Accepting Queer Realities

Establish inclusive policies in your school

June 1, 2020

On My Mind by Rae-Anne Montague

We all know about schoolyard bullying. Let’s focus on how school librarians can help stop it.

As our schools and communities grapple with fostering a broader recognition of sexual orientation and gender identity diversity, school librarians play crucial roles in building a welcoming environment and providing access to inclusive resources and services.

Social stigma of non-mainstream experiences in schools, particularly among LGBTQ+ students, is reinforced by a lack of accurate information and positive media representation. For educators and students, this results in a knowledge gap. The width and depth of that gap and the collective efforts to bridge it vary dramatically from community to community and state to state.

In 2019, for example, Illinois passed legislation to augment the teaching of US history in public schools to include LGBT representation. Lawmakers in a few other states have proposed similar laws, but there are still hurdles; for example, many schools have been forced to restrict access to materials deemed inappropriate based on LGBTQ+ content.

GLSEN, an advocacy organization for LGBTQ issues in education, has found that systemic exclusion leads to hostile environments and subpar student outcomes such as disciplinary issues, missed classes, low test scores, and plunging self-esteem.

This scenario does not align with federal laws, progressive values, or the American Association of School Librarians’ National School Library Standards.

School librarians have important opportunities to provide leadership and advocate for inclusive policies, progressive curricula, and the development of diverse collections—and to implement reforms quickly and effectively.

Curricula, collections, and positive reinforcement make a difference in these experiences and cycles, GLSEN’s research has found. The more inclusive a school’s curriculum, the less likely its LGBTQ+ students will experience negative remarks or trauma—and the more connected those students will feel to their communities. Supportive staff members and safe spaces also contribute to greater student well-being.

Take action: Start where you are, learn vocabulary (the Trevor Project’s website offers a useful glossary of key terms), ask questions, gather input, collect data, and measure and celebrate your successes.

Actively seek the lived experiences of LGBTQ+ people in their #ownvoices (many awesome queer authors are on social media or maintain blogs), develop robust collections featuring positive representations in fiction and nonfiction, and share links to online archives and collections.

Consider joining the American Library Association’s Rainbow Round Table and other LGBTQ+ professional groups, and learn more about efforts and opportunities for collaboration in your community. Make connections with resources and pathways to inform queer-inclusive programs, services, events, and exhibits.

School librarians play a critical role in developing effective practices around LGBTQ+ materials, supporting students who seek to form and extend queer-inclusive groups, and taking on opportunities to work with faculty and administration to establish library and school policies that do not discriminate.

In doing so, we provide essential leadership to promote a climate that does not tolerate bias, fake news, and censorship.

By understanding and accepting queer realities, school librarians can promote a greater acceptance of diversity—and contribute to better outcomes for all students, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.

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Top row (left to right): Lesley Farmer, Gertrude C. Umunnakwe, Emmanuel U. Anyanwu, Valérie Glass, Isabel Mendinhos. Seated (left to right): Clayton Copeland, Karen Gavigan, and Elizabeth Burns.

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