Pride Month, Pride Year: Teaching and Learning
By Hannah Sycks, High School Teacher
Written in 2020 and updated in 2023
June is Pride Month for the LGBTQ+ community! In past years, I have met with LGBTQ+ students and allies at Dearborn and discussed how we are celebrating both personally and as a school.
This year, I had the opportunity to attend a conference for LGBTQ+ educators and direct support staff and our allies. Our learning goal was to reflect on the intersectional identities that our students have and ensure that we are doing a thorough job providing quality and legitimate representation in our schools. One of the prominent ways that we talked about is the idea of scanning for safety.
I imagine that many of us can remember sitting in a high school classroom on the first day of school and looking around to see if any of our friends were in the class. When we saw someone that we knew, we felt comfortable. The essence of scanning for safety is just that – looking around the room or environment to see who and what is there to help us feel comfortable. For individuals with marginalized identities, this process is a little bit different. Every time an individual with a marginalized identity enters a space, they/we begin to scan for safety.
There are clear and direct visual cues that students often look for. Students may think: Are there pride flags representing a variety of identities? How are Black histories told and represented? Do we refer to it as Columbus Day or Indigenous People’s Day? Are there people in the room and on the staff that look and talk like me?
Visual safety is not enough. Scanning for safety involves hard work on the school staff to be constantly reflecting and researching the disparities and injustices of the world. It’s staying up-to-date on the latest terminology for LGBTQ+ students, sure. It’s also building critical thinking skills that are transferable from our own knowledge – beyond just teaching our students to be aware of racial injustices and heteronormative ideologies. Are we doing our own research? Do we understand the interconnected role that our students’ identities play with their more salient identities?
I would not be adequately sharing the concept of scanning for safety if I did not recognize that Black Lives Matter. After all, a Black trans woman threw the first stone at Stonewall! Scanning for safety is more than just a visual representation of a pride flag, posting a couple of pictures of a person of color in a textbook and honoring marginalized histories only during their “history month.”
Scanning for safety is knowing how to respond when students ask about Trayvon, Eric, Michael, George and the hundreds of other Black people and people of color killed by police in the past three years. Scanning for safety is refusing to engage in coded language when talking about a student and the world. Scanning for safety is hearing a microaggression and responding in a way that uplifts a student’s identity. To do this wholly and fully, we must acknowledge the breadth and complexity of our students’ identities, educate ourselves and hold each other accountable. This is hard work and can take time. We know this and are ready to walk through this work together.
It is equally important to acknowledge that the ways in which our students are now scanning for safety have changed drastically due to a remote learning setting. They may not be verbalizing it now, but they will be vocalizing it after our silence. As a staff, it is more important than ever that we are teaming together. We need to be thinking about how we can continue to address these issues as we use remote platforms (social media, lessons, check-ins with students, etc.) to show all of our students (but particularly LGBTQ+, Black students, and students from other marginalized groups) that we see them and we are here to listen.
For those who may be confused, heartbroken and interested in learning more by sharing information and increasing awareness for our staff, caregivers and other adults, I encourage you to do the following.
Do your research, listen to voices of LGBTQ+ people, Black and people of color, and the ongoing list of marginalized identities. Believe what they tell you about their experiences, and be an ally for justice. It doesn’t happen overnight, and it is hard work, but our students and our communities are worth it. Wherever you may fall in your understanding of the world is okay; I know that we at Dearborn are committed to engaging in conversations and helping each other grow through to mutual understanding.
Additionally, there are other steps that you can take to be an ally:
Visit the Human Rights Campaign to find resources for gender and LGBTQ+ inclusive schools.
Check out Medium and learn what you can do as a white person to support communities of color.
Engage your communities (Dearborn and beyond) in hard conversations.
And so, Happy Pride Month!