Part V: Relationships, Families, and Youth

Chapter 9: Education and LGBTQ+ Youth

Kimberly Fuller

Learning Objectives

Upon completion of this chapter, students will be able to do the following:

  • Describe the connections between identities and embodied experiences.
    • Recognize the steps of coming out and the range of responses for gender and sexuality identities.
  • Describe how people struggle for social justice within historical contexts of inequality.
    • Differentiate between the components making schools supportive and inclusive and those needing improvements.
    • Assess resources for LGBTQ+ youth facing discrimination, oppression, and marginalization.
  • Describe intersectionality from an LGBTQ+ perspective.
    • Analyze how key social institutions shape, define, and enforce structures of inequality.
    • Identify health and education disparities for minoritized gender and sexuality identities.

Education and LGBTQ+ Youth Development

Youth spend the majority of their lives involved in schools and associated activities. Concurrent with social and emotional development, LGBTQ+ youths’ sexual and gender identities are evolving. Some LGBTQ+ youth face challenges with underrepresentation in school curricula; lack of educational programming; and discrimination, harassment, and oppression by peers, teachers, and parents. However, with the changing cultural narrative toward acceptance, LGBTQ+ youth are finding more than ever before environments that are accepting, access to services tailored to LGBTQ+ youth, and opportunities to connect with other youth through clubs, organizations, and other youth programming. This chapter focuses on the current social and educational barriers to healthy LGBTQ+ youth development, such as inequities and injustice, on LGBTQ+ youths’ resiliency and on the role of supportive adults in facilitating positive youth development.

LGBTQ+ persons experience significant growth and development through youth and adolescence. Many of the important milestones, including identity recognition, coming out, and transitioning, can occur during these years. Positive family, educator, and peer responses toward LGBTQ+ youth can set the framework for healthy development, whereas rejection can lead to negative mental, emotional, and physical health and educational outcomes. This chapter describes identity development for LGBTQ+ individuals, family response, the impact of educational establishments on development, inclusive school practices, and other important aspects of the lives of youth and adolescents (figure 9.1). Each aspect of development and each environmental and social system within the lives of LGBTQ+ youth can become a protective factor at a time when acceptance is still evolving throughout the United States.

Two teens look at a phone, smiling.
Figure 9.1. LGBTQ+ teens supporting one another. (Unsplash license, Shingi Rice.)

Identity Disclosure

Youth are socialized from a young age through the lens of heteronormativity and cisnormativity, or the view that everyone is heterosexual and straight, which creates difficult conditions for LGBTQ+ students. From as early as elementary school, youth are taught that anything outside heterosexuality equates to being bad and that the romantic relationships LGBTQ+ youth have are abnormal.[1] Because society makes the presumption that all youth are cisgender and heterosexual, youth are often burdened with having to disclose their identities to others, historically referred to as coming out. Identity disclosure is different for sexual minority, transgender, and gender-nonconforming youth; their evolution of identity and disclosure of it can be a vastly different experience from that of others. Sexual- and gender-minority development and disclosure are described later in the chapter.

LGBTQ+ Demographics

Youth and adolescents acknowledge their sexual orientation and disclose it to others earlier than ever before. Youth initially recognize they are attracted to another person of the same gender at about age 10. Estimates show some understanding their identities as young as 7, with the average age at around 13.4. With increased visibility of LGBTQ+ persons in mainstream culture, it is likely these ages are becoming younger.[2]

Approximately 2 percent of youth identify as gay or lesbian, 6 percent as bisexual, 3 percent as not sure of their sexual identity, and 2–3 percent as transgender or gender nonconforming. These labels stay consistent into early adulthood. Approximately 3 percent of young adults ages eighteen to twenty-six describe themselves as exclusively or mostly homosexual or bisexual, with more females (3.4 percent) than males (2.6 percent) identifying as LGBTQ+. Conservative estimates report 3.5 percent of adults, or approximately nine million people, in the United States identify as lesbian, gay, or bisexual.[3]

Two studies have been conducted on the rates of identity disclosure to parents of LGBTQ+ youth in the United States. Both studies reported more than half (56 percent and 59 percent) of the LGBTQ+ youth studied were out to their families. Coming out can be challenging for LGBTQ+ youth. Many sexual minority youth who have not come out (30 percent) report that the most frequent obstacle to coming out is fear that their family may not be accepting of them or even that their family has been openly discriminatory. A small proportion (19 percent) state that they are not sure how their families would react, and 10 percent state that they are not ready to come out. Some youth, however, resist identity-based labels and perceive disclosing their sexuality as unimportant.[4]

Transgender or Nonbinary Identity Disclosure and Demographics

As of 2022, an estimated 300,00, or 1.4 percent, of U.S. youth ages thirteen to seventeen identify as transgender. Youth in this age group were significantly more likely to identify as transgender than adults age 65 or older, and constitute 18% of the national transgender-identified population.   The study found that young people identify as transgender at different rates in different states; estimates ranged from 3.0% in New York to 0.6% in Wyoming.  The study also found that White people were less likely to identify as transgender than Latinx people, American Indian or Alaska Native, and biracial/multiracial groups. [5]

