By Jackson Sims, CEI Intern
As COVID-19 pushes many schools towards virtual or hybrid learning, LGBTQ+ students are faced with a distinct set of challenges that aren’t shared with their heterosexual, cis-gendered peers. In the absence of typical day-to-day interactions between educators and their students, it can be difficult to recognize these obstacles without knowing what to look for. With this in mind, the Society for Research in Child Development (2020) compiled a number of resources detailing the numerous challenges that queer students may face, as well as avenues through which these students can be supported by educators, peers, and mentors.
Challenges for LGBTQ+ Students at Home
LGBTQ+ identities are unique in that they aren’t easily apparent. A student can’t necessarily hide their race or ethnicity in the same way that they could hide their sexuality or gender identity. Students living in unaccepting households may feel the need to conceal these parts of themselves from their hosts or family members through a process known as “recloseting” (Fish et al., 2020). Young people who have recloseted no longer discuss or express their identities. These students feel pressured to hide their true selves due to fear of being harmed, harassed, or excluded. Educators may notice these students retreating back into their shells or struggling academically. These patterns of behavior may be shared among students of all backgrounds as a result of the challenging shift to online learning. This can make it difficult to identify causes on an individual basis. It’s important to be aware of LGBTQ+ students who are “out” or vocal about their identity, as they may be struggling with more extensive challenges at home that can’t be recognized in the classroom.
A larger consequence of this shift to remote education is a lack of supportive communities or “safe spaces” where students feel comfortable sharing their queer identities. LGBTQ+ students who were once willing to share their feelings or experiences in the classroom may not have that same confidence with a parent nearby. Though some students may receive encouragement from their peers over social media, these methods of communication also have the potential for bullying and harassment. Victimized students may not feel comfortable reporting these experiences if they are relevant to a hidden identity (Goodenow et al., 2020). In the case of monitorable communication—in-class conversations, discussion questions, group projects—it’s important to keep an eye out for blatant discrimination and microaggressions alike.
Supporting LGBTQ+ Students Remotely
Although it may be more difficult to support and connect with students in the absence of face-to-face interaction, it’s far from impossible. The options endorsed by the Society for Research in Child Development include:
Uphold protective school policies and practices: Ensure that there are proper anti-bullying and anti-discrimination measures in place to protect students with LGTBQ+ identities. If these measures already exist, you may wish to review, update, and add to these policies to suit the current circumstances. Inclusivity is key–ensure that these values are well-represented in both school policies and class curriculums.
Keep LGBTQ+ students’ identities confidential: Although gender affirmation contributes to better health and well-being, students may wish to keep their identity a secret while at home. Ask students about their pronouns, preferred name(s), and when to use each. When speaking with parents or guardians, protect students’ identities if they aren’t “out.”
Provide professional development and trauma-informed services: Spread the word! Informing educators about the challenges faced by LGBTQ+ students means that more eyes will be looking out for those students and how to help them. The students themselves may benefit from coping techniques including self “check-ins” as well as mindfulness and meditation.
Connect LGBTQ+ students with school and community resources: Encourage students to look into school-based organizations such as the Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA), diversity clubs, and anti-bullying groups. Outside of the school environment, LGBTQ+ students may benefit from The Trevor Project, GLSEN, and ReachOut.
Most importantly, remind students that someone will always be there to support them and their identity. For LGBTQ+ youth who lack a supportive community at home or online, receiving that encouragement from a trusted adult could make a world of difference. Educators serve as a sort of “first responder” to the needs and challenges that students may face. Being well aware of unique challenges and knowing how to assist LGBTQ+ students is key to facilitating their intellectual, social, and emotional development.
Fish, J. N., Mcinroy, L. B., Paceley, M. S., Williams, N. D., Henderson, S., Levine, D. S., & Edsall, R. N. (2020). “I’m kinda stuck at home with unsupportive parents right now”: LGBTQ youths’ experiences with COVID-19 and the importance of online support. Journal of Adolescent Health, 67(3), 450-452.
GLSEN. (n.d.). Our work.
Goodenow, C., Watson, R. J., Adjei, J., Homma, Y., & Saewyc, E. (2016). Sexual orientation trends and disparities in school bullying and violence-related experiences, 1999–2013. Psychology of Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity, 3(4), 386-396.
Limbong, A. (2020, June 09). Microaggressions are a big deal: How to talk them out and when to walk away. NPR.
ReachOut. (n.d.). About ReachOut Australia.
Society for Research in Child Development. (2020, September 9). Addressing inequities in education: Considerations for LGBTQ+ children and youth in the era of COVID-19.
The Trevor Project. (2020, August 05). Saving young LGBTQ lives.