(Photo source: Dominique Dalais)
I am an ally of the LGBTQIA+ community. I am not part of the community, but I advocate and take action in the spaces I occupy so that I can stand up for students and staff who might need support in their everyday lives. In my previous school, I held the role of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) coordinator. Our DEI council wanted to find opportunities to raise awareness and show support in our community, which was not something we had previously achieved. So, we created an LGBTQIA+ network that was run by a teacher at our school. In addition, we reached out to international school consultant, Dr. Emily Meadows, who helped us run workshops and lent an eye to our inclusive language glossary.
Raising Your Awareness in Your School Context
I have made a personal effort to raise my own awareness and understanding of terms, history, and appropriate conversations to have. It has been a long and exciting journey of learning and a pathway that will not end soon. As educators in an international school setting, it is our responsibility to continuously do this work. There could be people you know, fellow educators and/or students, that are part of the LGBTQIA+ community, and raising your awareness will put you in a better place to better understand how to act, what to say, when to speak up, and what is appropriate in which situations.
It is important to understand the laws and culture of the country you are living in, how the government perceives LGBTQIA+, and what the local community thinks. Try to also understand and find out about the people in your school, your administration, and the board of the school. What is their understanding and approach to discussions on DEIJ, and this community in particular? How is your student LGBTQIA+ population perceived and supported? What can you do to help in your school context? How are the rest of the students given opportunities to raise their awareness, understanding, and empathy so positive actions can be taken in a sustainable and progressive way?
One of the projects we have begun with our Peace and Justice service group is to create a recognizable safe space for those students who feel marginalized. Having a sign or symbol on your door showing you are a safe space allows people to know they can go to your room for discussions and support. It is important to let other teachers and staff know that your room is a designated safe space and students may be in there talking to you about private or sensitive subjects.
We also have an LGBTQIA+ service group who have discussions and raise awareness through interacting with students during events such as United Nations Day, assemblies, and home base advisory sessions. These groups also use social media to share what they are doing in their groups to take action, such as creating stickers, badges, and pins for people to wear to show they have a level of understanding and are there for support.
Showing Outwardly Support
I try not to be performative in my actions but often try to provoke conversations through my outward expressions. I might do this by having displays or posters in my classroom that are informative and thought-provoking so that students can see and possibly ask questions. I might wear certain items of clothing or dye my beard in rainbow colors. The United States and the United Kingdom celebrate Pride month in June, which is a great time to show support and wear LGBTQIA+ symbols and colors. But I find it is also important to show support for more than just one month of the year.
It is vital to listen to members of the community when they want to speak. Based on some of the conversations I have had, I understand it can be hard for people to speak openly about their sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression. Some people are more confident and have moved along the pathway of coming out to those around them. However, there are various stages of comfort, confidence, and acceptance that we must try to understand. Listen to members of the LGBTQIA+ community so they can explain where they are and how much they want to speak about their own personal situations.
Take Action To Educate Others
There are plenty of opportunities for people to educate others for the betterment of all. In our communities, we can always find individual moments to talk about historical and current events. We can take it upon ourselves to educate others when we might hear comments that are not necessarily true or may be ignorant in regard to the LGBTQIA+ community. Take some time to consider what you will say and how you can best intervene if you hear someone say something out of place. We should always be prepared and willing to step up and take action. But, as allies, we need to be careful about how we approach and educate, as we are here to help support and not to represent.
Emily Meadows, international education consultant
The Savvy Ally: A Guide for Becoming a Skilled LGBTQ+ Advocate by Jeannie Gainsburg
Dominique Dalais is an International Baccalaureate (IB) middle years program (MYP) physical and health educator, IB MYP workshop leader and Building Quality Curriculum (BQC) reviewer, diversity, equity, and inclusion consultant and workshop leader, and the Educational Collaborative for International Schools (ECIS) physical education committee chair. He currently works at the United Nations International School in Hanoi, Vietnam as the curriculum lead for physical and health education.