Celebrating Indigenous Heritage in K-12 Settings

Photo of Indigenous drum

There are millions of Indigenous peoples worldwide, and amongst those numbers are thousands of different cultures that make each and every tribe unique. Before we learn how to celebrate Indigenous heritage, let’s begin with the term Indigenous and its meaning. According to the Oxford dictionary, Indigenous means originating or occurring naturally in a particular place; native. While Indigenous is a term commonly used internationally,  Indigenous is often an umbrella term.

Indigenous portraitIndigenous peoples use different terminology, including Native, Aboriginal, Alaskan Native, First Nations, and Inuit. First Nation is the term used by the Indigenous peoples of Canada. The word Inuit translates to “the people” in Inuktut. Therefore saying Inuit people is unnecessary. When referring to one person, use the term Inuk. When referring to two or three people, use the term Inuit. Indigenous peoples have individual preferences on how they would like to be addressed. Always use terms that members use to describe themselves or use specific tribal names when you are unsure about what term to use.

Learning terminology is crucial to understanding the colonial histories and power dynamics they represent. Terminology can be critical for Indigenous peoples, as the term used for a group may not have been selected by the population themselves but instead imposed on them by others.

Why Do We Need To Teach Indigenous History and Heritage?

It is important for everyone to not only learn terminology but also learn the history of Indigenous peoples, given how their histories have tried to be erased. Ensuring that everyone has access to the true narratives can help society learn, understand, and heal. Learning about historical events helps students develop a better understanding of why events today are happening. Although Indigenous history is being taught in schools, its content is filled with inaccurate information, and our history is told with a false narrative from the perspective of colonizers.

Let’s start with the story of Christopher Columbus, which is still taught in schools today. For decades schools have told the story of Christopher Columbus, an Italian explorer who sailed the ocean blue to prove the world was round and found the “new world.” It was widely believed that he was the first person to discover “the new world,” and the U.S. embraced a national holiday in his name.

indigenous person looking outHowever, what is not being taught in schools is how Christopher Columbus was responsible for the enslavement and murder of Indigenous people. Christopher Columbus enslaved Indigenous peoples to work on the plantations and search for gold. Furthermore, indigenous populations were murdered from smallpox and influenza that decimated tribes such as the native Taino, whom Columbus described in his journals that “they would make fine servants … With fifty men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want.” In addition to slavery, colonizers raped and tortured Indigenous women.

The narrative that Columbus discovered America is just one example of what schools teach in classrooms leading to a false narrative. Refusing to teach history produces false content that confuses people about Indigenous history and cultures. History has and always should be based on what actually happened, and rejecting history shows oppressed communities that their voice does not matter. More importantly, learning from what actually happened can stop history from repeating itself.

 Below is a resource to help you learn the history between the U.S. and Indigenous Peoples

As educators and youth development professionals, we must find ways to celebrate Indigenous heritage with students. Here are some ways to teach and celebrate Indigenous heritage in classrooms.

indigenous culture imageSteps for Teaching and Celebrating Indigenous Heritage

  • Bring representation to your curriculums, such as books written by Indigenous authors or playing Indigenous documentaries. 
  • Educate students about all the different contributions Indigenous peoples have made that shaped society today. 
  • Assign projects or assignments that allow students to research the different tribes in the community.
  • Highlight inspirational Indigenous influencers 

Don’t know where to get started? No worries. We have some recommendations below.

Documentaries: We Still Live Here Âs Nutayuneân, Holy Man The USA vs. Douglas White Narrated by Martin Sheen, and Without a whisper by Katsitsionni Fox

Young Adult Books By Indigenous Authors: Firekeeper’s Daughter by Angeline Boulley, The Other Slavery by Andrés Reséndez, and Everything You Wanted to Know About Indians But Were Afraid to Ask: Young Readers Edition by Anton Treuer

Inventions from Indigenous Peoples: Suspension Bridges, Kayaks, Goggles, and more  Click here to learn more about Indigenous innovations.

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5 Methods for LGBTQ Inclusivity in Schools and Youth Programs

inclusive phrase inside a lightbox in front of a rainbow flag

It’s no secret that if our youth are in a safe, supporting, and nurturing environment, they are more likely to thrive. Unfortunately, our LGBTQ youth are not always in that environment. In a study done by The Trevor Project, LGBTQ youth were more than 4x likely to attempt suicide because of negative treatment and unsafe environments. However, there is hope. The same study reported that LGBTQ youth who are in affirming spaces – that is, spaces that allow LGBTQ+ youth to be themselves and feel safe and supported – had a 30% lower odds of being bullied, thus reducing their risk of suicide. It’s clear that schools and youth programs have a role in providing that safe and affirming space that youth need. Below are five methods to make your classroom or youth program LGBTQ-inclusive.

1. Allow Students to Identify How They Want To, But Avoid  “Outing” Them

A good start is by showing the students and youth you work with that you respect and support who they are by allowing them to identify how they want to be identified. This can be by their name, pronouns, or some other aspect of who they are; go by what they tell you. A good way to model this is by introducing yourself to students by your name and pronouns and allowing students to write down or tell you their name and pronouns. There can be many terms that you may or may not be familiar with; luckily, the GLAAD and GLSEN organizations have a list of terms with definitions and what terms to avoid using. It’s not an exhaustive list, but it’s a good place to start. It’s also important to be careful and avoid accidentally “outing” a student. A student may not have shared their sexual or gender identity with other people, but maybe they have shared it with you. For example, they’re comfortable sharing that information in class or program, but maybe not at home or with certain family members. To keep students safe, always ask them for their preferences regarding how they want you to share their private information and how they want you to address them when talking to different people.

