The Utah Pride Center, having just successfully presented Utah Pride Week, asks all of us in Utah to come together for the LGBTQ community, including their goal of creating and maintaining a welcoming and safe school environment for LGBTQ students and adults alike.
As an elementary school teacher in the Salt Lake City School District, I challenge all my fellow educators to step up to the plate in your schools and communities and commit to becoming knowledgeable of the biases confronting our LGBTQ students and, most important, taking the actions necessary to ensure they have a positive and successful school experience.
According to Equality Utah, a nonprofit organization dedicated to securing equal rights and protections for LGBTQ Utahns and their families, “Every week and every day, educators normalize heterosexual families and relationships just by talking about them. But if we want to ensure our LGBTQ children can safely go to school without being bullied, harassed or discriminated against, then teachers and school administrators have to acknowledge that LGBTQ relationships exist — just like they do for heterosexual ones.”
As the U.S. Department of Education, under Secretary Betsy DeVos, works to rescind the civil rights of LGBTQ students in our public schools, it’s imperative that we educators do everything we can to thwart their efforts and stand up to the outright bullying they aim to perpetuate toward our most marginalized and vulnerable children.
One area of extreme concern that cannot be left to continue unabated is the impact many of our school’s inequitable discipline policies have on students who identify as LGBTQ. It’s imperative that more effort be put into collecting the data that will very likely support the belief we educators have at the ground level of discriminatory disciplinary practices.
Nationally, the juvenile justice system is being inundated with students based on race, disabilities, whether they’re English language learners and, to the point of this commentary, the LGBTQ population as well. Rather than focusing on restorative practices that help build healthy relationships with all the stakeholders involved, the prevalence is to overuse suspensions and expulsions, often for minor infractions, creating prisonlike environments in our schools.
Institutional discrimination, perpetuated by zero-tolerance policies, ties the hands of those in power when it comes to having the discretion necessary to approach each disciplinary incident on its own merits, enabling those in control to provide equitably appropriate consequences for those directly affected.
I pride myself in being a lifelong learner, looking to better myself as a competent educator moving forward. Why shouldn’t all students have the same opportunities to do the same? In the public education system as it stands now, LGBTQ students, as well as students of color, et al., are being denied access to those tools they need to realize their full potential, to be able to engage in an educational experience that helps develop their thinking, creative and social skills that will see them thrive as engaged citizens of our local communities and the world at large.
Thank you, Utah Pride, for reminding me that it takes each and every educator to respond to the call to action that you advocate for in your vision statement: “providing a safe and welcoming space for education, partnerships, services and events which advance our collective health, wellness and success.”
David Asman is an elementary music specialist in the Salt Lake City School District and a master’s of education student in the College of Education, Culture and Society at the University of Utah.