When Brittany Jeltema first learned about Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law, her immediate panic and fear were “indescribable.” She and her wife decided to move to the state before the law was passed, meaning their two young children will grow up in Florida’s school systems.

“The fact that their family will be seen as controversial in the eyes of Republican lawmakers will be damaging and traumatic for them,” she says. “They deserve to be proud of their family and tell about their two mothers without worrying if it will spark a discussion.”

In addition to LGBTQ families affected by this law and others popping up across the country, it has also made schools an insecure space for LGBTQ youth by having non-affirmative environments where students cannot express their full authentic selves. Experts say this is detrimental to students’ education and mental well-being.

LGBTQ families

More: As ‘Don’t Say Gay’ & Similar Bills Take Effect, LGBTQ Youth Feel Like Being ‘Crushed’

Parents of LGBTQ students have shared their fears and frustration over such bills.

Jeff Walker of Auburn, Alabama, has a transgender 15-year-old daughter, Harleigh. He told USA TODAY that he is concerned about whether and where she can go to the toilet at school. Kevin McDonald, a teacher in Edmond, Oklahoma, feels the pressure at school and home. His 15-year-old daughter identifies as a lesbian.

Melanie Willingham-Jaggers, executive director of GLSEN, sees these bills as a way to “attack and take away the most vulnerable part of our community”, namely trans youth.

“They attack children’s ability to be safe and participate fully in school life,” they add, which can turn even the simplest and most positive parts of school into a nightmare, such as going to the toilet or joining a sports team.

“And if something bad happens to them in the hallway or the classroom between their peers or an adult, they need to have a school policy that sees, understands, and protects them,” Willingham-Jaggers said. “That is being undermined.”

More: Florida’s ‘Don’t Say Gay’ Act sparked national backlash. But more legislation is brewing.

How to show support for LGBTQ families, young people

While certain schools have been targeted, experts say there are ways to show support for LGBTQ families and students.

Stay informed about what is happening in (and against) the LGBTQ community, including attacks on LGBTQ youth in schools. This also means learning to be a good ally, especially to those outside the LGBTQ community.

To help with that, The Trevor Project, a nonprofit focusing on suicide prevention among LGBTQ youth, has produced a guide to transgender and non-binary alliances that outlines the terms and concepts needed to learn about and best practices.

Know the consequences: Discrimination can be deadly. The Trevor Project estimates that more than 1.8 million LGBTQ youth ages 13 to 24 in the United States are seriously considering committing suicide each year. Every 45 seconds, at least one tries to commit suicide.

Jeltema explained that supporters of these bills are only making matters worse with the “trauma and harm they cause to LGBTQ+ students and families.”

Listen closely: We need to listen to young people about what they need, Willingham-Jaggers said. While youth-driven activism is great, these kids shouldn’t be fighting so hard to be seen and heard.

“It’s great that young people are raising their voices. However, they shouldn’t advocate for adults to ensure their rights aren’t taken away, and they can go back to school, which they are obliged to do legally and safely. That is the job of adults.”

We can be better supporters by listening to what they experience and need.

Get active: Willingham-Jaggers says, “get up, get out there, and be loud in support of LGBTQ+ youth.”

Not sure what to say to lawmakers? The Human Rights Campaign has prepared a sample message to help. This includes writing to lawmakers, volunteering with organizations fighting discriminatory bills, and voting with LGBTQ+ students in mind.

And it is impossible to bring about any change without the help of real allies, Jeltema added.

“Voting for lawmakers that don’t pass discriminatory laws, such as the Don’t Say, Gay Bill, is the first step to protecting and supporting LGBTQ+ families,” she said.

Supporting inclusive teachers, curriculum: While one inclusive and affirmative teacher can make a difference, six can change the course of a young person’s trajectory at school, Willingham-Jaggers explained.

“We know that what makes a student most successful is seeing themselves, their families, and their communities reflected in the curriculum,” she added.

Show support in your community: Visibility is also key to ensuring that LGBTQ youth feel seen and supported. GLSEN is launching a campaign that will offer signage, from stickers to site signs, that can act as physical, visible signs of support in your community.

“Be visible so young people who are LGBTQ+ can see you and know you support them,” Willingham-Jaggers said.

Are safe spaces for LGBTQ students really important? Yes.

While there are LGBTQ-focused organizations where queer youth can find community, there is approximately 50 million youth in schools, where they spend half of their waking hours.

“We feel it is of the utmost importance to ensure that they are respected and protected, whether they are LGBTQ+ or not,” said Willingham-Jagger. “We fight for the protection of every student and the respect of every family.”

Willingham-Jagger said that the ability of young people to participate in school has all kinds of positive effects on their friendships, social development, mental health, emotional well-being, and physiological and psychological development.

“Depriving young people of a safe space takes away the support we know is needed through research and experience to help young people grow up full, whole, and ready to participate in a multiracial democracy,” she said, adding that “attacks on student rooms (and) in schools are an attack on democracy.”

According to more than 20 years of research conducted by GLSEN, LGBTQ+ youth who attend schools with inclusive curricula have higher GPAs, a greater sense of belonging, and are more likely to pursue post-secondary education, among other benefits that enhance long-term well-being. Term promoting and achievement.

Jeltema, a former teacher, knows firsthand the importance of providing a safe and inclusive space for her students.

“Every child deserves to be represented in the classroom. For example, when students work on a family tree project, my children deserve to be proud of their two mothers,” she says. “Having a law censoring and silencing children and teachers doesn’t change the fact that LGBTQ+ families exist; it just creates trauma for them. We’re still here. Teachers should have the right to create a safe and inclusive space for every student who enters their classroom, regardless of gender or sexuality.”

Contributing: Romina Ruiz-Goiriena, USA TODAY

More: Most LGBTQ seniors feel lonely. This is what organizations do to help.

Let’s talk about (queer) sex: the importance of LGBTQ-inclusive sex education in schools.


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