2. Create a Welcoming Environment for LGBTQ Students and Allies

Asking students for their names and pronouns is the first step. Another step is to stop homophobic speech and bullying when you witness it taking place. Having stickers, signs, and posters that are LGBTQ-friendly and affirming tells students that they are in a welcoming and safe environment that won’t tolerate bullying and can be a source of support and trust. It also invites students to have an open discussion about LGBTQ issues and learn more about the LGBTQ community. When working in activities or anytime you need to divide students into groups, avoid doing so by their assumed gender. For example, don’t divide students or groups into boys and girls. Instead, use birthday months, letters, or colors to separate or name groups. Using language that doesn’t assume a student’s gender makes the environment more inclusive and mindful of students’ journey in their gender identity because they might not identify with the gender that people perceive it to be. Here are several ideas on how to divide students.

3. Start an LGBTQ Organization or Club at Your School/Youth Program 

GSA saves lives signDepending on your work setting and policies, you can start or encourage your students to start an LGBTQ organization or club, such as a GSA club, aka a Genders &Sexualities Alliance club (sometimes this club is known as the Gay-Straight Alliance club). GSAs have many benefits for students. According to a study done by GLSEN on the experiences of GSAs, several benefits students reported were: “greater feelings of school belonging; slightly higher levels of self-esteem; and slightly lower levels of depression”. GLSEN also reported that “Transgender, nonbinary, gender questioning, and other non-cisgender students attended GSA meetings more often than cisgender students.” This is important because transgender and nonbinary students are more likely to be bullied and attempt suicide, and having spaces such as a GSA could save a life. For those of you in a school setting, if there isn’t a GSA club already established, the GSA network provides steps on how to start one at your school. If there is a club already established, you should feel encouraged to support or participate in any way you can to increase your allyship. For those who work in a youth program, find out if you can start something similar or implement the activities that could be done at a GSA club within your youth program.

4. Create a Curriculum That is LGBTQ-Inclusive

Depending on your state, the laws, and your policies, this may or may not be a challenge. Having an inclusive curriculum not only benefits LGBTQ students but also benefits all students. It promotes acceptance, challenges stereotypes, fosters a better understanding of LGBTQ folks, and provides a more accurate account of history. It also helps LGBTQ students feel valued, validates their experiences, and provides a space for them to be heard and represented. You can integrate LGBTQ topics and queer people in different subjects such as math, science, english, arts, and history. It is also important to represent different kinds of relationships and families than the binary male and female relationship. GLSEN provides resources on how to create an LGBTQ-inclusive curriculum

5. Ask for Student Feedback and Practice Continual Learning and Self-Reflection

Trust that your students and youth are the experts of their own experiences and lives. It’s better to ask for their feedback on how you can support them, what has been working for them, and what changes they would like to see than to assume what is best for them. A few ways to start treating students as experts are to ask for feedback regularly, make asking questions and giving feedback an easy process, have the option for them to provide anonymous feedback, and continually educate yourself on LGBTQ topics and issues. Also, don’t assume LGBTQ students will have all the answers about the LGBTQ community. Many students and youth are discovering their identities, hence why it’s essential to ask them for feedback about how you can best support them as a person. If possible, participate in professional development training or workshops for continual learning. The CDC provides a self-assessment tool to assess your level of inclusivity, but please remember that it is not meant to be used as an evaluation or research tool.

At the end of the day, as long as you continue to put effort into visibly supporting your students and continue to learn, they will notice, and you will be making a difference in their lives.

Infographic LGBTQ Inclusion

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Promoting Youth Mental Health Through Social-Emotional Learning in Schools and Youth Programs

youth working together

With everything that has happened in the past two years, it is no secret that the mental health of our youth is important. There are a variety of ways to support youth mental health: from counseling and therapy to self-care techniques and simply listening and spending time with them. Another vital strategy that can help support youth mental health, especially in schools or in a youth program environment, is to use Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) strategies. 

You may ask, what is SEL? Great question. According to Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL), a leading nonprofit in education and research, Social-Emotional Learning is an approach that teaches youth and adults to recognize and understand their emotions, learn how to manage them, and have empathy for others. Learning how to understand and manage your emotions helps build positive and healthy relationships, create and achieve goals, and make responsible decisions. 

Teens working together in a STEM projectSEL has many benefits for students and youth, including increasing academic performance, improving classroom behavior, social behaviors, relationship skills, and self-management. Research also shows that SEL benefits mental health by increasing a youth’s ability to manage stress, depression, and anxiety. SEL also improves self-esteem and emotional skills. The CDC reports that “more than 1 in 3 high school students have experienced persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness since 2019” and SEL can be an effective approach to support youth with their mental health. Although it is important to note, SEL is not meant to replace nor should it be used to replace treatment, but rather as a way to learn how to manage mental health symptoms at school, home, or in youth programs.

So How Can SEL Be Implemented in Schools and Youth Programs?