A 2018 report by the Human Rights Campaign found only 21 percent of transgender and gender-expansive youth to be out to their parents, and 33 percent of youth were considering whom to disclose to in their family and how to manage these relationships after disclosure (figure 9.2). In 2018, nearly half (41 percent) of all transgender and gender-expansive youth had at least one parent to whom they have come out. Research suggests concern over family response is a barrier to coming out. Although both mothers and fathers were anticipated by their child to act negatively to a disclosure at least half the time, fathers are more likely to respond negatively than mothers (63 percent vs. 54 percent).[6]

Research has found that youth begin to understand the concept of gender identity as early as ages one and two. In these earlier stages, youth start to internalize the physical differences (penis, vulva, breasts) between genders. At these ages, children do not necessarily have a full grasp of their own identity or what it means to identify as a certain gender, but they begin to understand what those parts of a body symbolize. By age three, children can label their own gender, and by four they feel quite certain about their gender identity. All children during these years before puberty explore their gender presentation and expression and experiment with toys typical to their gender or of the “opposite” gender. By the time youth reach five to six years of age, they adopt rules about what it means to be a certain gender and what will be accepted by others. By age seven, youth feel a sense of gender constancy and may begin fantasizing about being another gender or having different physical characteristics to align with their identity.[7]

A sign that says "NON-BINARY VISIBILITY."
Figure 9.2. A sign carried at the eighth Pride Parade in Belgrade, Serbia, on September 15, 2019. (CC-BY-SA Bojan Cvetanović.)

Gender-nonconforming youth may then try to reconcile the differences between their sex assigned at birth and their gender identity by making subtle changes to their dress and social appearance. They may alter styles, wearing more masculine or feminine clothing, and use different names or pronouns. Allowing youth to socially transition, or begin to live according to their true gender identity, can have very positive effects. It can reduce their distress and dysphoria, and it can reduce the likelihood of developing depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, suicidal ideation and attempts, self-harm, isolation, homelessness, and incarceration.[8]


In 2013, the Pew Research Center conducted a survey of 1,197 LGBTQ+ adults about their perceptions of society’s acceptance of LGBTQ+ issues and about their experiences of prejudice and discrimination. The study focuses on lesbians, gay men, and bisexuals, but it also contains important information on transgender Americans and LGBTQ+ people of color. Read through the overview of the report at

  • What are three of your main takeaways from the survey? What surprised you, and what did not surprise you?
  • Why is it important for parents and educators to understand the ages at which children and youth begin to understand their own sexuality and gender?
  • What are some of the differences among the experiences of gay men, lesbians, and bisexuals? What about LGBTQ+ people of color versus white LGBTQ+ people? What social structures might help explain those differences?

Family Support or Rejection

Family Support

LGBTQ+ youth whose families have supported them (e.g., showing warmth, enjoying time together, having closeness) have a greater likelihood of positive health outcomes, including healthy self-esteem, general good health, and social support (figure 9.3). Family support is also a protective factor against negative health outcomes in early adulthood, such as depression, suicidal ideation, and substance abuse. Family support has been demonstrated to have a lifelong impact on adult development, quality of life, and reduction of victimization and to improve physical and mental health, including in older adults. Trans youth have also reported long-lasting positive effects from family support; 72 percent of trans youth with parental support reported being more satisfied with their lives than those without (33 percent). These same youth reported more consistent (70 percent) positive mental health outcomes than those whose parents were not supportive (15 percent).[9]

A pride parade, a person holds their fist up with a rainbow wristband.
Figure 9.3. Individuals and families show their support during a pride parade. (Unsplash license, Jakayla Toney.)

Family Rejection

A majority of research on LGBTQ+ youth and their families, however, has emphasized the negative outcomes of family rejection. Rejection is associated with higher levels of emotional distress, suicidal ideation, and suicide attempts. In fact, LGBTQ+ youth whose parents were frequently rejecting during adolescence reported a rate of suicide attempts that was more than eight times that of those with accepting parents. Research also suggests the adolescent and young adult LGBTQ+ community experiences increased homelessness as a result of family rejection, particularly for youth of color. Upon disclosure of sexual orientation, some parents decide to eject their children from the house, forcing them to live with other family members, in friends’ homes, in foster care, in homeless shelters, or on the streets. Of the two million homeless youth in 2014 in the United States, 20–40 percent identify as LGBTQ+. Homeless LGBTQ+ youth may suffer even more negative health outcomes than those not displaced from home.[10]


PFLAG is a national organization begun in 1973 by Jeanne Manford to support parents and loved ones of LGBTQ+ people. Formerly called Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, PFLAG has evolved over time to be inclusive of all LGBTQ+ persons and families. It advocates on behalf of all LGBTQ+ people and also provides a space for loved ones and youth to come together to talk about challenges associated with coming out, affirmatively raising LGBTQ+ children, and respecting and valuing all.[11]

LGBTQ+ Youth and Education

Youth spend more than 50 percent of their waking hours in schools. Schools play an important part in the development of youths’ social skills, educational growth, and cognitive development. The climate of schools can shape the experiences that LGBTQ+ students have throughout their lives and contribute to the overall well-being of their mental health. The experiences and outcomes of LGBTQ+ students from supportive schools show stark differences from those students from schools that are neutral or rejecting (figure 9.4).


