To the Editor:
I read with interest “The Essential Traits of a Positive School Climate” (Special Report: “Getting School Climate Right: A Guide for Principals,” Oct. 14, 2020). The EdWeek Research Center survey of principals and teachers provides interesting insight as to why there are still school climate issues for LGBTQ students.
Respondents were asked, “How comfortable do you believe the following groups of students [Black, LGBTQ, immigrant, students from low-income families, Hispanic, students with disabilities, and female students] feel at your school?” Eighteen percent of respondents selected, “We do not have [LGBTQ students] at our school.” About 2 percent and 34 percent of respondents also said LGBTQ students were “extremely uncomfortable” or “very, somewhat uncomfortable” at school, respectively.
We have a steep hill to climb in making schools safe and inviting for these students. School leaders must question those who believe that LGBTQ students do not exist at their school. According to the Trevor Project, LGBTQ young people are at higher risk for both contemplating and attempting suicide than their heterosexual peers. As a gay woman and an out superintendent (who was an out high school principal for 11 years), it is my professional responsibility to make schools safe places for LGBTQ students and tell students—through institutional word and action—that they are safe.
We have a long way to go before we can say we are getting school climate right for LGBTQ students as well as Black, Indigenous, and students of color. As these students have long experienced and can attest, invisibility is the first step to marginalization and devaluation, particularly within the walls of the school building. In this time of heightened anxiety, political uncertainty, and hate-filled rhetoric, schools must be a refuge for, and a champion of, the invisible.
Terri L. Holden
Yellow Springs Exempted Village School District
Yellow Springs, Ohio
A version of this article appeared in the November 18, 2020 edition of Education Week as Invisibility to Inclusivity for LGBTQ Students