SEL is not a program in itself but rather a framework or a guide in creating opportunities for youth to develop their social and emotional competencies, which in turn increases their social-emotional skills and helps them better manage their mental health. These 5 SEL Core Competencies are:

  1. Self-awareness
  2. Self-management
  3. Social awareness
  4. Relationship skills
  5. Responsible decision making

Youth programs that promote SEL will want to target these five core competencies in their activities and services to maximize the full benefits of SEL. Research indicates that the most effective SEL programs incorporate four elements represented by the acronym. SAFE

  • Sequenced activities that lead in a coordinated and connected way to skill development,
  • Active forms of learning that enable children to practice and master new skills,
  • Focused time spent developing one or more social and emotional skills, and
  • Explicit defining and targeting of specific skills

5 Ways to Integrate SEL and Promote Mental Health

1.Check-In on Youth

This may be simple, but it teaches youth to think about and become aware of their thoughts and emotions. It also shows youth that someone cares for their well-being. Checking in with youth can be as simple as asking how they are doing. Be authentic and actually care and listen to them when they share their accomplishments or things they are excited about. Check-in constantly or make it part of your daily interactions with youth to gradually build a positive relationship with your students.

Black girl writing in a journal2. Have Youth Work with Others

Assign hands-on group projects. Working with others improves youth culture and helps youth build their social and teamwork skills. This article is a good start on how to teach and facilitate productive group work.

3. Encourage Youth to Write in Journals

Allowing time and space to journal that youth might otherwise not have or want to do initially do on their own gives them the opportunity to practice, explore, and express their thoughts and feelings. It can also help youth reduce stress. Make journaling a weekly or daily activity in your classrooms or programming by allowing students to write for at least 10-minutes. 

4. Have a Calming Corner or Area Dedicated to Relaxing 

Create a space in your room or building that is dedicated to relaxing and allow students to enter this area when they want to relax. Allowing students to take a break when they are overwhelmed, stressed, or anxious will enable them to take time for themselves and manage their emotions. Here’s an article with ideas on how to create a calming area in your room.

5. Teach Youth How to Recognize and Manage Stress

Teaching youth how to recognize and manage stress will be an invaluable skill for them to have. Youth can learn to manage stress by talking about their feelings, being active/exercising, or practicing mindfulness activities, including deep breathing, listening to music, or doing art. The APA has an article on signs of stress and some techniques for youth to help manage it.

For more information and research on Social-Emotional Learning, visit the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) website and the additional resources below to help you implement SEL in your schools and programs.

Additional Resources:

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5 Ways to Support LGBTQ Youth Mental Health

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There seems to be an attack on the LGBTQ community in recent years, especially on our already vulnerable LGBTQ youth. I wish I was exaggerating, but an article published by the Human Rights Campaign last year declared that “2021 Officially Became the Worst Year in Recent History for LGBTQ State Legislative Attacks,” stating that more than 250 anti-LGBTQ bills were introduced in 2021 by a variety of states, with at least 17 bills passed at the time the article was published. The ACLU has a list of all the LGBTQ bills that were introduced in 2021 that affect LGBTQ rights – either for or against. It only takes a quick glance to see that the majority of the bills introduced are anti-LGBTQ rights. The ACLU is currently keeping track of 2022’s LGBTQ bills and updates the page on a weekly basis. Only time will tell if 2022 will break 2021’s record of most anti-LGBTQ legislation passed.

Many of these bills target young transgender youth and young LGBTQ folks. Two of the most recent states making headlines about anti-LGBTQ rhetoric are Florida’s Parental Rights in Education bill, AKA the “Don’t Say Gay Bill,” and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott demanding mandated professionals and the general public to report the parents of transgender youth if they are receiving gender-affirming medical care. These two are not the only states trying to pass (more) laws that persecute LGBTQ folks, but they are the ones currently making waves in what this could mean for the rights of the LGBTQ community and the effects on their mental health, especially LGBTQ youth.

Mental Health Affects of Anti-LGBTQ Laws on LGBTQ Youth

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s directive has no legal standing, but it does increase transphobia, spreads misinformation about gender-affirming medical care, will increase child abuse investigations, and negatively affect the mental health of transgender youth. According to the American Medical Association, gender-affirming medical care has been shown to decrease the rates of suicide attempts, depression, and anxiety, and has other mental health benefits for transgender youth. Denying transgender youth gender-affirming medical care will only worsen existing mental health conditions and have negative educational outcomes.

LGBTQ rainbow flag with wooden judge malletFlorida’s “Don’t Say Gay Bill” will also have negative effects on LGBTQ youth’s mental health. The bill aims to prohibit school personnel or third parties in K-3rd grades from discussing sexual orientation or gender identity in classrooms. Parents can also sue the school districts if they violate the policy. The bill’s language is too vague, which can cause people to misinterpret it and extend it to other grades. This bill and others that target and ban LGBTQ-inclusive education cause damaging effects that include but are not limited to: increased rates of bullying, substance abuse, lower GPA, depression, and suicide attempts. 

45 Seconds

It is estimated that every 45 seconds, at least one LGBTQ youth between the ages of 13-24 attempts suicide in the U.S., according to The Trevor Project, the world’s largest suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for LGBTQ youth. They also report that “85% of transgender and nonbinary youth say that recent debates around anti-trans bills have negatively impacted their mental health.” Transgender and nonbinary youth are also more likely to attempt suicide. With Texas, Florida, and other states attempting to limit and disregard the rights of LGBTQ youth, they need people to support and advocate for their rights more than ever. So what can be done?