Representatives from twenty-one U.S. federal agencies that support programs and services focusing on youth created the website Read about the experiences of LGBTQ+ youth in schools across the United States, and explore some of the resources provided on the “Schools” page at

  • Think about your experiences in kindergarten through twelfth grade or the experiences of a young person you know well. How would you describe the atmosphere for LGBTQ+ students in that school?
  • The website reports high levels of harassment of LGBTQ+ students in schools. Was that your experience too?
  • Did your school use any of the strategies discussed? If so, which of the strategies worked the best? If not, which do you think would have helped?


Three people stand behind a desk with pride cookies.
Figure 9.4. Students at a National Coming Out Day celebration in Seattle, Washington. (CC-BY Seattle Parks and Recreation.)

History of LGBTQ+ Inclusivity in Education

In 1984, Project 10, the first support group for LGBTQ+ students in a formal educational system, was started in a Los Angeles high school by Virginia Uribe, a teacher and counselor. Uribe experienced significant backlash from community members. Project 10’s mission was to create supportive, welcoming, and safe campuses for sexual minority youth. It helped establish the first safe zones and developed training for schools on implementing policy changes to protect youth. Similar efforts began on the East Coast several years later. GLSEN, formerly the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network, was founded in 1990 by a group of teachers in Massachusetts with a passion for improving the quality of education for LGBTQ+ youth. GLSEN has become a leading national organization for ensuring safe and affirming educational systems for LGBTQ+ youth. Also during the 1990s, the first gay-straight alliance (GSA) was established in Salt Lake City, Utah. Despite resistance that continues today from the community, administration, and parents, the Salt Lake City GSA persevered, and schools all across the nation slowly began implementing similar support efforts. As of 2015, nearly 60 percent of students reported having GSAs at their school.[12]

GLSEN has been conducting the National School Climate Survey every year since 2001, and LGBTQ+ content and resources in schools have been gradually increasing every year. Out of almost eighteen thousand LGBTQ+ students sampled by GLSEN’s 2019 National School Climate Survey, about 20 percent reported positive inclusion of LGBTQ+ issues in curricula, most (61.6%) reported that their school had a Gay-Straight Alliance, Gender-Sexuality Alliance (GSA), or Queer-Straight Alliance (QSA) or similar club, and 48.9 percent reported access to library materials with information on LGBTQ+ issues (figure 9.5).[13]

State legislation shapes the experience of students in schools. According to a comprehensive survey published in the Columbia Law Review, twenty states maintain statutes that “prohibit or restrict the discussion of homosexuality in public schools.” Some laws prohibit teachers from “promoting” homosexuality or suggesting that there are safe ways to practice homosexual sex. Others demand that teachers disseminate misinformation, such as “homosexual conduct is a criminal offense” and “homosexual activity [is] primarily responsible for contact with the AIDS virus.” This argument has been present in sex education since the 1980s. Policies such as these promote peer discrimination, harassment, and assault of LGBTQ+ youth.[14]

LGBTQ+ books are laid out on a display.
Figure 9.5. LGBTQ+ resources in a school library. (CC-BY College Library.)

Sex Education

Since the 1980s, sexual health education has focused on an abstinence-based, or abstinence-only until marriage, approach. This approach to sex education promotes sex as an act that occurs between two heterosexual cisgender persons after getting married. Further, same-sex attraction is feared and gender stereotypes are reinforced. Public health organizations and most parents agree that sex education should include discussions of LGBTQ+ identities. Eighty-five percent of parents of high schoolers reported wanting sexual orientation discussed in sex education, and 78 percent of middle school parents wanted sexual orientation discussed in sex education.[15]

In reality, less than 4 percent of LGBTQ+ youth reported any mention of sexual or gender orientation in their health classes, and only 12 percent were told about same-gender relationships. The routine omission of LGBTQ+ issues from sex education curricula constitutes a violation of adolescent human rights.[16] It is a violation because it “robs youth of sexual agency by withholding information that is critical to health and well-being.”[17] Whether habitual or deliberate, the omission of LGBTQ+ topics from health curricula implies that sexual and gender fluidity are not part of the natural biological order and are by default unnatural or perverse.[18]

