Student Well-Being

For LGBTQ+ Students, Having Teachers Who Care Can Make a Big Difference

By Eesha Pendharkar — May 11, 2023 4 min read
Mae Keller, a senior, carries a "Trans Kids Matter" sign and cheers as hundreds of students walk out of school on Transgender Day of Visibility outside Omaha Central High School on March 31, 2023, in Omaha, Neb. Republican-controlled states across the U.S. are imposing restrictions aimed at transgender students.
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When LGBTQ+ students feel that their teachers care about them, they report higher self-esteem and lower levels of depression and anxiety, and they are less likely to seriously consider or attempt suicide.

That’s according to a research brief by The Trevor Project, an LGBTQ+ advocacy organization that collects data on the well-being of LGBTQ+ youth across the country.

Based on data from the organization’s 2023 U.S. National Survey on the Mental Health of LGBTQ Young People, the brief examines the relationships between teachers and students, and how those affect students’ mental health. The online nationwide survey was conducted between September and December 2022, and asked 28,524 LGBTQ+ middle school, high school, and college students questions about their well-being.

One question was, “How much do you feel that your teachers/professors care about you?” Responses were multiple choice, with options including not at all, a little, somewhat, a lot, and very much.

If LGBTQ+ students felt that their teachers or professors cared about them a lot or very much, they were 34 percent less likely to report attempting suicide in the past year, and 37 percent less likely to report having seriously considered it, the report said.

They were also 32 percent less likely to report feeling anxious and 43 percent less likely to be depressed, according to the report.

The report comes at a time when LGBTQ+ mental health has taken a hit because of political battles over their rights, according to the Trevor Project survey. According to the survey, 67 percent of LGBTQ+ teens and young adults said they had recently experienced symptoms of anxiety, 54 percent reported experiencing symptoms of depression, and 41 percent said they had seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year.

At the same time, students feel less connected to their teachers than ever in the current school year, according to research. Finally, teachers in some states are facing restrictions due to state laws and district-level policies on what they can and can’t say about LGBTQ+ experiences, and hundreds of books about LGBTQ+ experiences have been banned in districts across the country.

“If I were a teacher in some of these states like Texas, Florida, I would be very concerned,” said Jonah DeChants, senior research scientist at the Trevor Project.

“With this censorship, and your inability to either express opinions or ideas or even just offer sort of general information and support, that is a huge barrier for teachers. It’s a limitation on their freedom of speech, and it’s also a limitation on their ability to express support for students that they likely really want to help and support.”

Disparities in access to caring teachers

LGBTQ+ people of color from a lower socioeconomic status reported lower rates of feeling their teacher or professor cared about them, according to the report.

White LGBTQ+ young people reported more than double the rate of feeling that their teachers and professors cared about them than their LGBTQ+ peers of color. Fifty two percent of white LGBTQ+ students said they felt supported by their teachers, while only 5 percent of Black students, 13 percent of Latinx students, 7 percent of Asian students, and 22 percent of biracial LGBTQ+ students reported feeling cared for by their teachers.

Transgender and nonbinary young people also reported lower rates of feeling that their teachers or professors cared a lot or very much about them compared to their cisgender peers, the report said.

“These findings may reflect implicit bias among teachers, who could be conditioned to perceive low-income or BIPOC students as less deserving of or less in need of their care,“ the report said.

These discrepancies highlight some long standing inequities in schools, DeChants said.

“We know that low income students, students of color tend to be attending schools where there tends to be a much higher student-to-teacher ratio and there may be fewer resources for extracurriculars, and therefore fewer opportunities to connect with teachers in sort of nonacademic settings,” he said.

“There are lots and lots of really high quality teachers serving low income, BIPOC, trans students who really do care and who are expressing that care, but my guess is that … the pressures that their districts are under compared to more affluent [districts] is probably making it much harder for teachers and students to connect on a deeper and more caring level.”

Learning about LGBTQ+ communities

If LGBTQ+ students learn about their identities from a teacher or school counselor, or see themselves reflected in the curriculum, the survey found that they were 15 percent less likely to have recently experienced symptoms of depression, according to the report. About 20 percent of LGBTQ+ students reported having learned about policies impacting their community from a teacher or school counselor, according to survey responses.

This is also made harder by state laws, such as Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law, that restrict lessons and classroom conversations about sexual orientation and gender identity. Lawmakers in several other states have also introduced similar legislation this year.

Providing information about LGBTQ+ identities and topics is one way that teachers, professors, and counselors can demonstrate their care and support for LGBTQ+ young people, DeChants said.

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