Anti-LGBTQIA+ Legislation, Part 3: How to Become a Better Ally, Advocate, and Adult Support
“It takes no compromise to give people their rights ... It takes no money to respect the individual. It takes no political deal to give people freedom. It takes no survey to remove repression.”
Harvey Milk was the first openly gay man to be elected to public office in California. He served on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977, and he was assassinated in 1978 by a former member of the Board (who had very little repercussions.) A champion for marginalized groups, Milk recorded versions of his will in the event of his assassination. One of his tapes revealed the famous line, “If a bullet should enter my brain, let that bullet destroy every closet door.”
We owe advocacy and honor to victims of LGBTQIA+ discrimination and violence. We owe it to Milk, the 57 murder victims in the Transgender and Gender Non-Confroming communities reported in 2021, the 49 victims lost at Pulse nightclub, the 5 victims lost at Club Q, and all of those who did not receive national awareness. (I encourage you to read more about their stories here: Milk, 57 Transgender & Gender Non-Conforming Reported Victims in 2021, Pulse Victims, Club Q Victims.) When we compare our comfort levels in correcting a microaggression to the comfort levels of everyone who faced discriminatory legislation and violence, the choice to speak out is easy.
We owe continued advocacy, safety, and celebration to those who are alive now, to the students who face the repercussions of anti-LGBTQIA+ legislation, to the teachers who chose between staying in the closet and keeping their jobs, and to those who could easily be the next victim of violence. If you haven’t read Part 1: It’s Not Rainbows At All or Part 2: Impacting How We Teach and Learn About Inclusion and Diversity in Schools, you have the links now! This post, Part 3, focuses on what we can do to become better allies, advocates, and adult supports for LGBTQIA+ youth. (If you have read all three, email me! I want to know what you thought, how you feel, and where we can grow in this work together.)
Actionable Tips to Becoming a Better Ally, Advocate, and Adult Support for LGBTQIA+ Youth
Below are some actionable tips for teachers, families, and adult supports. Some of these suggestions I have done and currently do, but some I’m not in the position to try (as I’m not a parent or in a family system with children.) I say this because advocacy is a journey. In no way, shape, or form is this journey a judgment. One ally is not better than another because they learned about their state’s harmful legislation a year later. One parent is not better because they have an easier time transitioning into using the correct pronouns with their children. One teacher is not better because they added gender neutral pronouns to their worksheets. Please read this selection of tips with your journey in mind. It can be difficult to read an easy tip, remember a situation where you could have used it, and feel guilty for not doing something when you could have. Forgive yourself for what you didn’t know, and practice the next time that something happens. Journeys are exciting, even in advocacy, because the more tools someone adds to their toolbox, the easier the journey becomes when obstacles arise.
- Incorporate gender neutral pronouns and names on worksheets and class examples: Representation is a powerful tool. When LGBTQIA+ students see representation in schools, they feel safe and welcome. When straight, cisgendered students see representation in schools, it normalizes inclusion and equity in a world where there is nothing but diversity.
- Respect students’ names, pronouns, gender expressions, and wishes around their peers and families: If a student says, “Please use they/them pronouns in class but not at parent-teacher conferences,” listen and respect their request. Ask your students where and with whom you may use their requested pronouns and name.
- Make yourself a known trusted adult: Become a Safe Zone certified teacher, have an inclusive pride flag in your classroom (even a small one near your desk is magic for the student who notices), and fill your classroom with mutual respect. People notice the small actions, and small actions over time build trust.
- Regularly attend ABAR training and workshops: The American Montessori Society regularly hosts Anti-Bias, Antiracist certificate programs. They also offer scholarships for the course. You can also attend one or more of the AMS Affinity Group spaces. If you cannot attend one of the programs or you are waiting for a session to open, don’t be afraid to further your learning through books, podcasts, and local advocacy work.
- If a student recognizes you as a trusted adult, ask them how you can be a better support system: In this conversation, listen, take mental notes, and follow through.
- Become aware about the anti-LGBTQIA+ legislation in your state and in your school district: Sources like the American Civil Liberties Union, Freedom for all Americans, and Human Rights Campaign are wonderful places to start.
- Form a school/community coalition of support: Meet regularly with school administration and key personnel to discuss LGBTQIA+ inclusion and acceptance at school. It’s a great idea to get family and student input as these meetings advance.
- Disarm students when they use slurs and microaggressions: When you talk to students about their actions, make sure you do so respectfully and not call them out in front of their peers (or at all). Call them in. Have a private conversation about the severity of what they said, and then have a neutral lesson/follow up with the whole class if necessary.
- Include LGBTQIA+ individuals in your lessons: Make sure you highlight what they’re known for and then mention that they are part of the LGBTQIA+ community as you mention other descriptors. True inclusion includes others for their humanness first, and their descriptions second.
- Have an inclusive classroom library: When students see their gender, race, family structure, physical condition, or any uniqueness in an organic setting, it empowers them and increases self-worth.