When discussions of LGBTQ+ issues do appear in health textbooks, the language clearly shifts toward LGBTQ+ persons as the Other and makes it seem as though the sexual experiences of LGBTQ+ youth are vastly different from those of heterosexual and cisgender youth.[19] Although LGBTQ+ youth do have some differences in sexual experiences, including information tailored to their needs can help reduce the risk of sexually transmitted infections. Sex education that affirms LGBTQ+ youth delays the age of first sexual intercourse and reduces

  • unintended teen pregnancy;
  • rates of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections;
  • overall number of sexual partners; and
  • unprotected sex while increasing condom and contraception use.[20]

Neutral and Negative Schools

As of 2020, only seventeen states and the District of Columbia had laws specifically addressing the discrimination, harassment, and bullying of students based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Lack of legislation means interpretation of policies is variable and leaves policy development up to individual districts and schools. Students in schools without policies are at a greater likelihood of experiencing discriminatory practices and are more likely to fear discrimination and bullying in the future. Even more troubling for LGBTQ+ students, five states (Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, and Texas) prohibit presenting any content on LGBTQ+ issues.[21]

Heteronormative socialization becomes more intense as youth age, and earlier exposure to discrimination has been shown to increase the likelihood of victimization for LGBTQ+ youth.[22] A 2015 analysis of the Youth Behavior Risk Surveillance Survey found high rates of peer bullying behavior toward LGBTQ+ youth. Of LGBTQ+ students experiencing discriminatory behaviors,

  • 10 percent were threatened or injured with a weapon on school property;
  • 34 percent were bullied on school property;
  • 28 percent were bullied electronically through social media or other sites;
  • 23 percent experienced sexual dating violence in the prior year;
  • 18 percent experienced physical dating violence; and
  • 18 percent were raped at some point in their lives.[23]

A study of transgender youth found even higher rates of discrimination and violence in several areas:

  • 25 percent experienced physical bullying;
  • 52 percent experienced dating bullying;
  • 35 percent experienced bullying specifically due to gender; and
  • 47 percent experienced bullying specifically due to gender expression.[24]

School bullying has long-term effects on the mental health and quality of life of LGBTQ+ students. Bullying has been shown to be associated with increased depression, anxiety, and suicidality and decreased self-esteem. Bullying can also affect school outcomes by increasing negative attitudes toward school, truancy, and disciplinary problems while lowering GPAs and decreasing interest in pursuing further education (figure 9.6).[25]

A child looks up from a pamphlet that says "NO BULLYING ALLOWED!"
Figure 9.6. The Welsh Assembly Government sponsored the Anti-bullying Respect Tour of 2009. (CC-BY-ND Working Word.)

Educators confirm witnessing discriminatory and violent behavior toward LGBTQ+ students in schools, even as early as elementary school. An alarming 70 percent of LGBTQ+ youth heard antigay speech at school (e.g., “That’s so gay, gay; you’re so gay”), 60 percent heard another type of homophobic remark (e.g., “fag” or “dyke”), and 56 percent heard homophobic remarks from their teachers. Additionally, youth heard comments about gender expression from peers at least 60 percent of the time and from teachers and school staff 71 percent of the time. Many of these behaviors go unnoticed and undocumented. In fact, some educators (between 31 and 42 percent) fail to recognize harassment by other students, such as the use of the word “fag” or the phrase “that’s so gay,” and do not intervene appropriately when it arises. Forty-seven percent of LGBTQ+ students who reported homophobic harassment to a teacher or support staff and over 90 percent of students who heard gender expression discrimination never saw the school staff intervene. Fifty-seven percent of LGBTQ+ youth never reported harassment and assault, because of fear of inaction by the school. Bullying isn’t exclusive to fellow students in schools. Forty-four percent of educators reported hearing other school staff make derogatory comments about or toward LGBTQ+ students, with the highest prevalence of educator bullying and harassment occurring in middle school.[26]


GLSEN’s policy maps ( provide a comprehensive overview of state laws that affirm nondiscrimination or protect transgender, nonbinary, and gender-nonconforming students.

  • Find the state where you live or where you grew up on each of the maps; what kinds of protections does this state offer for kindergarten through grade twelve students?
  • What are the differences between how states treat sexual orientation and gender identity? What trends do you see?
  • Explore other parts of the GLSEN website and pick one resource you find most compelling. Why is this important to you?
Two women smile at the camera, one wears a sign that says "RESPECT TRANS!"
Figure 9.7. The Capital TransPride on May 20, 2017, in Washington, D.C. was hosted by the Studio Theatre. (CC-BY-SA Ted Eytan.)

