A few weeks ago, I visited my school’s middle school with a couple of other high schoolers. We went to sit in on a meeting of the new middle school Gender and Sexuality Alliance, or GSA. I was struck and moved by how self-assured and poised the students were — most of them were confident in their own identities and willing to speakout about the issues they faced at school. They had ideas for change and the capability to enact them.
Think back to middle school. What were those years like for you? Did you feel insecure, worried about fitting in? Were there strange new trends you suddenly had to keep up with and social changes you didn’t understand? For most of us, middle school is an uncertain time, fraught with self-consciousness and the rollercoaster emotions of growing up. For middle schoolers who identify as LGBTQ+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, etc), that time is even harder, filled with the fear of discrimination, familial rejection, and even violence.
Recent research has found that LGBTQ kids and teenagers have worse mental and physical health, and get a worse education, than their straight peers. Queer kids are also more likely to use substances, self-harm or attempt suicide, and engage in sexual risk behaviors. The school system is not doing enough for these students, and they are still in danger because of their sexual identity. I also identify as bisexual, and while I am lucky to go to a very tolerant school and face very little discrimination, this identity gives me a passion for LGBTQ rights. That’s why, for my advocacy project, I wanted to increase the awareness of queer middle schoolers and their needs.
I researched the best methods for implementing queer issues and topics into middle school education, as well as some strategies for creating effective GSAs in middle schools. For my research, I used journal articles on online databases and interviewed some LGBTQ middle schoolers about their opinions. I then created a short pamphlet for middle school teachers at my school, distilling the information I learned into digestible and helpful guidelines for queer education. I gave this pamphlet to the teachers and plan to host a discussion with all of the teachers involved with the school’s newly-formed GSA.
You might not be in middle school, and you might not even know any middle schoolers. But this is an issue that needs to change — kids need to grow up feeling comfortable in their own skin, and learning to be accepting of everyone, no matter their gender or sexuality. If you interact with children and teenagers, try to acknowledge LGBTQ issues and purposefully express tolerance. If you work with middle schoolers, refer to and share this pamphlet. Middle school is a hard time for everyone, but it shouldn’t be harder for some students just because of how they identify. We all deserve to feel like we belong.
Davis, Brennan, et al. “How Gay-Straight Alliance Groups Mitigate the Relationship Between Gay-Bias Victimization and Adolescent Suicide Attempts.” Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, vol. 53, no. 12, 2014, doi:10.1016/j.jaac.2014.09.010.
Demissie, Zewditu, et al. “Trends in Secondary School’s Practices to Support Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Questioning Students, 2008-2014.” American Journal of Public Health, vol. 108, no. 4, Apr. 2018, p. 557. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&AuthType=ip,url,uid&db=edb&AN=128351413&site=eds-live.
Dinkins, Elizabeth G. and Patrick Englert. “LGBTQ Literature in Middle School Classrooms: Possibilities for Challenging Heteronormative Environments.” Sex Education, vol. 15, no. 4, July 2015, pp. 392-405. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1080/14681811.2015.1030012.
Poteat, V. Paul, et al. “Greater Engagement Among Members of Gay-Straight Alliances.” American Educational Research Journal, vol. 53, no. 6, 2016, pp. 1732–1758., doi:10.3102/0002831216674804.
Poteat, V. Paul. “Gay-Straight Alliances: Promoting Student Resilience and Safer School Climates.” American Educator, 2016, pp. 10–43., files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1123843.pdf.
Robinson, Joseph P. and Dorothy L. Espelage. “Inequities in Educational and Psychological Outcomes between LGBTQ and Straight Students in Middle and High School.” Educational Researcher, vol. 40, no. 7, Oct. 2011, p. 315. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&AuthType=ip,url,uid&db=edb&AN=66697855&site=eds-live.
Sadowski, Michael. “More Than a Safe Space.” Educational Leadership, vol. 74, no. 1, Sept. 2016, pp. 33-36. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&AuthType=ip,url,uid&db=afh&AN=118666264&site=eds-live.
Smith, Melissa J. “It’s a Balancing Act: The Good Teacher and Ally Identity.” Educational Studies, vol. 51, no. 3, May/Jun2015, pp. 223-243. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1080/00131946.2015.1033517.
Snapp, Shannon D., et al. “LGBTQ-Inclusive Curricula: Why Supportive Curricula Matter.” Sex Education, vol. 15, no. 6, Nov. 2015, pp. 580-596. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1080/14681811.2015.1042573.