A Safe Place for LGBTQ Youth: Understanding Terms
All students and staff deserve to have a safe, respectful school climate where they can learn and achieve their highest dreams. A welcoming and inclusive school climate is defined by the feelings and attitudes elicited by the environment as well as a sense of belonging. The Center for Disease Control completed a 2010 study of 36 thousand students and found school connectedness to be the strongest protector against substance use, school absenteeism, early sexual initiation, violence and risk of unintentional injury.
Some affective determiners o what makes a school climate safe and welcoming are “yes” answers to the following questions:
Does your school look to improve interpersonal relationships by adopting violence prevention and conflict resolution programs that address all kinds of diversity?
Do students, teachers and staff accept diversity?
Are all students and staff treated with care, fairness and consistency?
In our schools there are many ways staff and young people identify, including but not limited to culture, identity and community. In order to effectively support the LGBTQ community in our schools, it is necessary to become familiar with the correct terminology. The terms below may be referred to when answering school or classroom questions that can arise, so long as the definitions are modified for age-appropriateness.
Bisexual: The sexual orientation of a person who is physically and emotionally attracted to both males and females.
Gay (K-2): A girl who loves and would like to marry another girl, or a boy who loves and would like to marry another boy. This word is usually used to describe boys.
Gay (3-12): A term that can apply to either men or women who are physically and emotionally attracted to persons of the same sex. Although gay can refer to both men and women, many prefer the term lesbian for women.
Gender: Unlike a person’s biological sex, which is an anatomical concept, gender is a social construct specifying the behavioral and cultural characteristics men and women are traditionally expected to embody. Gender is now understood to have several components, including sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression and gender role.
Gender Identity: Refers to a person’s internal, deeply felt sense of being either male or female, boy or girl, or something other (for example, a blending of the two). Everyone has a gender identity, even if it does not always correspond with the person’s biological sex.
Gender Nonconforming/Gender Variant: A person who has gender characteristics and/or behaviors that do not conform to traditional or societal gender expectations, for example, ‘effeminate’ boys and ‘masculine’ girls, and those perceived as androgynous.
Gender Role: The social expectation of how a person should act, think, and /or feel based upon one’s biological sex. Also, a set of traditional and stereotypical roles, characteristics, mannerisms and behaviors associated with societal norms of what is male and what is female. These expectations are often stereotypical, such as “boys like blue and girls like pink.”
Gender Expression: A person’s physical characteristics, behaviors, and presentation traditionally linked to either masculinity or femininity., such as appearance, dress, mannerisms, speech patterns and social interactions.
LGBTQ: A frequently used acronym that stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning.
Lesbian (K-2): A woman who loves and wants to marry another woman.
Lesbian (3-12): A term used to describe a woman who is emotionally and physically attracted to another woman.
Out/Out of the closet: A term used to refer to a person whose LGBTQ status is, to some degree, public. Note that it is not always the LGBTQ person who makes this information public, sometimes it is made public without the LGBTQ person’s knowledge or consent. This is called “outing” someone.
Queer: Originally used as an insult for being different, a movement emerged in the 80’s to reclaim the word as positive. It is currently being used by many gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons to describe their pride. Queer is also used as a general term to describe the LGBT community as a whole. It is important to note that queer can still be used as an insult in a derogatory manner.
Questioning: A person who is uncertain of of his/her sexual orientation and/or gender identity
Transgender (K-5): When someone feels as if he or she has been born into a wrong body. For example, a person could feel like she is a girl brain stuck inside a boy’s body, or like he is a boy brain stuck inside a girl’s body.
Transgender (6-12): Transgender is an umbrella term which can include people that identify as gender nonconforming (see definition above) or do not choose to identify as gay or lesbian or bisexual and see and feel their gender to be more variant or nonconforming. Also, transgender can mean a person whose gender identity or gender expression does not conform to his/her physical anatomy, for example a girl who feels trapped in a boy’s body. Some transgender people hormonally and/or surgically change their bodies to more fully match their gender identity.