Michigan, Maine, Virginia, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania have ruled that discriminating against transgender students is a violation of Title IX, which prohibits sex discrimination in schools.[27]

Supportive Movements in LGBTQ+ Education

Laws in some states enforce inclusivity of LGBTQ+ issues across the curriculum. California, for instance, has implemented new legislation supporting inclusion of LGBTQ+ themes in the classroom. The Fair, Accurate, Inclusive, and Respectful (FAIR) Education Act was enacted in early 2012. It mandates an inclusive and nondiscriminatory curriculum, including LGBTQ+ historical events (such as the Stonewall rebellion). The act was passed to curb LGBTQ+ suicides and alleviate bullying.[28]

Other states shortly followed suit. New York and Washington adopted more inclusive laws for their school districts that took effect July 2012.[29] The Dignity for All Students Act requires public school boards in both states to include language regarding sexual orientation and gender expression in their curricula and school policies. A similar law passed in early 2019 requires all New Jersey schools to teach LGBTQ+ history and achievements across the curriculum.

An additional level of protection exists for transgender students that is based on federal law. The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act prohibits schools from disclosing a student’s transgender status. Additionally, the law allows youth to amend school records if information is “inaccurate, misleading, or in violation of the student’s rights of privacy,” which enables students to change their name and gender marker on their transcripts.[30] The Office for Civil Rights of the Department of Health and Human Services can investigate complaints made by students and parents. In cases of discrimination, the Department of Education can sue the school district and deny federal funding.[31]

Supportive Schools

Over the last several decades, with sociocultural changes across the United States toward greater LGBTQ+ acceptance, schools have increasingly become more positive spaces for youth, some more than others. Positive schools typically have several key assets, including an environment where youth interact with caring and accepting educators and staff. Other assets include supportive school groups, inclusive curricula, and comprehensive policies to reduce school harassment and bullying. Supportive schools make it a standard policy for all youth to be more accepting and inclusive of LGBTQ+ students and are less likely to tolerate discriminatory and violent behavior between students. LBGTQ+ students in more supportive environments are less likely to have depression and suicidal ideation, use drugs, and be truant.[32]

The Role of Educators and Other Support Staff

Educators play an integral role in healthy youth development and increase feelings of safety for LGBTQ+ students. When cisgender and heterosexual teachers become allies of LGBTQ+ students and advocate for and support them, these students increase their academic achievement and their quality of life. Some educators even advance their allyship further and mentor students, sponsor LGBTQ+ student organizations, connect LGBTQ+ students to community resources, and openly advocate for inclusion despite consequences imposed by employers (e.g., probation or loss of employment). Studies on transgender youth have found that when school staff are more supportive, trans youth feel safer because the teachers are more likely to stop harassment when they see it. Including material on LGBTQ+ lives in course content, such as sex education, can have a large impact on the mental and emotional well-being of LGBTQ+ youth.[33]


Virginia Uribe, a retired teacher and counselor in the Los Angeles Unified School District, started Project 10, the first LGBTQ+ support program for students. On a 2015 episode of the MSNBC web series Fearless (, she describes the obstacles she faced when she founded the program in 1984 and some of the lessons she learned. Uribe has earned numerous awards for her work on behalf of LGBTQ+ youth.

  • Why was Project 10 such an important organization?
  • Who were her early allies and advocates, and who was unable to support the project—or even attacked it? Why?
  • What can we learn from comparing the environment that Uribe worked in during the late 1980s and early 1990s with the environment for LGBTQ+ youth now?

LGBTQ+ Clubs

LGBTQ+ clubs, originally known as gay-straight alliances, are school-based organizations that enhance the school community for LGBTQ+ youth and their allies and are often advised by an allied or self-identifying teacher at the school. LGBTQ+ clubs promote advocacy, encourage youth leadership, and allow youths to socialize in a supportive and nondiscriminatory environment. Developed in Massachusetts during the 1980s, LGBTQ+ clubs originally focused on the needs of sexual minority youth. National organizations, such as the GSA Network and GLSEN, and several state-focused organizations were influential in spreading LGBTQ+ clubs to more schools across the United States (figure 9.8). More recently, with the increasing emphasis on the needs of transgender youth, groups have been adjusting their focus to include the needs and rights of gender minority students in their missions. Some groups, for example, have altered their names to Gender-Sexuality Alliance or even Queer Student Alliance to encompass a broad spectrum of identities.[34]

Having LGBTQ+ clubs in school is one of the largest protective factors for LGBTQ+ youth. Research on victimization, drug use, and mental health found reduced instances of victimization and harassment and increased feelings of support and connectivity, leading to reductions in anxiety and depression. Students felt more connected, empowered, and supported by their schools and other adults, and they were less inclined to feel marginalized and victimized by peers and school-based adults.[35]

A rainbow sign says "GSAs SAVE LIVES."
Figure 9.8. Gay-straight alliances save lives. Rally in support of Bill 24 in Calgary, Canada, on November 12, 2017. (CC-BY JmacPherson.)

