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SOGI-Inclusive Education: Allyship
Allyship is a form of social awareness and responsibility that is active. An ally is a person who does or does not identify as LGBTQ+ and who speaks out and stands up for LGBTQ+ people or groups that are targeted or discriminated against (GLSEN, 2016). Allyship is important work; it lets LGBTQ+ youth know that they are not alone. Anyone can do this work, but it is important to remember to listen to, consult with, and represent LGBTQ+ people in the work you do as an ally.
The first step to allyship is to check your own beliefs. GLSEN's Safe Space Kit is an excellent resource and contains a questionnaire through which to "surface" your own beliefs about LGBTQ+ people.
The next step is to start small, with language: use correct, up-to-date, respectful LGBTQ+-related language. Ask others how they identify and what pronouns they use in order to honour the person and avoid making mistakes. Avoid asking LGBTQ+ people questions that would sound strange or offensive if asked of a heterosexual or cisgender person, such as, "when did you find out you were gay/transgender?" Avoid making jokes about gender stereotype-breaking behaviours, like boys wearing nail polish or girls with short hair. This will reinforce gender stereotypes and make students afraid to just be themselves. One thing you can do is talk about how stereotypes of a variety of people are made and unmade and what respect for others looks and sounds like.
Other small steps involve using and putting up visible markers of safety for LGBTQ+ people: stickers, flags, and posters help LGBTQ+ students to see immediately that you are thinking about them. Co-constructing a classroom agreement that encourages respectful language and behaviours can help keep students accountable to these new social norms and make students aware that you will not tolerate disrespect for any group of people.
If you are interested in ally leadership, you might want to start a Diversity Club or GSA--a club for students to build awareness, engage in social justice activities, learn and share their learning with others in the school. Schools that have GSA's have students who report feeling safer regardless of whether or not they identify as LGBTQ+. In the community, there are many ways to become an ally. Egale Canada has a list of community resources here.
Every two years the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) conducts the National School Climate Survey in schools across the United States. The (survey finds troubling results:
"anti-LGBT language fills classrooms, hallways, school buses,gyms, and cafeterias. For example, findings from GLSEN’s National School Climate Survey consistently show that nine out of ten LGBT students repeatedly hear the word “gay” used in a negative way and three-fourths of students regularly hear homophobic remarks, such as “faggot” or “dyke,” in school. Even more serious, LGBT students are routinely called names, harassed and bullied in school and will often skip classes or even full days of school because they feel unsafe. The prevalence of anti-LGBT name-calling, harassment and bullying takes a heavy toll on LGBT students, and can have negative effects on their school performance.The reported grade point average of students who are more frequently harassed because of their sexual orientation or gender expression is almost half a grade lower than for students who were less often harassed. In addition to the damage it can do to LGBT students, anti-LGBT bias also affects other members of the school community. Anti-LGBT behavior creates a hostile environment and an uncomfortable and unsafe space for everyone. Homophobia and transphobia can be used to stigmatize, silence and, on occasion, target people who are perceived as LGBT, but are not. If certain actions and behaviors are deemed “gay,” students may avoid these for fear of being targeted for anti-LGBT behavior." (GLSEN Safe Space Kit, 2016)
GLSEN's GLSEN Safe Space Kit.pdf