Updated: Jun 27, 2022
Here at the Mission Society, we believe all educators have a responsibility to protect LGBTQIA+ youth and encourage a culture of acceptance in our communities. In school and at home, we are setting precedents that will follow many young people throughout their lives, even after they leave our care. Our goal is to find ways to embody these values not just during Pride, but year-round – integrating LGBTQIA+-inclusive curriculum into our learning initiatives, training supportive staff, empowering student advocacy, and building welcoming spaces for all young people.
When we spoke with Mission Society Social Worker, Kaylin Rodriguez, and Program Director, Aniqa Garrison, they shared that one way they have built a supportive environment is to help their students at Bronx Community High School start a Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA). The GSA is a place where young people can safely meet, learn from one another, and discuss the concerns that matter the most in each of their lives. Kaylin stated that the presence of the group has reinforced their wider policy of acceptance. Even the staff attends GSA meetings and learns about topics like the importance of pronouns, deepening their understanding of issues that impact the health and well-being of the entire school.
According to the GSA Network, “a growing body of research confirms that the presence of a GSA has a positive and lasting effect on student health, wellness, and academic performance. It can also protect students from harassment based on sexual orientation or gender identity, and improve school climates for all students in the long-term.” Kaylin has noticed that though their group is only just beginning, these types of effects have been immediate. New students who come into the school are met with a celebrated GSA, complete with positively-messaged, visible banners and stickers around the school. From day one, they know that in our programs and beyond, they belong.
At Washington Irving High School, the school administration made the decision to build a gender-inclusive bathroom. Mission Society Program Director, Catherine Monzon, said that this has had a similar impact. She’s “happy that we have this type of bathroom because it can make all of our students feel safe, included, and part of our community.” Students do not have to worry or avoid using a restroom that does not align with their gender identity, due to long-held and dangerous stigma. At Washington Irving, they know that they are safe to be who they are, and have spaces that align with their needs.
From ongoing counseling support, to dedicated student groups, to Pride celebrations, and more, we ensure each day that young people feel seen. Our educators listen to the needs of students, and students themselves step in to lead us towards a better and more welcoming future. We look forward to incorporating more intentional initiatives into our classrooms, and continuing this important work alongside our community.
Thank you to Kaylin Rodriguez, Aniqa Garrison, and Catherine Monzon for making this piece possible by sharing their time and insights. To learn more about how you can support students in the classroom, visit the GSA Network website, use these resources from Learning for Justice, or take a look at the latest news and advice on supporting LGBTQIA+ communities from the NEA's EdJustice initiative.