Supporting the Mental Health of LGBTQ Youth

Below are several ways to support and advocate for LGBTQ youth.

1. Support Youth in Finding LGBTQ Resources – Compile a list of local community resources that are LGBTQ-friendly, especially a list of clinics and therapists. If you are able to, ask other LGBTQ folks and youth if they have any recommendations and use those recommendations to refer other LGBTQ youth who may not know about them. The Trevor Project, LGBTQ National Help Center, and National Center for Transgender Equality, are a few online resources for LGBTQ youth.

2. Contact Your Representatives and Senators – Call, email, or write a letter to your Representatives and Senators and urge them to support LGBTQ policies and oppose any proposed bills that would harm the rights of LGBTQ folks. Here is a link to find and contact your Representatives and Senators.

3. Publicly support the LGBTQ Community – It helps LGBTQ youth to know that at least one adult supports them. Do this through actions such as: creating a welcoming and affirming space, advocating with other community members, educators, and youth leaders about LGBTQ issues, and opposing any anti-LGBTQ language, action, and policies in the city, schools, or youth programs.

4. Advocate for Anti-Bullying and Harassment Policies to Include Protections For LGBTQ Students –  GLSEN reports that policies often fail to provide sufficient protections to LGBTQ students when it doesn’t explicitly name sexual orientation and gender identity expression. GLSEN has resources on how to structure the anti-bullying and harassment language to the specific needs of your state and school district.

5. Advocate for District and School Policies that Support Trans and Gender Nonconforming Students – Transgender and gender-nonconforming students often face more harassment and hostility in school environments. Therefore it’s important that districts and schools implement policies that support and protect youth from harm and invasion of privacy. GLSEN has a list of recommendations on how to write policies that support Transgender and nonbinary students.

Whether you are a family member, friend, mentor, educator, or ally, everyone has the power to support and advocate for the mental health and the rights of LGBTQ folk and youth.

LGBTQ Resources

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How to Support Youth Mental Health

Black teen getting support from adult

Think back to when you were a child, a teenager, or both. You may not want to remember, I certainly don’t, or maybe you are remembering right now, but try to truly remember how it was. Were you happy overall? Was it hard? Or was it a mix of both? Did you wish you had someone to talk to? A friend? A family member? A teacher? A counselor? Did you wish you were not always sad, anxious, stressed, alone, drained, or afraid? That someone would tell you it’s okay to ask for help even when the culture you grew up in said otherwise? I am currently 25, and growing up, especially as a teen, it felt as if I was constantly drowning until finally, I learned how to swim. Since then, I have sought help for my mental health whenever I needed it. My mentors and counselors have been my lifeguards when I become too tired to swim, but this is not about me. It’s about those who are still drowning. Who have drowned. Who need our support and to be a lifeguard.

This is about the 1.8 million youth diagnosed with depression who, according to Mental Health America, did not receive any mental health treatment in 2020. This is about the 24% and 31% increase in emergency room visits for mental health-related reasons for children ages 5-11 and 12-17 respectively, as reported by the CDC in 2020. This is about all the youth who feel they may not be able to ask for help or know where to turn to. Whether you are family, a friend, a teacher, or someone who cares for our young ones, our youth need us to be aware of mental health issues and know how to support them. 

mental health green ribbonMental health, to put it simply, describes the social and emotional well-being of someone and the capacity to be able to cope with life’s demands. Youth are in an important period of physical and mental growth. Supporting healthy mental growth helps them develop healthy relationships, adapt to challenges, perform better in school, manage emotions, and solve problems. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), many factors can influence mental health, such as the quality of home life, relationships with peers, and environmental conditions. If the factors that negatively impact mental health are not addressed, it can create or worsen existing mental health issues.

Currently, one of these factors is the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s no secret that the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted every aspect of life and the world; this includes mental health, especially for our youth. It’s enough of an impact that the U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy issued an advisory that the COVID-19 pandemic further exposed the youth mental health crisis. Mental health is further negatively impacting our LGBTQ+ youth. The Trevor Project reports that 70% of LGBTQ youth stated that their mental health was “poor” most of the time or during COVID-19. Our youth of color also face extra challenges in accessing quality mental health care and support. With everything going on, you might be asking yourself, what can we do?

We can do a good amount, actually. There are ways to learn, advocate, and support youth and their mental health, and by reading this blog you are already a step to help address our mental health crisis. Before I list some ways to help youth, I understand that mental health affects everyone globally, but since I am in the U.S. and for the sake of time and clarity, the information and resources will mostly apply to the U.S. Still, anyone, anywhere can use the following information and resources as they see fit. 

teen seeking help from a counselorOne of the ways to support mental health starts with the individual person. If you are a young person needing someone to talk to, please find a trusted adult. Check out this list of resources for mental health specific to youth and practice self-care. If you are an adult, be a positive role model. Vote for mental health policies, support organizations and agencies that provide mental health services, and encourage schools to provide mental health services and trainings to create welcoming environments.

teen getting support from his family and doctorFor families, first and foremost, you know your child best, but sometimes they need some encouragement and reassurance that they can talk about their feelings and experiences. Talk to your child, spend some time with them, but learn the warning signs of mental health decline and seek professional help when needed (en Español). Unicef has a website on how to talk to your child about mental health, and here’s a COVID-19 resource kit for parents/guardians.

