The Big Gay Way to End the School Year

(This is a guest post from my friend and colleague Beth Hawkins, an award-winning journalist and Education Post’s current writer-in-residence. She blogs at Bethhawkins.org.)

Happy Pride, y’all!

June 1 marks the start of a month-long celebration of LGBT history and culture and of our extraordinary leaps forward in terms of equality in recent years. If what you know of Pride is the rainbow- and glitter-bomb-saturated parades that are the grand finale–great. I hope to see you there; I’ll be the one on the sparklepony wishing she’d brought sunscreen.

In the meantime, let me leave you with this: Pride is an incredibly important month for educators and students. Schools can play a vital role in supporting LGBT youth and in affirming their identity—especially if their understanding of it is still in formation.

In no particular order, then, I offer several opportunities for educators to observe and celebrate:

Feels like home

Know where young people who suspect their families might not embrace their sexual orientation or gender identity can explore in a supportive cocoon? Where there’s hopefully a library full of books where they can see themselves and answer their unvoiced questions—maybe even staffed by a librarian who can create the space for them to browse unobserved?

Where a teenager can hear the coming out story of a teacher or another adult role model and step a little more lightly? Where Oscar Wilde’s playwriting is language arts AND a rich way to explore how people’s lived experience, struggles included, shapes culture and history?

School, that’s where all this magic can happen. So along with graduations and goodbyes, teachers could use Pride as a reminder to audit their practices and their classrooms to make sure all kids see themselves there.

So ALL the kids are alright

The existence of a gay-straight alliance–an on-campus, student-led club–may be a literal lifesaver for the for gay, lesbian and queer teens. But true fact: allies love the GSAs. By creating a safe space for anyone who’s a little different, and by creating a culture where it’s uncool to be a bully or a bystander, GSAs have been proven to better school climate for everyone.

So are you going to let another Pride go by without letting the kids on your campus know they have a legal right to form a GSA—and an enthusiastic ally who will help smooth the way?

A vital parent-teacher conference

Likely your classroom boasts students with LGBTQ parents. Marriage equality notwithstanding, they may not live in a community where their family can comfortably talk about this. So chances are you teach at least one young person who expends precious energy protecting their parents on the playground or at extended family gatherings.

Life will be so much better for those young people if they see images like their parents’ in your classroom. The presence of a book or a photo of you and your same-sex partner or your family with an LGBT couple and kids will serve as a literal invitation to open up.

Don’t have those pictures? Well guess what: The ultimate LGBT family circus is likely scheduled for sometime this month in a park or on a main drag near you. (Yep, I did that.)

What got this party started, anyhow?

Pride is the annual observance of the anniversary of the Stonewall riots, the six days and nights in 1969 when gays and lesbians took to the streets of New York to protest police brutality. Stonewall refers to the Stonewall Inn, where a night of police violence ignited the fire. Today, the Stonewall Inn is being made into a national historic landmark.

LGBT activists quickly turned the event into a celebration of queer culture, fighting in city after city for the right to parade openly one day a year. Last year, just days before most celebrations the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed marriage equality. 2015’s parades were Pride on steroids.

I love a parade

There are still vestiges of the raunchy Prides of yore, but today’s celebrations are packed with kids and dogs and marching delegations led by students and teachers. You know what will happen if you march this year? Hesitant and frightened young people all along the route will imagine your school as a safe space. Be sure to get a booth on the festival grounds so they can find you afterward.

Because everybody deserves a pot to pee in

If you needed further proof that schools, where young people are free to claim their identities are ground zero in the last sad chapter of the culture wars, look no further than the hysteria over gendered bathrooms. Encourage your students to tackle this one. Let them use design-thinking. And then listen to what they come up with.

You never know, in observance of Pride they might just put a rainbow flag on the door to every restroom in the school.

What do you think?

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