Whereas most LGBTQ+ clubs are embraced and supported in schools, some receive pushback from the administration, community, school boards, and parents fearing the club may encourage homosexuality. In the most extreme cases, some opponents have gone as far as banning all school clubs. Unfortunately, resistance occurs most often in school districts where LGBTQ+ students need these services the most. For example, in 2003, in an effort to eliminate controversy after approving a LGBTQ+ student group at a high school in Boyd County, Kentucky, a principal banned all noncurricular clubs at the school for the remainder of the year.[36]

Bathrooms and Locker Rooms

Beginning in the 2010s, controversy about the use of bathrooms and locker rooms for gender minority youth increased. As of 2016, over half the states in the United States were suing over the rights of transgender students to use the bathroom aligned with their gender. LGBTQ+ youth perceive bathrooms as the most unsafe spaces within their school building. Although not all schools can undergo a full renovation to include a new gender-neutral restroom, schools can take a current restroom and relabel it as gender neutral for all students to use (see an example in figure 9.9). Gender-neutral or single-stall bathrooms increase the sense of security of LGBTQ+ youth. They provide a safe space for youth to use the restroom without having to choose between which bathroom to use or anticipate the negative backlash if someone who is unaccepting is inside. Unfortunately, gender minority youth are often the main advocates for bathrooms accommodating the needs of transgender persons. Having other supportive systems in place, such as educators who are accepting or LGBTQ+ clubs, often encourages gender minority youth to speak up and advocate for their needs.[37]

A sign next to a door that says "GENDER NEUTRAL RESTROOM."
Figure 9.9. A bathroom for all genders and abilities. (CC-BY-SA Jeffrey Beall.)

Physical education courses are particularly difficult aspects of school for LGBTQ+ students. A study found that more than half of LGBTQ+ youth had been assaulted or harassed in physical education classes at least once because of their sexual orientation (52.8 percent) or gender expression (50.9 percent). Often this mistreatment is due to gender socialization about how masculine or feminine one should be and can often lead to difficulties for gender minority youth when using locker rooms and other facilities aligned with their gender identity.[38]

Contrary to media presentations about the danger from transgender people using bathrooms aligned with their gender, it is gender minority youth who are at significantly greater risk for experiencing trauma and violence in these public spaces. Eleven percent of LGBTQ+ youth never feel safe in a locker room, with discomfort steeply increasing for transgender and nonbinary youth in these spaces. Forty-one percent of transgender boys, 34 percent of transgender girls, and 31 percent of nonbinary youth never feel safe in locker rooms. Slightly more than half (51 percent) of transgender youth have never used the locker room aligned with their gender identity, instead either using the locker room aligned with their sex assigned at birth or not participating in physical education activities. A national study conducted by the Human Rights Campaign found that one-third of all LGBTQ+ students do not attend physical education courses, 39 percent avoid locker rooms, and 23 percent avoid all school athletic facilities and fields, all of which can lead to further isolation and ostracization.[39]

Challenges of Educators

Educators face several challenges when addressing the needs of LGBTQ+ students. A study found that diversity courses for preservice teachers, school counselors, and school psychologists covered race, class, and (dis)ability but failed to mention the needs of LGBTQ+ students. Ultimately, this leads to educators feeling unprepared to work with LGBTQ+ students, being unable to adjust their interactions, and wondering how to advocate for students on these issues. Even after getting licensed, many education professionals are not able to access comprehensive professional development opportunities and training, despite their interest. Many professionals have to find the appropriate resources for themselves.[40]

Community opposition can also significantly influence educators’ willingness to support youth. Despite personal acceptance of LGBTQ+ youth, some educators are reluctant to indicate their support of LGBTQ+ students out of fear of negative parental response, administrative backlash, and possible loss of employment. In particularly conservative areas, and in religiously affiliated schools, teachers may not have permission from the administration to demonstrate their support. Evaluations of teacher-candidate training found that, despite research stating the importance of inclusion and school safety for LGBTQ+ students, many teachers would be unwilling to advocate for the needs of LGBTQ+ students or were unwilling to discuss sexual and gender minority identities publicly in the classroom. Although the culture of schools has been improving, schools still remain politically and religiously charged institutions and a battleground for the rights of LGBTQ+ students.[41]


LGBTQ+ youth have several means of support and affirmation that can lead to positive health outcomes into their adulthood. Childhood through adolescence is a critical stage of development for all youth, but for LGBTQ+ youth the failure of any one support system (family, school, peers, sports, etc.) can have lifelong consequences. With national trends across all youth systems moving toward greater levels of acceptance and with the power of resilience, LGBTQ+ youth are equipped now more than ever to have positive and productive lives. All adults can be advocates for the rights and needs of LGBTQ+ youth.