This information and resources are by no means a complete list, but it is a starting point. Our youth need us more than ever to not only support their physical health but their mental health as well. The COVID-19 pandemic has shed a light on the inequalities of mental health issues and services to youth. By creating awareness and providing support, they will have a better opportunity to live a happier and healthier life because every child deserves a lifeguard. 

Extra Resources:

information on ways to support youth mental health

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Day of Silence, 2022

blog banner of hands holding clay that reads LGBTQ

Annually, April 8th honors the LGBTQ+ students who are regularly silenced in the classroom. Their stories and authenticity are stifled by anti-trans and anti-LGBTQ legislation that too often infiltrates the public school curriculum. 

Recently, the Florida government signed into law their “Don’t Say Gay Bill.” This bill prohibits teachers from discussing gender identity or sexual orientation in the classroom. While this may not seem to be a big deal for some people, this is extremely detrimental to LGBTQ+ youth. While the writers of this bill say that it does not prohibit students from discussing their LGBTQ+ families, identities, or histories, the language in the bill is too broad to make sure that this small concession will be guaranteed. 

What will happen from anti-LGBTQ laws is that queer students will be treated differently by teachers and peers. School is supposed to be a safe space to learn, ask questions, and develop interpersonal skills. With legislation such as Floridays “Don’t Say Gay Bill,” schools will begin to censor classroom conversations. It is well established that with exposure to the LGBTQ+ histories and communities, students report feelings after and are more accepted at school. This bill guarantees that we will see higher rates of bullying, self-harm, and suicidality in schools. 

Florida is not the only state that has attempted this type of legislation. Ohio and South Dakota recently proposed a bill similar to Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay Bil,l” and Arizona passed two bills that ban gender-affirming care and trans youth from playing sports. Texas also recently passed anti-trans and anti-LGBTQ bills. One of which now classifies gender-affirming care as child abuse. Texas also passed legislation that bans trans children from participating in the sport of their gender identity. In reality, the Texas legislature should be held accountable for perpetuating misinformation, child abuse, and hate crimes. 

Denying trans folks gender-affirming care will harm the mental health of so many people. Blocking trans athletes from sports only re-affirms that you must fit into certain categories to be worthy of participating in an activity. Young people who participate in sports learn valuable skills such as communication, team building, trust, and comradery. Athletes should not have to fit into the gender binary to be able to take part in sports. Prohibiting them from playing only isolates them further. 

On this Day of Silence, we honor those who are repeatedly excluded and persecuted. On this Day of Silence, we implore you to call your representative and advocate for inclusive policies to be passed in your area. The world will not progress without the rich and colorful voices of the LGBTQ+ community. 

To take action, please contact your local representative to advocate for the LGBTQIA+ community. You can call, email, or mail them a letter using the template below. 

Hello Senator/Representative (insert name),

I am writing to you as a constituent of  (insert city or county) to express my support for LGBTQIA+ inclusion and support. The recent bills passed in Florida, Texas, and many other states are deplorable. 

The Don’t Say Gay bill will ostracize queer students further and push students back into the closet. Passing legislation such as this does not advance American culture; it does not encourage freedom of expression or the pursuit of happiness. 

I ask you to be an advocate for the LGBTQIA+ community, to pass legislation that will protect queer students in schools and other spaces. We need legislation protecting students from bullying and guaranteeing a holistic approach to history and literature classes. Students should hear about the Stonewall Riots, the Lavender Scare, and the AIDS epidemic because these events are part of American history. Students should read books by Audre Lorde and James Baldwin because their queer identities and success will show young queer students that they too can achieve as much as those who came before them. 

Senator/Representative (Insert senator or representative name), I implore you to be the change. Be an advocate. Protect LGBTQIA+ youth.

Click here to find your senators and representatives.

Watch our panel conversation with LGBTQ+ leaders below to learn more about supporting students and creating inclusive education.

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Minority Stress Effect & The Impact on LGBTQIA+ Youth

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What is the Minority Stress Effect?

The Minority Stress Effect is a model used to assess how the dominant group’s values stack up and affect the minority groups’ values. In our society, the dominant discourse is white, heterosexual and male. This means that in the United States, the “norm” is centered around those people, what makes them comfortable, what they need to succeed, and so on. The Minority stress effect takes into consideration: race, ethnicity, gender identity, sexuality and more. 

The Meyer’s minority stress model looks at the LGBTQIA+ community and their experiences of prejudice, homophobia and expectations of rejection. Other minority stress models look at Black, Indigenous and people of color, and assess their experiences with racism, prejudice and rejection. Time and time again, minority stress models find that people who experience persistent racism, prejudice, rejection or homophobia, consequently struggle with higher rates of substance abuse, risky sexual behavior, and adverse mental health outcomes. 

