LGBTQ+ representation in education matters, June and beyond

What we offer kids to read matters, far beyond academic rigor.

“Miss, back in middle school you had some books about queer people in your classroom… I just want you to know those books helped me know I was going to make it.”

Written by Emma McCandless, ELA Content Specialist (ANet)

I received this message from a former student a couple of years ago, and it reaffirmed something I’ve always known to be true; what we offer kids to read matters, far beyond academic rigor. Not only does representation in reading material matter for kids, but in many cases, it can save lives.

For a lot of my students in rural south Texas in the early 2000s, I was the only out adult they knew. There’s an increasing body of research that shows that having at least one accepting adult or role model in their lives substantially decreases the risk of suicide among LGBTQ+ youth. It’s important, then, that students are able to find those accepting adults easily at school in case they don’t encounter them anywhere else.

A recent Gallup poll shows that identification as LGBTQ+ among young people is on the rise; nearly 1 in 6 members of “Gen Z” identify as LGBTQ+. And the ways in which kids describe their sexuality and gender identities are constantly expanding. Unfortunately, at the same time, there are pushes in schools to “ban” books featuring LGBTQ+ representation. George, a middle-grade novel by Alex Gino that features a transgender girl as the protagonist, has topped the American Library Association’s list of most challenged books every year since 2018.

At ANet, we have long believed in the importance of representation in our assessment materials, and in recent years have actively increased representation in our ELA assessment passages along lines of race, gender, socio-economic status, and ability. We have our own progress to make in ensuring LGBTQ+ identifying students also see their identities affirmed in our work. There are resources out there to support schools and teachers in doing the same, including:

June is, of course, Pride Month, a time when these issues are easy to push to the forefront. I would encourage all of us who touch the lives of LGBTQ+ youth to ensure that they feel just as safe, supported, and loved throughout the months of July through May, as well.

Learn more: ANet is a nonprofit dedicated to providing all students, regardless of circumstance, with a high-quality education. Our work is guided by our vision for educational equity, our commitment to anti-racism, and the voices and experiences of our partners and their communities. Visit us at www.achievementnetwork.org.

ANet is a nonprofit dedicated to the premise that every child in America deserves an excellent education and the opportunities it provides.