Students are most likely to reach their full potential at schools that are safe, welcoming, and affirming. School can be a joyful and kind place for many students, but it can be scary and stressful for others. Many LGBTQ+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer/questioning) youth feel stressed at school because of bullying, teasing, and limited support from teachers and peers. LGBTQ+ students who feel unsafe at school do not have equal access to educational, social, and emotional opportunities.
LGBTQ+ youth may also face hostility and rejection at home and in their communities, making tolerance at school even more important. LGBTQ+ students benefit greatly from having thoughtful, responsive, and inclusive adults in schools. School counselors can be instrumental in helping their LGBTQ+ students thrive.
Four Tips for School Counselors and Other Mental Health Staff
Use gender neutral language.
Gendered language is everywhere! Using gender neutral language communicates openness and respect for all. Here are some simple swaps:
- Instead of “hello, boys and girls!” try “hello, everyone!” or “hi, y’all!”
- Try asking about a “date” or a “partner” rather than a “boyfriend” or “girlfriend”
- Instead of “brother” or “sister”, give “sibling” a try
- “What’s his name?” is made more inclusive by saying “what’s their name?”
Foster a safe physical space.
Consider having visible indicators that you are a safe person for an LGBTQ+ student to talk to. Examples include a pronoun pin, listing pronouns in your email signature, keeping rainbow stickers in your office, and displaying media that represents diverse people and families. Art supplies, fidget toys, and comfy blankets or pillows can also help students feel comfortable and safe to express themselves.
Advocate for students within your school environment.
School counselors can be excellent advocates for their LGBTQ+ students. When students see an adult standing up for their needs, it helps them to belong and feel seen. The GLSEN Respect for All policy recommendations and the Welcoming Schools Gender Support Checklist offer many ideas to help school counselors promote the well-being of LGBTQ+ students.
Seek ongoing professional education and consultation.
Feeling stuck or unsure how to support an LGBTQ+ student? Consultation with a supervisor or peers can help. The Handspring Institute, as well as other state and national resources, provide ongoing education about working with LGBTQ+ youth. The Human Rights Campaign Welcoming Schools Project provides accessible resources for school staff to support LGBTQ+ students.
At Handspring Health, we understand that navigating adolescence is full of challenges. Our team of experts is here to help so that your family doesn’t have to go through it alone.
We provide high-quality therapeutic services for children, adolescents, and young adults. Our trauma-informed therapists use evidence-based practices to provide your family with holistic support. If you’re searching for support for your teen, book a free consultation with us today.