Profile: LGBTQ+ Inclusion in PreK–12 Teaching and Learning

Sabia Prescott

Historically, prekindergarten–twelfth-grade schools in the United States have not been designed to serve students of gender or sexual minorities. From laws regulating bathrooms and sports to severe restrictions on instruction, policies in many states do not support LGBTQ+ students or teachers. According to a 2019 national survey of LGBTQ+ students from GLSEN, these barriers often translate to lower educational outcomes and graduation rates and to higher rates of anxiety and depression among LGBTQ+ youth.[42]

When polled in the GLSEN survey, only one in five LGBTQ+ students reported that they were taught positive representations of LGBTQ+ people, history, or events in their classes. Well more than half (67 percent) of students reported that they did not have access to information about topics related to LGBTQ+ issues in their school library, through the internet on school computers, or in their textbooks or other assigned readings. At the same time, less than half of students (42 percent) said their administration was supportive of LGBTQ+ students, and 48 percent said they would be somewhat or very uncomfortable talking with a teacher. Because the National Center for Education Statistics does not report on gender and sexuality in schools, self-reported data from the GLSEN survey is the most robust information available.

Compounding general trends, the COVID-19 pandemic has worsened mental health of LGBTQ+ students and seen a drastic rise in politicization of inclusive education efforts. A record amount of legislation has been introduced in states across the country that would prohibit or severely limit representation and discussions of LGBTQ+ identities in kindergarten–twelfth-grade curricula and classrooms. In a majority of U.S. states, bills have been proposed that aim to restrict discussions of LGBTQ+ people and their history or create privacy policies that would jeopardize queer students’ well-being, such as in Florida, Georgia, and Texas.[43]

At the same time, a handful of states maintain affirmative laws, requiring kindergarten–twelfth-grade curricula to include accurate LGBTQ+ history. By the end of 2019, four states—California, New Jersey, Colorado, and Illinois—had mandates requiring LGBTQ+ inclusion in prekindergarten–twelfth-grade curricula. The state legislature in New York has recently moved in the same direction. On the opposite end of the spectrum, five states—Texas, Oklahoma, Mississippi, North Carolina, and Louisiana—maintain education laws forbidding teachers from portraying LGBTQ+ people or identities in a positive light, if at all. These laws, known as “no promo homo” laws, act in stark contrast with the states working toward statutorily mandated inclusion. Teachers in states with “no promo homo” laws may still work toward engaging and supporting their queer and trans students, but their work necessarily looks different from that in states with supportive legislation.[44]

Stories of this harmful legislation have recently dominated headlines, but LGBTQ+ inclusion is happening and not only at the state level. Just a few years ago, a majority of education leaders were not thinking or talking about queer and trans students. Today, in part because of the steep politicization, school leaders, parents, librarians, media specialists, and more, have taken up the public fight for LGBTQ+ inclusion. Districts in states with restrictive laws are fighting these laws at the local level, through school board elections, local advocacy groups, and even mayoral races. If resistance toward LGBTQ+ inclusion is becoming louder, so too is support from allies, educators, and students. Though these laws affect what educators can and can’t teach, teachers can do many things to facilitate inclusive learning in a variety of political and social settings. The remainder of this profile explores how inclusive teaching and learning look in practice and what barriers exist for teachers doing this work.

Inclusive Student Learning

Inclusion as an approach, although crucial, presents a unique challenge for queer students. To create an inclusive classroom that meets the needs of all students, schools must be able to identify and quantify those students’ needs. To do that, those students must be visible. If schools can’t identify the students they’re trying to serve, they likely can’t identify the supports they need. But queer students are often not public about the process of coming to terms with their identities, especially at a young age. What’s more, they exist across all other human demographics and therefore can’t be lumped together under one group that looks or sounds the same. Because of difficulties in data collection of LGBTQ+ folks—including safety concerns when self-reporting, changing identities, and institutional bias—many queer students are unaccounted for in student data.

For these reasons, much of the existing data on LGBTQ+ students, such as GLSEN’s, are self-reported. Its survey of twenty-three thousand students ages thirteen to twenty-one found that 95 percent of students reported hearing discriminatory remarks frequently at school, 63 percent reported hearing those remarks from teachers or staff, and 17 percent of students were prohibited from discussing or writing about LGBTQ+ topics in school assignments.[45] Students are not only, then, told the challenges queer people face are invalid but hear this message from the school policies that govern them, the teachers who educate them, and the material they’re taught.

Recognizing the power of inclusive learning materials to address this problem, some states are exploring solutions through gender-inclusive history and social science curricula. Gender inclusive, in this sense, broadly describes curricula and other learning materials that teach about the lived experiences of a wide range of LGBTQ+ people and identities. This can be content focused specifically on LGBTQ+ people and identities or content not focused on them, such as biology and English language arts. For example, an inclusive biology class might use nongendered language or examine the assumptions that we make when classifying genetic phenomena into categories such as natural and unnatural. A biology course that goes beyond simple inclusion to affirming and validating might explore the bias behind what are often regarded as objective, scientific discoveries, a bias that shapes the ways we conceptualize DNA and genetic makeup. A common misconception about queer and trans inclusion is that it is reserved for only certain academic areas and not others. In reality, every subject, topic, and conversation can be made inclusive and affirming. Indeed, all subject matter is shaped by gender and sexuality biases, regardless of whether we are aware of it.

