional masculinity and taboos placed on openly
talking about homosexuality and sex (unless it is men objectifying women) (Morillas
& Gibbons, 2010). Staff development training is a recommended strategy for educat-
ing all school staff about both heterosexism and the issues that GLBT students face on
a daily basis, specifically bullying (Fisher et al., 2008). These trainings should include
the use of case studies and role plays, which may be uncomfortable for many, but
which are necessary for educators to confront the biases or anti-gay beliefs they may
have. Staff must be trained to recognize bullying, to educate and discipline those who
are bullying, to support those who are bullied, and to develop a comfort level with the
language they are expected to use. Some schools take action by becoming “Telling
Schools,” which places the responsibility on both the professionals and the students
to report any instance of GLBT bullying. It is crucial that staff education is a school-
wide, or even district-wide, effort and that everyone is trained, educated, and on the
same page (Fisher et al., 2008).
Systemic Change
Collectively, undertaking the steps outlined above will inevitably result in systemic
change. Once education professionals learn the facts about the struggles that GLBT
students face regularly, they will then be better equipped to support these students,
serving as agents of change. According to Parents, Friends, and Families of Lesbians
and Gays (PFLAG), specific actions can be taken towards implementing the desired
systemic change. For example, upon witnessing the bullying of a GLBT student in the
classroom or the hallway, it is essential that educators not only address the behavior,
but use the situation as a teachable moment. It is vital for education professionals to
take a stand against discriminatory behaviors so that students feel safe, supported, and
recognize they have allies. Conversely, education professionals who are immobilized
by fear and do not take action are contributors to an unsafe school and hostile school
climate. Utilizing the strategies described above conveys to all in the school commu-
nity that systemic change is expected (PFLAG, 2010).
Professional educators are responsible for school climate, the learning environment
in which all community members are expected to thrive. Thus, it is essential that all
education professionals learn about and understand culture and how culture influences
their lives and the lives of their students. Within the context of culture, gender roles
and expression, sexual identity development, and gender identity development are
important components to consider and about which to become knowledgeable.
All education professionals are responsible for understanding how gender stereo-
types inuence sexual and gender identity development during adolescence and are
responsible for providing support for adolescents in need. School counselors, in partic-
ular, acquire skills and techniques through their graduate training which are benecial
for working effectively with adolescents. School counselors are also professionally
prepared to work with school and community members to help adults and students
understand gender and examine gender ideologies. Understanding gender inuence on
children’s development enables all education professionals to more effectively work
with students individually or in groups.
Students who identify, or are identied by others as GLBT, face challenges due to
social prejudices that are embedded in the fabric of our schools and society at large.
They are at a great risk for bullying, harassment, assault, and discrimination. More
often than not these issues are not properly addressed, resulting in hostile school envi-
ronments where GLBT students feel isolated and unsafe. Bullying of GLBT students
is not only a result of school negligence or failure to confront biases, but a conse-
quence of homophobic sentiment embedded in a dominant culture that overvalues
stereotypical gender ideologies.
“Our nation’s schools should be safe havens for teaching and learning, free of
crime and violence” (Dinkes, Kemp, & Baum, 2009, p. 2). Strategies for education
professionals, and indeed all school staff, to implement towards making schools safer
for GLBT students have been discussed within this work. At the very least, when
hearing a student make a comment such as “that’s so gay,” it is crucial to address the
language and turn this situation into a teaching moment. This benets not only the
student making the comment, but sends the message to students who are GLBT that
they do have allies and support, and that ultimately the school is a safe place where
homophobia will not be tolerated. Students learn to “do gender” while in schools. It is
our job as professional educators to implement inclusive education, curriculum, and
policies at all levels of education. What is paramount is for all education profession-
als to work together, to create a safe and more welcoming learning environment, and
world, for our children.
Gay-straight alliance
Gender expression
Gender identity
Sexual and Gender Identity Development and School Climate 115
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