Experiences with prejudice, homophobia, racism and rejection are not limited to blatant and aggressive instances. In grade school, we are taught about George Washington, Lewis and Clark, and many more white men. We gloss over the parts of history that make white folks look bad. We reject the experiences of the people who were oppressed and harmed. For example, we are taught that Matoaka, more commonly known as: Pochahontas, willingly joined the English pilgrims and left her home. We are not taught that she was likely only fourteen and was actually kidnapped or forcibly removed from her home and spent the remainder of her life in England, where she knew no one. 

Pocahontas is not an isolated incident and probably will continue not to be so. The lack of inclusive education policies in the US contributes to things like the minority stress effect. American children do not learn about the residential schools that abused Indigenous children; they do not learn about the forced sterilization of many women of color; the list of ignorances goes on and on. 

Refusing to teach all sides of history conveys one narrative: white people matter and can do no wrong. Rejecting the rest of history shows children of minority groups that their stories are not important and that their marginalization is imagined.  

BIPOC-LGBTQIA+ Figures Overlooked in Academia

Picture of James Baldwin

Photo by Anthony Barboza, The New Yorker

As mentioned earlier, the dominant discourse is centered around white, heterosexual men. High school students across the US are told to memorize facts about Shakespeare and iambic pentameter. Yet students miss out on learning about BIPOC authors, artists and historical figures. Students may never even know that there are BIPOC LGBTQIA+ figures who have succeeded at their craft. 

The following two examples are queer BIPOC artists and historical figures who are too often forgotten in mainstream education, but there are so many figures who are frequently ignored in place of white artists and figures. 

Picture of a Zuni Nation member

Photo by John K Hillers, Smithsonian Institute

James Baldwin: A gay African American Author. His works include Go Tell It on the Mountain, a coming of age story that could easily replace novels like The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and would resonate with far more young students. 

We’wha: A member of the Zuni Nation in New Mexico. We’wha was a Lhamana, which means Two-Spirit. Two-Spirit individuals are people who identify as nonbinary. Christian missionaries imprisoned the Lhamana of the Zuni Nation. However, the missionaries eventually released the Lhamana.

Representation Matters

James Baldwin and We’wha are only two people from the LGBTQIA+ community. Their inclusion in mainstream public education would show students that to be queer, to be Black, to be Indigenous, to be a person of color is not just okay, but should be celebrated. 

In recent years, the concept of nonbinary has been confusing for adults and even teens. However, if schools discussed the histories of Two-Spirit people in the Americas and other nonbinary people across the world, there may be more understanding and inclusion. 

Representation Matters. Accepting, not rejecting, diverse histories and stories matters. Being anti-racist with history teachings and literature assignments matters. Being anti-homophobic matters. Inclusive education is not re-writing history; it teaches accurate history and shows students that being queer is not new. Being queer should be celebrated, and students should have the opportunities to learn about queer figures and icons who came before them. We should not only be learning small snippets of the story. 

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Being Queer: New Trend? Or Do We Just Not Know Our History

Blog banner showing hands holding the LGBTQ flags

LGBTQIA+ HISTORY DEBUNKED

“Being gay is new,” “No one was gay when I was young,” these are things we have heard in recent years as the number of out and proud youth increases. While the people saying these things may think being part of the LGBTQ+ community is new, the wide spectrum of sexuality has been explored for thousands of years. 

The oldest example of bi-erasure (the tendency to ignore bisexual experiences) is Alexander the Great. His partner, Hephaestion, was often labeled as a friend, and their romantic relationship was cast out as a rumor. However, this has been a widely researched topic and there is evidence to show that Alexander the Great was a bisexual man whose legacy was altered to fit the norm of the dominant rhetoric. Other examples of historical figures who have been “straight washed” include Mahatma Gandhi, Emily Dickinson, Langston Hughes and Walt Whitman. Much to the disservice of young people today, these giants in history and literature have had their stories marred, in order to perpetuate the idea that the “norm” is being straight. 

STATE-SANCTIONED VIOLENCE AGAINST THE COMMUNITY

LAVENDER SCARE

In the 1950s, the United States government contributed to a phenomenon called the “Lavender Scare.” Lavender is a color often associated with the gay community; it was a sadistic movement to eradicate all LGBTQ+ employees from the federal government. Similar to the concurrent Red Scare which sought to remove anyone with communist sympathies from office, the fear was that having gay employees would be like a virus in the office; that homosexuality would spread throughout. This led to many people being fired from their jobs, being publicly outed, humiliated, and even hurt or killed by people who used to be close to them. This movement spurred the LGBTQ+ community to remain closeted and hide. 

STONEWALL RIOTS

However, the fear and tension of the LGBTQ+ community soon turned into resentment and frustration. In 1969, the Stonewall Inn, a popular gay bar in Greenwich Village, was being plagued by police raids. At that time, being gay was almost criminal, which made police violence towards the community not uncommon. One night, a raid resulted in a riot after police violently arrested a lesbian woman named Storme DeLarvarie. DeLarvarie’s friends were outraged and fought back against the police. June 18th, 1969 became known as the Gay Liberation Day, leaving Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia DeRivera as the faces of the Stonewall Inn. These two trans women of color continued to fight for gay rights for the remainder of their lives. 

newspaper image of the AIDs epidemic

Photo from the American Historical Association

AIDS EPIDEMIC

Almost fifteen years later, in 1981, the AIDS Epidemic hit. HIV and AIDS were running rampant, and no one knew what the cause was, only that it appeared to be more prevalent in gay men. President Ronald Reagan referred to AIDS as “the gay plague” and used his right-wing religious platform to turn a blind eye to the epidemic. This dismissive attitude from an influential leader paved the way for further discrimination in healthcare and day-to-day life for the gay community. He left the CDC grossly underfunded for four years and did not even acknowledge the disease by its appropriate name until 1985. The lack of research in the early years left Americans to hypothesize how the disease was spread. There was a time when conservatives did not hesitate to wear a mask in the face of a public health crisis.

