Saturday, November 22, 2014

Important Facts for School Counselors of Students Identifying as LBGTQIA

I had an experience recently that troubled me.  Not because I couldn't or didn't handle it with caring and sensitivity, but because I had to handle it at all.  I did something thoughtless that caused one of my students to feel sad. And I knew it as soon as the words left my mouth.  

I was conducting a lesson on bullying and what it means to be an upstander versus a bystander. We were doing something I call the fist rating where students raise a fist then when I say "show me" they rate their actions or feelings about any number of things from 1-5 using their fingers 
(1 being the least to 5 being  the most).  We do this informal "assessment" often with students rating their own listening skills, those of their partner, or how they felt their group performed on a particular activity, to name a few.  During this particular lesson we were talking about how much courage it would take to be an upstander in a number of different situations. My goal was for the students to examine, for example, how much courage it would take to stand up to a bully or for a victim who is your friend, who is popular, is unpopular, is older, younger, bigger, or smaller. It was a lively discussion and the students soon saw that making a commitment to being an upstander might be easier in some situations than others.  
And then I asked THE question.  I said, "Girls only now, how much courage would it take...?" All the girls hands went up including that of one of my male students.  Several of the boys called him by name and said, "She said girls!" like they couldn't believe he misunderstood.  And then in that moment, I knew what I had done.  Fortunately, class was over a few minutes later, and this child ask to speak to me afterwards.  I was both complimented and saddened that he wanted to talk.  Complimented that he trusted me enough to share his very private personal struggles and saddened that I had caused him discomfort to have to, even for one moment, consider how he should respond to the question in our lesson.  When we were finally alone he said to me without hesitation, "Mrs. Maddox you know when you asked the girls to raise their hands, I did it because I feel like I am a girl.  I am questioning my gender."  I was not surprised by his statement as I have suspected this may be the case.  What I was surprised by was his honesty and the way he so freely shared and articulated his thoughts and feelings. Right then, I made a commitment to myself and my students to work on using using gender neutral language and  to examine other things I may be doing that are gender specific.

I have friends and family who identify as gay, lesbian, and bisexual. I have been to workshops and read articles about combating the prejudice of sexual stereotypes and creating an atmosphere of acceptance and support for all people. But nothing hits home and causes you to examine your everyday language and ingrained activities like one small boy responding from his heart and mind as a girl.

So it seems appropriate this week that my friend and Counselor colleague, Charlena Durrance, would be my guest blogger. She  recently prepared the following article for our county school counselor association newsletter.  Charlena is relatively new to School Counseling but brings a lifetime of unique experiences that have served her well as she counsels with students and parents.  She is a people person who has a rich background in business, direct sales, and fundraising, which is pretty handy for recruiting and gathering resources for her Title 1 school. Charlena is outgoing, outspoken, energetic, and has a wonderful sense of humor.  Her insights to her students and parents allow her to cut through the excuses and get to the heart of any issue.

 With her permission I am sharing her article on students identifying as LBGTQIA. Thank you Charlena for providing us with information to more effectively meet the needs of our students.

LGBTQIA What does it mean?
By: Charlena Durrance 
Elementary School Counselor 

When speaking with our students and their families it is important we become familiar with the terminology that is used to describe how they are seeing themselves through their sexuality. These are some of the more commonly used terms being used by our students today.
Lesbian – A female- identified person who is attracted romantically, physically, or emotionally to another female-identified person. Gay – A male-identified person who is attracted romantically, physically, or emotionally to another male-identified person. Bisexual – A person who is attracted romantically, physically, or emotionally to both men and women. Transgender – A person who is a member of a gender other than that expected based on anatomical sex. Queer – An umbrella term which embraces a variety of sexual preferences, orientations, and habits of those who do not adhere to the heterosexual and cisgender majority. (Cisgender is the opposite of transgender. It refers to individuals who have a match with the gender to which they were born.)  The term queer includes, but is not exclusive to lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transpeople, and intersex persons.   Traditionally, this term is derogatory and hurtful, however, many people who do not adhere to sexual and/or gender norms use it to self-identify in a positive way. The letter Q can also stands for Questioning, for those who have not yet determined their sexuality. Intersex – Someone who’s physical sex characteristics are not categorized as exclusively male or exclusively female. Asexual – A person who is not attracted to anyone, or a person who does not have a sexual orientation. Ally – A person who does not identify as LGBTQIA, but supports the rights and safety of those who do.

A new school year provides each of us with the opportunity to do things differently, make changes and grow! Why not make this the year to focus on helping your students feel safe, respected and included in your classroom? Here are some important steps you can take right now to make your classroom or even your whole school more inclusive and safer for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning and intersex (LGBTQI) students.

SET THE TONE- Set Expectations that Cultivate Respect. Work with your students to set community expectations and agreements for the year so all students feel safe and included in your classroom. Ask students to hold each other accountable to their agreements and refer back to them often. Create LGBT-Inclusive Learning Environments. GLSEN’s (Gay, Lesbian Student Education Network) National School Climate Survey tells us that a vast majority of LGBT students were not taught positive representations of LGBT people, history or events in any of their classes. Get started with GLSEN’s guide to Developing LGBT-Inclusive Classroom Resources.  Support Gay-Straight Alliances (GSAs) GSAs, and similar student clubs, can have a huge impact on LGBT students and the entire school. No GSA at your school?  Encourage interested students to visit for information, resources and guidance.

CONNECT with your students. Get up-to-date info in your inbox, there are many wonderful resources for you to refer: GLSEN’s Educator Network at, Welcoming to name a couple that I use. Connect with like-minded educators on Facebook or other social media outlets. Find a GLSEN or a PFLAG (parents, families, friends, and allies of LGBTQ) chapter near you.

REFRESH your skills and learn more by being an Ally to Middle and High School LGBT students. They are looking for acceptance in a safe environment. Provide them with a safe space.

CREATE RESPECTFUL ELEMENTARY CLASSROOMS. Foundations of respect and valuing diversity are key themes in most elementary classrooms. Make sure your efforts in this area are inclusive of LGBT issues and families in age-appropriate ways and take advantage of teachable moments. Ready, Set, Respect! is a program offered through GLSEN’s Elementary School Toolkit.   It provides tip sheets, resource lists and lesson plans focused on examining name-calling, gender roles and family diversity. Welcoming Schools is another great resource that will help assist you with the elementary school aged child and their families. Ask your teachers to do non-gender specific activities. You never know if you have a student who would feel more comfortable doing an activity that is not specific to the birth gender. We currently have students in our school district that identify with the opposite gender of their birth. By doing non-gender specific activities in the classroom, P.E. field and sports arena you will allow these students the opportunity to participate in activities where they would not have felt comfortable.

January: Celebrate Kindness in Your Classroom. On January 19-13, 2015, schools across the country will celebrate kindness by participating in GLSEN’s No Name‐Calling Week (NNCW).

April: Support one of the largest student-led days of action in the country.
Silence can be deafening. That’s why on April 17, 2015, tens of thousands of students across the country will pledge to remain silent for one whole day during GLSEN’s annual Day of Silence. They will call attention to the stifling effects of anti-LGBT bullying and harassment in their schools and communities.

October: Encourage Your Students to be Better Allies
During this year’s Ally Week (October 2015), students across the country will stand shoulder to shoulder with LGBT students against anti-LGBT language, bullying and harassment.

By working together we can make the changes that these and all students need in their lives. Be the change YOU want to see in the world.

Resources:, Welcoming and Volusia Transgender

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