SAFE at School: Meet Josh Covington
Starting the School Year Off Right: A Guide for LGBTQ Students and Their Allies
For LGBTQ students and their allies, the start of the school year can be both daunting and exciting. There are new classes to take, new people to meet... and – for some students – a new locker room to get used to. For many LGBTQ students, this time of year can also be stressful, as they navigate what it means to be “out” at school and deal with potential discrimination or harassment. Luckily, there are things you can do to make the school year go a little bit smoother. This guide provides tips for both LGBTQ students and their allies on how to make the school year a positive experience. So read on, and let’s make this school year the best yet!
For LGBTQ+ Students:
- Find your people. Whether it’s joining the Gay-Straight Alliance, connecting with other out students, or simply making friends with someone who is supportive, it’s important to find your community at school. These people will be your support system when things get tough and will help you navigate the sometimes-rough waters of being an LGBTQ student.
- Be “out” only if you’re comfortable. While it can be empowering to be open about your sexuality or gender identity at school, it’s also important to only come out if and when you feel safe and comfortable doing so. If you ’re not ready to be out, that’s OK – there’s no rush. You can also consider being “out” to some people but not others (for example, you might feel comfortable coming out to your close friends but not to your teachers). Do what feels right for you.
- Know your rights. Unfortunately, not all schools are welcoming and inclusive environments for LGBTQ students. But it’s important to know that there are laws in place that protect you from discrimination and harassment at school. Familiarize yourself with your rights so that you can advocate for yourself (and others) if necessary.
- Speak up if you experience bias or discrimination. If you experience bias or discrimination at school, it’s important to speak up. This can be difficult, but know that you have the right to do so – and that you’re not alone. There are likely others who have experienced similar things, and speaking up can help all people in the LGBTQ community.
- Seek out resources. If you’re feeling lost, alone, or just need someone to talk to, there are resources available to help LGBTQ students. These can include counselors, support groups, and hotlines. Don’t be afraid to reach out for help if you need it.
For LGBTQ+ Allies:
- Be an active ally. If you want to support LGBTQ students, it’s important to be an active ally. This can mean standing up to homophobia and transphobia when you see or hear it, being a resource for LGBTQ students who need someone to talk to, and creating a more inclusive environment at school.
- Educate yourself. In order to be a good ally, it’s important to educate yourself on LGBTQ issues. This includes learning about different sexual orientations and gender identities, understanding the unique experiences of LGBTQ people, and staying up-to-date on the latest news and developments affecting the community.
- Show your support. There are lots of ways to show your support for LGBTQ students, even if you’re not out yourself. You can wear rainbow ribbons or pins, participate in ally weeks or days, and post supportive messages on social media. Small actions like these can make a big difference for LGBTQ students who see them.
- Be an advocate. Advocacy can take many forms, but as an ally, you can help LGBTQ students by speaking up for them when they can’t or don’t feel safe doing so themselves. This could mean talking to a teacher about using inclusive language in the classroom, confronting someone who is making homophobic or transphobic comments, or simply being a supportive presence for LGBTQ students at school.
- Seek out resources. If you’re looking for more information on how to be a good ally, there are plenty of resources available. These can include books, websites, articles, and even movies and TV shows. Do some research to find the resources that are right for you and those you are supporting.
No matter what your situation is, know that you are not alone.
There are people who care about you and want to help. Reach out for support if you need it, and don’t hesitate to stand up for yourself and others. You have the right to be treated with respect, and there are people who will fight for that right alongside you.
Don't forget to register for our SAFE at School event on Tuesday, September 13 at 5pm PT / 8pm ET! Hear more from Josh Covington, Jennifer Boudrye and Mo Bailey as well as connect with other parents across the country.
About the Author
Joshua D. Covington currently serves as a Director of School Leadership with 3DE National, LLC by Junior Achievement. Before this role, he was a high school principal in Carroll County, KY and served students for 10 years as a teacher and instructional coach in Louisville, KY and Lexington, KY. He has experience and expertise in the development of career academies, case methodology, restorative practices, and research in diversity and inclusion, specifically in the area of LGBTQIA+ Leadership. He also works with schools on advocacy, consultation, and coaching for building affirmative LGBTQIA+ environments for students and staff. In his free time, he enjoys spending it with his twin daughters, family, and friends experiencing all the joy that life has to offer.
Joshua is also the President and CEO of The Advocates Project. You can follow this organization on Instagram @theadvocatesproject.