Opinion | Supporting all MI students means supporting gay and trans students too
LGBTQ+ students are substantially more likely than other students to be threatened or injured with a weapon at school, to be bullied at school or online, to skip school because they felt unsafe, to have experienced trauma, to have been pushed or kicked out of their homes, and to have attempted suicide.
It is for these reasons, among others, that for over two decades, the Michigan Department of Education has provided local school district-requested professional development to build the capacity of educators to provide safe, supportive, and inclusive school climates where all students can thrive — especially students who identify as LGBTQ+.
More than a thousand school staff seek out this professional development each year in which participants learn more about LGBTQ+ students’ lived experiences, state and federal laws, and research-based best practices, as well as discussions of the nuanced situations that students, parents, school staff and districts encounter.
Our local educators and support staff care deeply about their students and seek to better understand how to reach students and help them feel accepted, safe, and supported. Children deserve safe and inclusive environments to minimize their fears and anxieties and to focus on schoolwork, grow academically, and achieve success.
School staff listen to children and work to help create inclusive learning environments, and the department training informs educators that working with students and their parents is an essential component in this work. Any suggestion to the contrary is inconsistent with the training itself and an attempt to bully local school staff and ultimately undermine the support of LGBTQ+ children and their families in schools.
Parents, educators, school staff, and the community work together to support and educate children. Making space in our schools for all our students, including our LGBTQ+ children, is vital so kids can learn and grow in safe and positive environments.
Parents are our children’s first teachers and schools are committed to strong partnerships with parents. Students are best supported when a strong home/school partnership is developed and maintained. Indeed, our professional development explicitly notes the importance of this parent partnership and connection.
At the same time, not all parents are supportive when they discover or are told that their child is gay or transgender. In the professional development sessions, we encourage discussions with parents about these issues whenever possible. Parents’ supportive behaviors help protect against suicidality and other risks and help promote health and wellbeing. When parents and students are not on the same page, school staff can play a critical role in helping to bridge the gap.
In a situation in which the student is concerned about abuse, neglect, or homelessness if parents are told, educators may be cautious about sharing issues of sexual orientation and gender identity with parents; they have a responsibility not to put children in harm’s way, even inadvertently. Such decisions are not made lightly and are ultimately about safeguarding the health, safety, and wellbeing of students.
Peter Tchoryk, a parent of a transgender student in Dexter, summed up the impact of this professional development and caring, knowledgeable staff:
“Our transgender son knows that his school is a safe place for him, and that the educators in his school respect him for who he is. His school is filled with compassion. In addition, staff members have knowledge, resources, and confidence to support him. They have been equipped with the tools they need to support our son, so that he may flourish academically, socially, and emotionally.”
Politicizing children, and particularly vulnerable ones, is odious. Gay and trans kids exist, and they deserve our full support, just like all other kids do
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