Advocating for Students who identify as 2SLGBTQ+

By Lavinia Latham and Derek Chan
Article from the Principal Connections Magazine Winter 2021 Publication - page 36

One of the most challenging concerns we face as Catholic educators and leaders is the need to advocate for students who identify as Two-Spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or other identities. We can all agree that we must maintain a safe and welcoming environment for all students, including those who identify as 2SLGTBQ+. Still, the perceived conflict with the Church’s perspective and teachings may create a reluctance and possible fear to go any further. However, we can look to our faith as a reason to advocate. As Catholics, we are called to reach out to those who are marginalized, excluded, discriminated against or forgotten and to celebrate their individuality as God’s children.

Beyond our faith, we also look to our legal duty to advocate for 2SLGBTQ+ students. The Ontario Human Rights Code makes it very clear that it is against the law to discriminate against someone or to harass them because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, marital status, and/or family status. This right to be free from discrimination and harassment applies to all school boards as public education service providers in Ontario.

What can administrators do to advocate for 2SLGBTQ+ students? Here are some tips on how to advocate:

  • Raise awareness of the realities of 2SLGBTQ+ lived experiences, as well as proper terminology
  • Provide professional learning for staff, including how to handle situations of homophobia, transphobia and biphobia as they arise in class and the school community
  • Use inclusive language, texts and resources so as not to leave out any identities (e.g., instead of “girls and boys,” use “students,” “kids,” or “people”)
  • Meet students where they are and remain non-judgemental
  • Respect students’ privacy and discernment with regard to their sexual orientation and gender identity. Never come out for a student unless imminent harm is facing the child and disclosure is necessary
  • Engage in pastoral care for students when necessary and/or requested
  • Use pronouns and names appropriately and as requested
  • Include your pronouns in the signature of your emails or beside your name on video conferencing calls
  • Accommodate bathrooms and changerooms according to how a student identifies
  • Provide gender-neutral/universal washrooms so students have an additional option
  • Listen to students and create safe spaces
  • Consider putting up a rainbow sticker on your door or have a small rainbow flag in your office to indicate to students that they are entering a safe space and that you are a trusted and caring adult
  • Create Gender Sexuality Alliances (GSAs) as requested by students and families
  • Ensure that mental health supports are readily in place and accessible
  • Work with community agencies that have expertise working with 2SLGBTQ+ students
  • Place posters and artwork around the school that are representational of 2SLGBTQ+ identities
  • Celebrate Pride Month and commemorate days and events that highlight the elimination of homophobia, transphobia and biphobia
  • Understand that race, ability, religion and other identities may intersect with sexual orientation and gender identity and must be recognized and considered as an additional dimension of richness and layer(s) of oppression

This is not an exhaustive list, and we can advocate for 2SLGBTQ+ students in many more ways. A useful resource is the Institute for Catholic Education’s monograph, Supporting Students who identify as Transgender in Our Catholic Schools. Consult with agencies (both Catholic and secular) and those who identify as 2SLGBTQ+ to ensure you are advocating appropriately. Finally, if you require clarity about any actions you intend to take, check with your superintendent or other board personnel, who can help guide you and ensure that you work within your board’s policies and guidelines. Ultimately, we aim for the success and well-being of 2SLGBTQ+ students, so remember that your care and compassion are key.  


Other Articles from the Principal Connections Magazine:

Creating Safer Spaces for Learning by Andrew Campbell in the Winter 2023 Issue – pg. 44

Fostering Gender Friendly Classrooms by Tina Bellaire and Rita Leone in the Summer 2023 Issue – pg. 48

Intentional Allyship by Anthony Perrotta in the Fall 2021 Issue – pg. 50

Fostering An Inclusive School Environment by Peter DeWitt in the Fall 2018 Issue - pg. 24