Embracing Pride Month: Supporting LGBTQ+ Youth

This Pride Month, I’ve been reflecting on my journey as a supporter and facilitator of safe and inclusive schools for all, including LGBTQ+ students. Schools play an essential role in fostering and sustaining a positive environment. Whether students experience safety and connectedness in school can impact how they ultimately feel about themselves and their belief that they deserve healthy, supportive, and caring relationships.

Establishing inclusive environments where all students can feel safe, supported, and valued is at the core of the National Center for Safe and Supportive Learning Environments’ (NCSSLE) mission. (AIR operates NCSSLE on behalf of the U.S. Department of Education.) The goal is to ensure that all students can realize academic success in safe and supportive environments, including recognizing and addressing LGBTQ+ student experiences.

Pride Month is an opportunity to spotlight the needs and experiences of LGBTQ+ youth, offer solutions, and inspire change.

I first fully appreciated the importance of establishing these environments for LGBTQ+ youth over 10 years ago, at a drop-in center in San Diego, California. The space provided resources and services, learning opportunities, and mentorship specific to LGBTQ+ youth. We encouraged youth to embrace and celebrate their identities proudly, reminding them that their authenticity was their greatest strength. Where some school and family settings offered rejection, discrimination, marginalization, and sometimes violence, the drop-in center offered safety, acceptance, connection, healing, and joy. Years later, as a school district administrator and then a director at a national LGBTQ+ education organization, I worked to create positive and meaningful experiences for LGBTQ+ students in schools themselves.

Fostering environments where all youth are celebrated and empowered to live authentically and without fear is more important than ever. Pride Month is an opportunity to spotlight the needs and experiences of LGBTQ+ youth, offer solutions, and inspire change. This work requires collaboration among all stakeholders involved in student outcomes: educators, health practitioners, researchers, and policymakers. Together, we can ensure that LGBTQ+ youth know they are valued, supported, and deserving of safety and joy in all spaces. 

Here are some ways that youth-serving professionals, researchers, and policymakers can support LGBTQ+ youth:

1. Focus on education: Inclusive curricula, workshops, and resources in schools—that can educate both LGBTQ+ and non-LGBTQ+ students about diverse identities and experiences—is essential for fostering understanding and acceptance among youth.

2. Create safe spaces: In safe spaces, such as LGBTQ+ resource centers or support groups, youth can freely express themselves without fear of judgment or discrimination. These spaces provide vital support networks and affirming environments for LGBTQ+ youth.

3. Check policies: LGBTQ+ youth should be included in anti-bullying policies, nondiscrimination laws, and health care and housing policies.

4. Develop youth leaders: LGBTQ+ youth can become leaders in their communities with leadership training, mentorship programs, and opportunities for advocacy and activism. Elevating youth voices ensures that their needs and perspectives are central to advocacy efforts.

5. Provide mental health support: LGBTQ+ youth may face higher rates of mental health challenges due to stigma and discrimination. These youth can benefit from specifically tailored mental health services, including LGBTQ+-affirming therapists and support groups.

6. Recognize intersecting identities and experiences: Policies and programs can work to address the unique needs of LGBTQ+ youth of color, transgender, and nonbinary youth, and LGBTQ+ youth with disabilities.

7. Engage communities and foster allyship: With encouragement, businesses, religious institutions, and community organizations can become LGBTQ+-affirming and inclusive spaces. Parents, caregivers, teachers, and other adults can also become allies and advocates for LGBTQ+ youth both at home and in their communities.

NCSSLE Resources

This NCSSLE blog explores how schools and districts can help prevent LGBTQ+ teen dating violence.

The NCSSLE team works closely with the National Center for School Mental Health, which hosted a webinar earlier this month, titled, “Implementing Policies and Practices to Support LGBTQ+ Youth in Schools.” The webinar aimed to provide education partners, mental health clinicians, and school-, district-, and state-level leaders with information and strategies to best serve the needs of LGBTQ+ students. Sophia Arredondo was a panelist in the webinar.

Additionally, in observance of National Coming Out Day, NCSSLE hosted a webinar titled, “Promoting Health and Well-Being in LGBTQ+ Students,” to discuss data related to substance use among LGBTQ+ students and highlighting innovative and inclusive strategies to prevent substance use among students identifying as LGBTQ+. The webinar’s panel of experts included a youth with lived experience as a member of the LGBTQ+ community, who shared their approach and strategies to preventing substance use among LGBTQ+ identifying peers.