Back-to-school can be an anxious time for many LGBTQ youth, who may expect to face bullying, humiliation, and discrimination at school. Though the atmosphere for LGBTQ students has improved greatly in the past decade, school can still be a rough place to spend your day.
In the 2017 National School Climate Survey, national LGBTQ student advocacy group GLSEN found that 90% of Maryland students heard homophobic, biphobic or transphobic slurs at school. More than half of queer and gender diverse high school students had been verbally harassed, a quarter were physically harassed, and 10% had been physically assaulted.
When our youth are bullied out of school, their future prospects shrivel like a flower without sunshine. If you are an LGBTQ student dreading the homeroom bell, here are three tips to help you hang in there.
1) Know your rights – Gender expansive students in Baltimore City public schools won a spectacular victory this April, when city legislators passed a new law protecting the students’ rights to respect for who they are. Following in the footsteps of Frederick County, which enacted similar regulations in 2017, the measure goes beyond the protections provided by Maryland, prohibiting “discrimination based on gender identity, gender expression, sexual orientation and nonconformance to stereotypical notions of masculinity or femininity.”
These protections allow students to use the restrooms and locker rooms that align with their gender identity and to self-designate the name and pronoun that works for them, regardless of legal name. The policy also encourages sensitivity, directing teachers to ask privately how the student wants to be addressed in their classroom.
Howard County has also voluntarily created new policy guidelines for their schools. Montgomery County’s similarly updated policies request that instructors leave a current roster with students’ chosen names for substitute teachers, and direct that group activities should be divided by skill rather than gender. Find out the policies that protect you at your school and look for teachers and staff who will back you up if needed.
2) Find your people – Research shows that every tough situation in our lives improves with one crucial tool: Social support. Look for peers and possibility models who are living your ideal life, then follow their example. If you march to your own maracas, you are a superstar! Find friends to keep you company and admire your magnificence.
One great place to start is your school’s Gay Straight Alliance. Nearly every middle school, high school, college and university in Maryland has at least one LGBTQ student group. If yours does not, please start one! GLSEN’s “GSA Jump-Start” guide will walk you through finding an advisor and planning the first meetings. Amazing fact: just having a GSA in a school reduces harassment and discrimination for all students, not only the group members. GSAs are magic.
3) Keep your head up – Remember that school can seem like the whole universe when you are inside it, but it is only one little globe in a vast sky. Adolescence is a shredding time of life for most, and for queer and gender diverse youth being a teenager can be life-threatening. Change the circumstances that can be changed, seek serenity about what is out of your control, and get support in the journey.
Ultimately, young’uns, your job is this: survive. Do what you must to live through the transit and emerge onto a planet that loves you right. Try replacing the names of your bullies in your memory with something useful, like the heroes of the Stonewall Uprising, or Lizzo lyrics. Approach the school year with your signature style, use humor as your armor, and stay strong out there! We are all so proud of you.