Reagan’s public acknowledgment of the epidemic only came about after a close friend had died from AIDS in ‘85. Reagan’s ignorance is responsible for a horrendous loss of life and homophobia. 

THE UNITED STATES BEHIND THE TIMES

While some people claim that the United States is so ahead of its time and is “the greatest nation in the world,” it is necessary to add that the US did not allow same-sex marriage until 2015. This came after 21 nations legalized same-sex unions before the United States. Perhaps the US is not the shining beacon of hope and perfection it claims to be. Even with this progress in the United States, same-sex couples still face difficulty accessing life insurance benefits, adoption, and some even still have difficulty achieving financial equality. Many same-sex couples are regularly degraded by having their spouse referred to as their “sibling,” “friend,” or even “roommate.” These microaggressions contribute to feelings of invisibility in the community, despite the legal ability to be married. 

Two queer women of color wearing pride shirts walking on the streetWHERE ARE WE NOW?

Why is any of this information relevant to have? Well, most middle school and high school students do not learn any of this information, ever. As of 2019, only six states require teaching LGBTQ+ histories in public schools. Again, what’s the big deal? Representation is a big deal. It is vital that students hear the histories and stories of people they can identify with. Geena Davis once said, “If she can see it, she can be it.” Showing young people examples of people who look like them and share similar identities is the key ingredient to empowering young folks. 

As young people, we are told to memorize every detail of historical figures like William Shakespeare and George Washington. Why not learn about historical figures with identities that more people actually resonate with. Queer people and queer people of color accomplished great things in times that were far less accepting than right now. The GLSEN survey shows that when students are taught with LGBTQ+ inclusive curriculums, students report feeling safer at school and more comfortable speaking about their sexuality with teachers and mentors. Home is not always a safe space to be your authentic self, but students spend a majority of their time at school with teachers and peers. School should be a safe space to learn about the rich and beautiful history of the queer community while being out and authentic. 

TO LEARN MORE:

Join our panel discussion on LGBTQ+ Inclusive Education on Thursday, April 7th at 9AM PST / 12PM EST.  Register at bit.ly/teachLGBTQeducation.

LGBTQ panel discussion promotional image

 

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The Avenue to Seeing BIPOC Girls in Leadership

Group of young diverse group of girls standing in a power pose

Girls Leadership reports that while 48% of young Black, Indigenous, and girls of color identify themselves as leaders, 50% say that racism has hindered them from attaining leadership opportunities. Some adults in these girls’ lives say that the young ladies are simply not confident enough to pursue leadership roles, but we know that is not true. If girls are fully capable of being leaders and stepping up to the plate, what can organizations do to support them? 

Perform a Needs Assessment

No social worker, teacher, CEO, or parent can determine what a child needs: not without asking them. Young people are fully capable of determining where there are gaps in their education, opportunities, and other aspects of their lives. Suppose you provide internship opportunities for young women. In that case, it is essential to provide the interns with mentors who have similar identities to them for them t have role models for success. Having a mentor with similar identities offers young people a safer avenue for asking questions and voicing concerns. The mentor can act as an advocate for that young person and push for culturally appropriate resources and policies, and leadership opportunities. 

Advocate for Diversity in Leadership Roles

It is well known that the measures of success have often been set up for and by white men. The “markers” for success and accomplishment are changed for women, especially BIPOC women and girls.  When organizations are looking to take on interns, students, or even new employees, not only should the hiring staff be from a diverse array of backgrounds, but they should have an understanding of the unique struggles BIPOC girls face when pursuing leadership positions. Failing to include diverse staff in the hiring process creates challenges that present themselves as white-normativity, communication stereotypes, and gender discrimination in addition to racial discrimination. If the hiring staff or group decides if a young woman is “suitable” for a position, we should be asking ourselves if we would be so critical if the applicant were a young white man or boy. BIPOC girls and women are capable of success and leadership, and they should be given the same opportunity as anyone else. 

Allow Creativity

Lastly, organizations and leaders should work on trusting their interns and employees. Micromanaging young people only contributes to them lacking self-confidence and having fear in the workplace. BIPOC women and girls are repeatedly undermined and passed up for promotion in the workplace. To move beyond this, leaders, supervisors, and companies should take a step back and allow women and girls to lead. Trust the process, and allow the creativity of your incredibly talented team to flourish. BIPOC women and girls offer unique expertise that allows them to empower other women and girls in a niche way. Allow independence and allow creativity to bloom. 

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5 Meaningful Ways to Support Youth This School Year

young people commuting

August 2021 marks the return to school for the majority of students across the U.S. For most school districts, this means in-person learning, and for some, this will be their first offline learning experience in 18 months. The progress in protections from COVID-19 through vaccines, social distancing measures, and other safety protocols has recently been tainted by the Delta variant. The introduction of a traditional school schedule sparks both anxiety and excitement for many. With this in mind, it’s important to remember that youth need support to make a successful transition into the new “normal.” 

