On National Coming Out Day last fall, rainbow decorations were proudly displayed in all the hallways at New York City’s Bronx Compass High School, and throughout the day students poured into high school social worker Scott Edwards’ office to get stickers and show their support for their LGTBQ+ classmates.
That rainbow-filled day was a great example of how both educators and students at Scott’s school strive to support the LGBTQ+ community--but unfortunately, not all students get to experience this kind of support. E4E’s 2020 Voices from the Classroom: A Survey of America’s Educators found that just four in 10 teachers say their schools often provide a welcoming, inclusive environment for LGBTQ+ students.
Scott started his school’s first Gay-Straight Alliance six years ago, and for students who identify as LGBTQ and their allies, the club provides an important point of connection, an opportunity to express themselves, and even a chance to learn more about LGBTQ+ history. Now, while schools are closed during the COVID-19 pandemic, many students are missing out on crucial supports like these.
So many of the challenges and inequities our schools and students face have only been magnified by the pandemic.
Educators across the country are working tirelessly to support their students as best they can through distance learning, but they still worry that their students, and students across the country, have had to dive into this new world without adequate preparation.
“Adults have tools in their toolbox to deal with unstable times, but students are coming into this with all different levels of social-emotional skills. Every student’s needs are different.”
Figuring out how to reach all of his students has been tough. And it’s possible that some aren’t responding to messages about virtual GSA meetings because they’re now always at home, where it might not be safe to share their identity.
That’s one reason why Scott and the GSA students still plan to recognize April 24 as the Day of Silence, an annual student-led event that highlights the silence and erasure of LGBTQ+ people in schools. Through Google Classroom and Instagram, they’ll try to celebrate student and teacher identities, and remind students that there are people in their world they can reach out to if they need it.
Scott says it’s important to remember that, especially during the pandemic, students might not have access to what they need to stay healthy--socially, emotionally, or physically. “We might not fully know what students are going through right now, and they might show up differently for school online, if they are able to show up at all.”