- Know about local support, advocacy, and activity groups for LGBTQIA+ youth: You might have to do some research depending on where you live, but find resources and age-appropriate support groups for LGBTQIA+ youth and families. Sometimes there are LGBTQIA+ affirming sports groups, musical ensembles, or art centers.
- Start a Pride Club at your school: If your school already has one, attend meetings in addition to the advisors. The more adult support that students see, the better.
- Educate your students: This might take school-wide advocacy on your part, but push for inclusive education for LGBTQIA+ students, especially in health and sex-education classes.
- Be open about your allyship and advocacy: In the words of Jason Collins, former NBA player, “Openness may not completely disarm prejudice, but it's a good place to start.”
- Be a safe and welcoming person for your child: According to The Trevor Project, “LGBTQ youth who felt high social support from their family reported attempting suicide at less than half the rate of those who felt low or moderate social support.”
- Educate yourself and family members on microaggressions, bias, and discrimination: Sometimes we don’t know that what we say is harmful. Educate yourself on LGBTQIA+ matters.
- Unpack your challenging feelings apart from your child: It is not your child’s job to help you gather acceptance. Please, do not have them be a part of unpacking your shame, guilt, fear, confusion, grief, or any other challenging feeling.
- Set boundaries for your children with other family members: If you notice a family member is continually disrespectful to your child, set boundaries like not inviting them over, asking them to not be disrespectful, or setting the expectation that they educate themselves before interacting again.
- Validate their journey and feelings: Your child likely trusts you (or wants to trust you), and you can earn more of their trust by validating their feelings.
- Wear their flag: If your child comes out to you, wear their flag and celebrate them! Get a pin, patch, or sticker and wear it with pride.
- Follow LGBTQIA+ education accounts if you use social media: Apart from leading LGBTQIA+ organizations and identities that I’ve mentioned in this article, here are some additional helpful accounts: The Ally Coalition, Zoe Stoller, ALOK, and Queer Kid Stuff.
- Have conversations about self-acceptance, individual wellness, and self-advocacy: Brené Brown has wonderful resources on living a more vulnerable, loving, and kind life.
- Educate yourself on inclusive sex-education: In the world of information, make sure you choose organizations that specialize in LGBTQIA+ equity and understanding for inclusive sex education.
- Don’t make everything about their identity: Resume your relationship as normal. Coming out shouldn’t be a huge thing. Normalize it by moving past it and meeting your child with loving acceptance. (If they want to throw a huge party though, do it!)
- Talk with them: The one seems simple, but check in with them from time to time. Ask how school is going, ask how family members are treating them, and ask how you can better support them.
For Adult Supports
- Work to disrupt harmful systems, legislation, and rules: Write and call your representatives, attend local advocacy meetings, and vote for politicians who will work to dismantle discriminatory legislature.
- Volunteer for national or local LGBTQIA+ advocacy groups: If your community needs a local chapter of a national organization, start the movement!
- Donate to national or local LGBTQIA+ advocacy groups: The Trevor Project, HRC, GLAAD, and GLSEN are national organizations, and a quick Google Search should point you in the right direction for local groups. (My local shoutout: in Tucson I know of The Tucson LGBT Chamber of Commerce and THEM Youth Ensemble.)
- Continually read about LGBTQIA+ news—the good, the sad, and the violent: As painful as it is to read difficult news, it can fuel the advocacy fire. Positive stories help counteract the negative, so read happy news too!
- Attend school board meetings and discuss your concern for LGBTQIA+ safety and inclusion: It might be uncomfortable to speak at a school board meeting about state-wide, national, and local policies, but we can do uncomfortable things to make youth feel safe!
- Offer to be a mentor or support system for LGBTQIA+ youth: Volunteer with mentorship groups and make it known that you’re a safe and welcoming adult for LGBTQIA+ youth.
- Come out if you can: I know it's not a safe and realistic option for many, but if you are in the space, come out. (It’s pretty nice over here sometimes.) Representation, especially in numbers, is important.
- Educate others about LGBTQIA+ advocacy: Have conversations with your friends, family members, and colleagues about what you’re learning.
- Correct and inform others when they use microaggressions, slurs, or aggressions: Call in (not out) people when they misspeak. You don’t need to cut them out of your life, but monitor how/if they change their speech and behavior over time. If they continue to use harmful language, it might benefit you to set some boundaries.
- Continually educate yourself: Make reading and education a part of your practice. Little bits over a long time does wonders when it comes to being more inclusive and equitable.
Please know that this series is not an exhaustive list or the end-all-be-all. It is a place to start and continue our journeys on becoming better allies, advocates, and adult supports. Whether you’re a teacher, parent, family member, guardian, or mentor, it’s important to understand, affirm, support, and celebrate the LGBTQIA+ youth in your life.
About the Author
Kat St.Pierre (she/her) is a former 8th grade English teacher turned freelance content/copywriter. Passionate about being kind to others, the planet, and herself, she loves using her voice to amplify important conversations and educate with empathy. Contact her at email@example.com.
Interested in writing a guest post for our blog? Let us know!
The opinions expressed in Montessori Life are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the position of AMS.