During the month of June, the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction is spotlighting the ways in which educators and schools around the state support LGBT students' wellbeing. As has been exhaustively documented in the most recent Youth Risk Behavior Survey (released in December of 2022), LGBT students across the state are facing serious mental health challenges due to discrimination and lack of support. From the report:
80.5 percent of students who identify as lesbian, gay, or bisexual report experiencing “significant problems with anxiety.”
Nearly half of LGB students surveyed (48 percent) reported they seriously considered or attempted suicide – four times higher than their peers – at 24.6 percent.
Among all students, 8.5 percent said they physically attempted suicide, with 22.4 percent of LGB students have attempted suicide.
The DPI encourages school districts to implement policies and practices that support belonging at school, encourage open dialogue with family members and school staff about feelings and worries, and work to ensure students can identify supportive adults at home and in school. Additionally, barriers to youth mental health support must be removed to increase access and make resources readily available to all students. Research has shown that inclusive policies and affirming practices help promote the health and safety of all students and are especially important in supporting the most vulnerable students, including LGBTQ+ youth.
Wearing an Out for Safe Schools badge is one way for a person to communicate that they are a supportive adult for LGBT youth to reach out to with questions and concerns. School staff across the state can request Out for Safe Schools badges. One elementary school educator in Wisconsin said, “I've been wearing mine on a daily basis. I've found more kids have approached me and feel more comfortable around me. I have had students ask what it means and just educating them has been wonderful. I have worn it so much that it is falling apart, so I don't think you want it back :)"
One educator reports that, as a faculty mentor to their school's GSA, students were asked to come up with things they thought would be helpful and meaningful ways to support LGBT students. The students asked for teachers to be trained on supporting LGBT students at school. The teachers then printed out safe zone posters, which they put up in the hallways, in classrooms, and in spaces like the cafeteria. When the faculty member met with the GSA the next week, the students expressed how important it had been to them to feel heard, and that the school faculty came up with additional ways to show support.
Students come to our schools with many different backgrounds and experiences, and it's up to us to find ways to make sure every student feels that school is a place where they can come to learn in a respectful, safe environment. That's true during Pride month, and all year-round.