Whether through legislation, litigation, or public education at the federal, state, and local levels, The Trevor Project is a leading advocate for LGBTQ young people’s mental health and wellbeing across the country. Trevor Project Advocacy Campaign Manager Gabby Doyle (she/her) is focused particularly on advocating for LGBTQ students, young people at risk of finding themselves in unsafe, phobic environments.
I came to The Trevor Project after serving as State Partnerships Manager at SIECUS: Sex Ed for Social Change, advocating for comprehensive sex education policies across the country. Now, I work with The Trevor Project on suicide prevention policies in schools. I also work with advocates in various states to prepare written comments to school boards on the value of inclusive environments. Among the topics included in these letters are the importance of inclusive sex education, the availability of LGBTQ stories in school libraries, and how these factors play a huge role in creating affirming schools for young people and reducing suicidality among LGBTQ youth.
I’m currently working with our partners at Advocates For Youth to develop a toolkit on the Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS), a national survey conducted in public schools that monitors health-related behaviors leading to death and disability among youth and adults. Despite the importance of this data, which reveals critical health disparities among LGBTQ youth, some states have announced their withdrawal from administering the survey. We’re creating this toolkit so advocates can recommend for the survey’s continued implementation at the local and state level.
Finally, I’ve been working with partners such as the National Parent Teachers Association and National Association of School Psychologists to build a strong partnership and collective understanding of how we can advocate on behalf of all LGBTQ young people for inclusive schools during the upcoming state legislative session.
All this is in service of making schools a safer, more affirming environment for LGBTQ young people. School is one of the main pillars in a young person’s life. A community’s efforts to make their space affirming has the power to either support a young LGBTQ person in living authentically, or create a culture in which they live in fear for their safety. LGBTQ youth deserve to thrive, and every day I work to make that a reality.
Advocates — including our very own Advocacy Team — are essential support for schools that want to establish strong anti-harassment policies, culturally competent suicide prevention policies, and inclusive curriculum requirements. It’s also crucial to combat efforts to ban instruction on LGBTQ topics, prohibit teachers from hanging rainbow flags in their classrooms, discourage the inclusion of pronouns in email signatures, and mandate school professionals to disclose a student’s sexual orientation or gender identity to their parents/guardians.
Myself, along with the majority of the Advocacy Team, are gearing up for state legislative sessions set to start in early Spring. An overwhelming 226 anti-LGBTQ bills (at least) were introduced last state legislative session, and we’re expecting similar trends this upcoming year. We’re strategizing proactive ways to mobilize constituents to take action against regressive efforts or support positive initiatives in their state, and ensuring we’re ready to speak out against harmful efforts wherever needed.
Whether they’re LGBTQ or not, educators should create inclusive classrooms for young LGBTQ people. This may look like wearing a pronoun button and asking each student what their preferred name is and what their pronouns are on the first day of class. Or, it could mean explicitly stating that all bullying — including bullying based on sexual orientation or gender identity — is not tolerated. Further, weaving LGBTQ representation into a variety of lessons helps normalize LGBTQ identity in a space where LGBTQ youth may not be sure if they can be their authentic self or not.
Outside of the classroom, educators can play an important role in their community by advocating for their LGBTQ students at local school boards and at the state capitol. Teachers are experts in what their students need, and it’s critical that they speak out whenever possible on the need for inclusive school policies.
While getting involved may seem daunting, even something as simple as establishing a relationship with a local PFLAG chapter, for example, helps bridge the gap between LGBTQ students, their parents, and the school community.
Sue Cardenas-Soto is a Copywriter at The Trevor Project, the world’s largest suicide prevention and mental health organization for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer & questioning (LGBTQ) young people. If you or someone you know is feeling hopeless or suicidal, our trained crisis counselors are available 24/7 at 1-866-488-7386 via chat www.TheTrevorProject.org/Get-Help, or by texting START to 678-678.