September 24-28, 2018 was an incredibly important week, and I didn’t see much in the EduTwitter world about it — it was GLSEN’s Ally Week!
According to GLSEN, “an ally is a member of a privileged group who advocates against oppression. An ally works to create social change rather than participate in oppressive actions.”
Being an ally
Part of being an ally means speaking up and standing with the oppressed group, but not speaking for them. We recognize that each individual’s experience is unique, and part of a complex web of intersecting identities (including age, race, religion, culture, region of the world/country, etc.).
As a cisgendered heterosexual individual, I have not experienced oppression based on my gender expression and sexual orientation. (Cisgendered = my biological sex and gender identity match; heterosexual = attraction to opposite gender)
How can we, as educators, be allies to our LGBTQ+ students?
- Use inclusive language. Examples: “y’all” “friends” “students” (instead of “you guys” “girls” “boys”)
- Respect preferred gender pronouns (read more about pronouns here)
- Confront anti-LGBTQ+ behavior, bullying, and language. For example, if a student says “that’s so gay,” respond by asking them what exactly is bothering them, and help them pick a different description word, such as “that’s so boring.”
- Post a safe space sticker and/or poster in your classroom, office, or workspace. Download yours here!
Awareness is our first step, and is always a growth process. Little things, such as making inclusive and non-gender-binary questions on forms go a long way for supporting our students!
Remember, if a student shares information with you, it’s confidential. I know I have students who are more open about one or more of their identities at school, but cannot safely tell their families outside of school.
Celebrating Ally Week at school
My school was on Fall Break for Ally Week this year, so our GSA (Gay-Straight Alliance) had our Ally Week celebration early, during our weekly lunch meeting. Thanks to the support of a GLSEN San Diego friend and recent grad of our local high school, we had some teacher resources, stickers, buttons, and ideas to plan our party. Students brought an ally friend, and my co-advisor and I brought snacks. We defined allies and how we can be upstanders at our school, then enjoyed spending time together!
The next day, with teachers we hosted a similar lunch club with snacks! After discussing how to be an ally, we went through some gender and sexual orientation vocabulary, including playing a vocab matching game from the GLSEN teacher guide. Overwhelmingly, our teachers appreciated this learning opportunity, and are already asking when we’ll host the next one!
For both groups, we used these slides to share some basics and lead our discussion.
This is one of those times where I know I’m not the expert in the room, yet I’m not going to let that hold me back from supporting my students, colleagues, and friends. Because that’s what an ally does: we advocate, support, listen, ask questions, and unconditionally love. I am constantly going back to the GLSEN Teacher Resources to make sure I’m using the correct language, and making my classroom an inclusive and safe space.