Childhood poverty, food insecurity, and housing insecurity have increased since the start of the pandemic. These barriers increase stress levels and vulnerability to negative physical, emotional, and psychological symptoms. Gen-Z ( currently ages 13-23) has been significantly impacted by the uncertainty, negativity, social isolation, and wide-scale changes brought on by the pandemic. 46% report worsening mental health since the pandemic started, which is a full 13% higher than any other age group. Recent data shows households with children are twice as likely to experience food insecurity, with 14% of all American households with children lacking enough to eat. These statistics are even higher for People of Color, with 19% of multiracial households, 17% of Black households, 16% of Latinx households, 7% of white households, and 5% of Asian households lacking adequate food supplies. 

young people sitting in stairs outside looking inside a backpackMeeting basic needs is a challenge for many households experiencing poverty, especially for those with dependents. According to CDC data from last month, a shocking 51% of Black households, 47% of Latinx households, 30% of white households, and 27% of Asian households with children report struggling to provide for basic necessities for their families in the past month. Rent payments continue to be a struggle, with 21% of households with children reporting being behind on their rent payments, compared to 12% of households without children. This places families experiencing poverty at an increased risk for homelessness, especially with the recent expiration of the Federal Moratorium on Evictions. While the CDC has decided after a lapse to continue the moratorium in “places with a significant transmission rate of COVID-19… expected to cover approximately 90% of renters”  it is only until October 2021, and no longer covers all renters. This is a key example of how policy and policymakers directly influence the lives and well-being of young people. 

These statistics are a wake-up call that despite efforts such as stimulus payments to support youth and combat the negative impacts of the pandemic, there is still a great deal of work to be done. Here are key things to keep in mind while supporting youth in their return to school this fall. 

kids walking in school campus with adult1: Mental Health Matters 

  • Encourage young people to express their thoughts and feelings in safe and appropriate ways. 
  • Help them explore and utilize a variety of coping strategies to manage their stress. 
  • Combat stigmas surrounding mental health with frequent and honest discussions.
  • Refer to school-based or local mental health resources when possible for additional support. 

kids talking with each other2: Utilize Resources

  • Remember that transportation barriers, lack of privacy, limited laundry facilities, and unreliable internet access are just a few of the barriers experienced by many students struggling with poverty. Be empathetic and understanding.
  • Keep information on resources available to your community to share with students and families. In California, you can start here. 
  • Make sure the young people in your life know about free emergency mental health options such as Crisis Text Line. Text “HOME” to 741-741 24/7 for confidential mental health support via text messaging. 
  • Educate young people on their rights. Young people experiencing homelessness may be afraid to ask for help for fear of being prevented from attending school if they now reside out of the district. Education can open doors for youth to utilize the resources available and receive the support they need. 

young person happy with headphones3: Promote Self-Care

  • Getting enough quality sleep is an essential part of being prepared for educational success. Talk with the young people in your life about the physical and emotional benefits of healthy sleep habits and how to combat barriers to quality sleep. 
  • Young people have reported significant stress, isolation, and unwanted weight gain since the pandemic. It’s important to foster a positive view of self as a foundation for self-care. Promote self-compassion, empathy, and a growth mindset through activities like this.
  • Compile a list of positive self-care ideas that youth feel might help support them. Encourage the daily practice of at least one self-care skill and model these skills for any young people in your household. Some ideas to start that conversation can be found here, but feel free to utilize any positive activities that promote stress reduction and positive self-esteem.

adults volunteering in food banks4: Get Involved

  • Donate your time or finances to organizations that support young People of Color and young people experiencing poverty and homelessness. These can be local food banks, shelters, internship and leadership programs for young people, afterschool programs, and other resources.
  • Vote. One of the most significant ways to help young people is to vote in your local, state, and federal elections for candidates who prioritize racial justice and positive systemic changes. You can find out how to register in your state here.
  • Monitor pending legislation. The Federal Eviction Moratorium is just one example of legislation that has major impacts nationwide. In California, a current bill with the potential to bring meaningful changes is the California Racial Justice for All Act: AB 256. This legislation is a continuation of 2020’s California Racial Justice Act: AB 2542 that prevents racial discrimination in future cases but is not retroactive. AB 256 would provide a legal way for people convicted of a crime based on racial stereotypes or racist statements made by anyone involved in the criminal investigation or court proceedings the right to a new racially unbiased trial. Contact your policymakers to express your support for legislation that promotes racial and social justice in your area. 

young people talking5: Promote Accountability

  • Challenge yourself to practice self-examination of implicit and explicit biases, actions, and attitudes that could hinder or hurt others. Apply a racial justice lens in everyday life, especially when working with young people. A recording of our most recent youth development conference and other educational resources to promote growth and best practices can be found here.
  • Hold each other accountable and have those tough conversations when someone does or says something they shouldn’t. Resources to help you in tough workplace conversations can be found here.

This back-to-school season will be different than any other, but it also has the potential to usher in many positive changes. Together, the youth in our communities can feel supported and rejuvenated. There may still be lingering uncertainties, but one unwavering reality is that regardless of the unexpected changes, we will continue to adapt and support youth and each other. 

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