- Sponsorship -

Creating Safe Schools for LGBTQ Students

They are at a higher risk for homelessness, alcohol and substance abuse, harassment, assaults, suicide, dropping out of school and truancy.

But progress continues to be made with Michigan’s public school districts that are ensuring lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual and questioning (LGBTQ) students experience a welcoming, nonthreatening climate, said Kim Phillips-Knope, a Michigan Department of Education LGBTQ consultant and lead trainer.

Phillips-Knope recently visited Kent ISD to lead a Next Steps in Creating Safe Schools for Sexual Minority Youth workshop for teachers, administrators, social workers, counselors and middle and high school staff.

She said one reason the taunts and bullying of LGBTQ students have ebbed is because of an anti-bullying state law known as Matt’s Safe School Law, which requires all school districts and charter schools to adopt anti-bullying policies and submit them to the Michigan Department of Education.

Five Ways parents can support their LGBTQ children

  1. Love your child and support their LGBT identity even though you may feel uncomfortable. Research shows parental support can make an enormous difference in health and educational outcomes for young people.
  2. Thank your child for trusting you to be open with you about their sexual orientation and/or gender identity. Ask them how they are doing. Don’t make assumptions that things are going well or badly. Ask them how you can best support them.
  3. Speak up if your child is mistreated because of their LGBTQ identity.
  4. Connect your child with adult LGBTQ role models to show them positive options for the future.
  5. Believe your child can have a happy future as an LGBTQ adult. Today’s LGBTQ youth are growing up in a society that increasingly recognizes, accepts and supports all young people regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. We need to build on young people’s strengths and assets to help them to grow up to be healthy, happy and productive adults.

Source: Kim Phillips-Knope

But Matt’s Safe School Law does have its limitations, she said.

There are no specific groups listed for protection under Michigan’s anti-bullying law. The law does not require training, nor does it specify protection for LGBTQ students who are often the target of taunts and ridicule, as well as physical and cyber abuse.

At Greatest Risk

“Any student who doesn’t fit into gender norms or expected gender norms are at the greatest risk,” Phillips-Knope said. “As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, ‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.'”

The societal tightrope is equally challenging for LGBTQ teachers who fear coming out and thus losing their jobs, she said. Too often this leaves LGBTQ students without anyone to look up to.

“LGBTQ students need societal role models, and if teachers fear coming out, they don’t see examples they can follow,” Phillips-Knope said.

An encouraging trend she has seen is an increasing number of teachers, administrators and social workers who willingly seek training.

“Fifteen years ago, if we got 25 people to enroll in a workshop, that would have been great,” she said. “Now 50 is the capacity and we often have to wait-list people. And school districts are reaching out. They’re being faced with situations and they want to do the right thing.”

The workshop covered issues aimed at helping school officials know what the “right thing” often entails, such as understanding the challenges faced by families and schools.

Other talking points included best strategies for starting or sustaining an effective Gay-Straight Alliance student support group, and discussing practical implications of recent law and policy decisions.

Fostering a Welcoming Environment

LGBTQ students are at an increased risk for poor health and education outcomes, Phillips-Knope said.

Bullied LGBTQ youth or youth perceived as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender are more likely to skip school, smoke, use alcohol and drugs or engage in other risky behaviors, according to the Journal of Adolescent Health.

They’re also more than twice as likely as their peers to be depressed and think about or attempt suicide, according to an American Journal of Public Health report.

What may bolster a more welcoming school environment is a bill introduced by a bipartisan group of federal lawmakers that would create a broad federal prohibition against discrimination in public schools “based on actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity” of students.

The Student Non-Discrimination Act would provide the same specific protections for LGBTQ students in schools that Title IX provides for women.

In addition to direct discrimination, schools would be in violation of the act if they didn’t sufficiently protect students from bullying and harassment on the basis of real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.

Transgender Students at the Forefront

Less clear at the moment are the rights of transgender students, but that may change. A lawsuit before a U.S. magistrate judge for the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan would clarify transgender students’ civil rights.

The suit is filed against Wyandotte Public Schools, and asserts that student Seth Tooley was discriminated against based on his status as a transgender male in violation of Title IX and the U.S. Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause.

The federal government has weighed in favor of Seth. The General Counsel of the U.S. Department of Education, the acting Assistant U.S. Attorney General and attorneys from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division is asking the court to “hold that the prohibition of sex discrimination under Title IX and the Equal Protection Clause encompasses discrimination on the basis of transgender status, gender identity, and sex stereotyping.”

The question of transgender students’ rights has recently been in the news elsewhere around the country. A transgender student in Maine was awarded $75,000 in damages after her school required her to use a staff restroom. Her lawsuit alleged that the school district violated the Maine Human Rights Act.

Do You Hear What I Hear?

Words can hurt or heal, Phillips-Knope said. When students enter their school building, she asked, what do they hear?

“Is respectful language used, or are there negative terms targeted at LGBTQ people?”


For Parents, Teachers, Teens and Kids

Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network or contact glsen@glsen.org

- Sponsorship -


Vaccine trial participant: ‘I really want to get back to normal’

Orchestra teacher and cellist Eric Hudson longs for the days when he can direct student musicians in concerts and tours and play in his own ensemble once again. To help speed that process along, he is participating in a COVID-19 vaccine trial...

Longtime agriscience teacher earns honorary FFA degree

After 24 years of teaching, John Schut believes incorporating fun and service into education is more engaging for students than taking notes in a classroom...

Stress, studies and the pandemic: a steep learning curve

In response to the social and emotional impacts brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, Rockford’s Developing Healthy Kids Campaign wants students and families to know they are not alone...

Health Department helps schools tackle challenges of instruction, during winter, in a pandemic

Working with the health department has been crucial in helping area school leaders understand the nature of COVID-19, the types of mitigation strategies that can be most effective and how to plan for the future...


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Related Articles

Career education expert takes on new Kent ISD assistant superintendent position

Amid COVID-19, Sue Gardner took on a brand new role as Kent ISD assistant superintendent helping to administer and support the existing high school programs and help start new ones...

Have cart, will travel

A Southeast Kelloggsville Elementary music teacher has a new cart for her ukuleles, thanks to her school, her husband and the Kent Career Tech Center...

KCTC and KTC Core students roll up their sleeves to help reduce water runoff at Kent ISD

The water from the Kent ISD area feeds into the Lamberton Creek watershed. The plants will aid in reducing the amount added to the creek...
- Sponsorship -


Engagement: The Most Important Measure of Student Success

Polls find that students’ engagement in their school work declines as they ascend the grades. Tests that don’t relate to their real-life experiences exacerbate the problem...


Food ‘angels’ support hungry kids through pandemic

They work all across Kent County, guardian angels with peanut butter on their hands and crumbs on their shirtsleeves...
- Sponsorship -


Maranda Where You LiveWGVU