Five Ways to Support LGBTQIA+ Students this Pride Month and Beyond

Since 1999, America and other countries have recognized June as Pride Month. According to the United Nations, commemorative days and months such as Pride Month are “occasions to educate the general public on issues of concern, to mobilize political will and resources to address global problems, and to celebrate and reinforce achievements of humanity.” Pride Month provides educators with an opportunity to reflect on current policies and practices in our schools and how we can best serve our LGBTQIA+ students. 

One of the essential attributes of a successful middle school is Equity, which AMLE defines as “providing socially just learning opportunities and environments for every student”. However, based on 2024 data collected by The Trevor Project, we still have a long way to go in terms of making our school and classroom communities equitable for LGBTQIA+ middle school students. According to the survey, which focuses on youth mental health, “Nearly half (49%) of LGBTQIA+ young people ages 13-17 experienced bullying in the past year.” Additionally, the 2021 GLSEN National School Climate Survey reported “81.8% of LGBTQIA+ students feeling unsafe in school because of at least one of their actual or perceived personal characteristics.” 

As teacher leaders, we believe we can do more to support LGBTQIA+ students. Here are five of our suggestions on how we can work toward that truly equitable school environment:

Increasing Visibility

Many LGBTQIA+ students feel marginalized in their school settings. Celebrating Pride and supporting LGBTQIA+ students as they navigate their identities in middle school are ways to promote visibility and acceptance for them. 

Chad, a gay teacher, used to think Pride celebrations were unnecessary. If one is comfortable with who they are, why flaunt it? He soon realized that many LGBTQIA+ students do not have it as easy as he did when coming out. His “coming out” to his parents and friends was not difficult, as they continued to support him and treat him the same as they had before. He did not experience consistent discrimination based on his sexual identity. Not every LGBTQIA+ student has the same story. Others face loss of family support, rejection, and discrimination. Celebrating and making visible in our schools Pride parades, protests, and community events can serve as a vehicle against the negativity some LGBTQIA+ students face and let them know that they are not alone.

Another example of visibility for LGBTQIA+ students is not restricting their clothing choices at certain events. Chad has encountered this as a middle school music teacher when helping his students choose concert apparel. Female students questioning their gender identity have, with Chad’s support, opted to wear the slacks and dress shirt worn traditionally by male students over the skirt or dress worn traditionally by female students. One of Chad’s male students who was questioning in middle school, and began transitioning in high school, was allowed to wear a dress to their school’s performances. While one’s decision to choose concert attire based on their identity may not seem as overt as a parade, it is a visibility statement by the individual. Teachers giving students this opportunity is a step away from LGBTQIA+ marginalization.

Supporting Pronoun Choices

Another way to support LGBTQIA+ students and promote a safe, welcoming, and inclusive environment is by using their chosen pronouns. 

Chad has had several middle school students who have told him they would like to be addressed with the pronouns “they, their,” as well as by their new name because they are currently questioning. As their music teacher who has known them since their elementary years, he is used to addressing them a certain way. He has mistakenly addressed them with the incorrect pronouns and names a few times but immediately apologizes. It can be difficult to make the change, but the students are understanding of his mistakes, especially since his apology is sincere.

We believe pronouns are essential to LGBTQIA+ students as they work to establish their unique identities in the world. Megan always asks her students at the start of the year what pronouns they would like to use, and if it is ok for her to use these pronouns when talking to their families. By using a student’s chosen pronouns, teachers demonstrate respect for a person’s self-identity and show that they care about them as individuals, cultivating empathy and compassion. Here is a slideshow Megan created to honor International Pronouns Day in October and to help her students learn about the importance of correct pronoun usage.  

Developing supportive and inclusive school policies, such as anti-bullying/harassment policies and transgender and nonbinary student policies:

Classrooms that are supportive of LGBTQIA+ students are explicitly inclusive. At the start of the year, classrooms can create pledges to honor all identities. Pledges should be co-constructed with students and teachers sharing ideas about how to create a welcoming school environment and stop bullying at school. Here is an example of a classroom pledge that Dustin is considering using in his classroom next year. This is provided as an example to spark brainstorming but was not generated with student input. 

Schools also need to take immediate and appropriate action against bullying and harassment. School handbooks should have clear policies against discrimination and bullying, and students should be taught these policies at the start of the year and reminded of them as needed. Statements like “that’s so gay” or “no homo” need to be addressed on the spot.

Chad encountered these statements several times this year, and first addressed the students by asking them, “What do you mean by that?” Responses included, “What he did was uncool, and I know he’s not gay, so I just said that” and “I wanna show I support him, but not because I’m gay,” revealing that students may not necessarily mean harm through these statements and often use language they may be used to hearing. Chad told them that these phrases could potentially hurt someone who identifies as LGBTQIA+ and that using these stereotypical comments, as innocuous as they may have been, could be seen as discrimination and rejection of LGBTQIA+ people.

Implementing LGBTQIA+ Inclusive Curriculum: 

Teachers can create more inclusive environments by integrating LGBTQIA+ topics and perspectives into the curriculum. LGBTQIA+ topics can also be reflected in the classroom library and resources. The picture below is an example of a presentation that a Grade 5 student at Megan’s school created as part of a unit on understanding and preventing discrimination. This student researched events like the Stonewall Riots and the Black Lives Matter movement.

Grade 5 student inquiry project on discrimination.

Photo source and info: Grade 5 student inquiry project on discrimination. Taken by Megan Vosk at Vientiane International School. 

Teachers can also include lessons on LGBTQIA+ people from history. For example, teachers could give an assignment on the life of Alan Turing who is known as the founder of the modern-day computer, a genius mathematician, a cryptanalyst, and an openly gay man. This video touches on all of these identities and serves as a short introduction to Turing’s life.

This lesson on Turing from GLSEN is meant for high school but has a variety of discussion points that could be adapted for middle school. While Turing was open about his sexuality, he lived in a time when it was unacceptable and illegal. The difficulties that Turing went through as a result of his sexual identity remind us to keep in mind the struggles that LGBTQIA+ people may experience, and the social-emotional and mental health support they may need even if they are “out and proud.” 

Being an Active Ally

Teachers can display LGBTQIA+ affirming symbols and posters on their walls to show allyship for LGBTQIA+ students. The pictures below were taken from classrooms around Megan’s school. They are a visible way for teachers to demonstrate support. Sometimes, all it takes is having a single “You Belong Here” poster tacked on the wall for a student to feel welcome.

Welcoming messages posted on classroom walls
Pride flags around the middle school

Photo sources and info: Pride flags and other welcoming messages posted on classroom walls around the middle school. Taken by Megan Vosk at Vientiane International School. 

To be allies, teachers need to remember that being LGBTQIA+ is only one part of a middle school student’s identity. The AMLE Board of Trustees affirms in their Statement in Support of Learning Environments that Meet the Social Emotional Needs of our LGBTQ Students: “We know that educators who value young adolescents acknowledge their multiple and intersecting identities and seek to cultivate relationships, design curriculum, and establish learning environments that support honor, and affirm youth holistically.”

Tips for Success

Pride can bring out the best in everyone. When celebrating Pride this month and beyond, schools should use the following tips to plan for success, as suggested by Emily Meadows, an LGBTQIA+ consultant for international schools: 1.) Keep it age-appropriate; 2.) let students’ voices lead the way; 3.) prep the school community in advance with positive invitations and resources; 4.) make sure that the safety of LGBTQIA+ students is the number one consideration; and 5.) focus on joy, excellence, resistance, and community. We’ve included below a few of our favorite resources and key dates. Be sure to share in the comments how you support LGBTQIA+ students in your school or classroom.

Happy Pride!

Important dates to keep in mind:

  • 10/19 – International Pronouns Day
  • 5/17 – International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia
  • 5/19 – Agender Pride
  • 5/22 – Harvey Milk Day
  • 5/24 – Pansexual and Panromantic Day
  • 6/5 – HIV Long-Term Survivor Awareness Day
  • 6/12 – Pulse Remembrance Day
  • 6/28 – Stonewall Riots Anniversary

Suggested websites for further information:

  1. It Gets Better Project
  2. Pop culture classroom – LGBTQIA+ comics for students
  3. Empatico – Empathy Building Lesson Plans and Activities 
  4. Library of Congress – LGBTQIA+ primary sources
  5. GLSEN – Student and GSA Resources
  6. Learning for Justice – Best practices for serving LGBTQIA+ 
  7. Shifting Schools Guide to AI Literacy and LGBTQIA+ Inclusion
  9. The Trevor Project
  11. Middle School – LGBTQ+ Themed Virtual Field Trips – LibGuides at NYC Department of Education – Office of Curriculum, Instruction & Professional Learning
  12. You belong here posters from Emily Meadows
  13. Inclusivity report card lesson: Empatico

Recommended Readings:

  1. Inclusivity: The Key to Pride Month – Think Together
  2. Pride in Middle School
  3. Supporting a Gay-Straight Alliance in Middle School | Edutopia
  5. LGBTQ+ – Welcoming Schools
  6. Creating Safer Spaces in Schools for LGBTQ Youth | The Trevor Project
  7. LGBTQ Pride Month Guide for Educators | GLSEN

This article was written by members of AMLE’s Teacher Leaders Constituent Committee. Learn more about AMLE’s constituent committees and other opportunities to get involved.