When California passed its inclusive history–social science framework in 2016, it was the first state to make an attempt to guide creation of textbooks that cover LGBTQ+ people and people with disabilities. The vote came five years after the state’s passage of the FAIR Education Act, in 2011, and textbooks using the framework were implemented for the first time during the 2019–2020 school year. Not only was the publishing process arduous, but the content creation itself required multiple committees of history experts, educators, and advocates to debate the exact content and wording that ultimately went to a vote. The resulting content is groundbreakingly comprehensive and now published in textbooks used throughout the state. Unfortunately, the materials in California are proprietary and therefore not available to other states looking to implement a similar curriculum.

To be inclusive of gender and sexual minorities, student-facing materials must incorporate LGBTQ+ characters, identities, and histories. They should present accurate and impartial information to students about not only what queer and transgender identities are but how they determine privilege and oppression, in addition to describing the implicit biases that help sustain this oppression. Inclusive content can be specifically about LGBTQ+ people or not, but it always includes queer and gender-diverse examples, names, stories, and images.

Teachers and school administrators can take specific steps to intentionally create more inclusive learning environments. As more states move toward inclusive curricula, the need for comparable educator support is growing rapidly. Three of the biggest challenges to inclusion in schools is preparing teachers to teach inclusive content and create inclusive learning environments, providing them the resources to do so, and supporting them in these efforts.

Inclusive Teaching Practices

In recent years there has been a growing push among prekindergarten–twelfth-grade educators toward culturally responsive teaching, or teaching that recognizes students’ particular strengths in the classroom and leverages them to make learning experiences more relevant and effective. Countering the notion that teachers should cover only what is in the assigned texts regardless of students or context, culturally responsive teaching explores narratives beyond those that have historically been told in textbooks. Not to be confused with the current battle over what has been dubbed critical race theory, cultural responsiveness aims to offer a variety of perspectives, experiences, and lenses to students for understanding content.

With the push toward culturally responsive teaching has come a wider understanding of the value of representation among educators, in the classroom and in the curriculum, as well as a growing popularity of the concept of windows and mirrors. Rudine Sims Bishop, professor emerita of education at the Ohio State University, first developed this idea in 1990.[46] She suggested that curricula should offer students both a window to lives and experiences different from theirs and a mirror so they can see themselves reflected in the material. The latter is particularly important for students who belong to one or more minority groups: by no coincidence, students of color, those with disabilities, and LGBTQ+ students seldom see themselves reflected or represented in prekindergarten–twelfth-grade curricula.

The growing support for cultural competence and representation is situated between this single-narrative paradigm—in which existing curricula teach through the lens of only one identity—and current knowledge of what it takes for students to succeed. We know that students must feel a sense of safety, respect, and belonging in schools in order to learn. We know validation from teachers and space for students to develop inquiry into their own identities are critical to their social-emotional development. And yet many schools are falling short of meeting these needs, either by failing to address them or by addressing basic safety instead of pedagogy, rather than both.

The Northwestern University professor Sally Nuamah argues in her book How Girls Achieve that educating young girls takes more than simply forging paths in schools that are not designed for them. Rather, it takes active and intentional unteaching of harmful lessons ingrained in them long before they ever arrived in the classroom. It takes teaching specific skills—such as strategy and transgression—to prepare them to navigate a world that relies on their lack of these skills. This idea should also be applied to teaching and learning for LGBTQ+ students. Queer students as a group face similar challenges in regard to the lack of representation they see in curricula and the unconscious bias with which they are often taught. Teaching and engaging them requires teachers and school leaders alike to actively unlearn tired stereotypes and interrogate their own understanding of what is normal and given.[47]

The term inclusive learning environments has grown more popular in recent years alongside the push for LGBTQ+ acceptance in schools and the movement toward culturally responsive teaching. Inclusive, in this sense, refers to classrooms or other learning environments in which educators, librarians, and school staff recognize their own privilege as starting points for difficult conversations. It also requires that educators be willing and prepared to use affirming language and that they support a variety of narratives that challenge students to open lines of inquiry into cultural assumptions.

When it comes to queer and trans students specifically, an inclusive learning environment is one in which educators take steps to understand straight and cisgender privilege, how it overlaps with other types of privilege, and what dynamic it creates in a classroom. It is one in which educators are open to learning about different identities, so they have context and language to talk about them. It is also one in which educators have the time, space, and school support to understand LGBTQ+ history, at least at a basic level, and how it informs current understandings of queer identities.

Although this all might sound like a heavy load to put on teachers who are already notoriously short on time and resources, the barrier of entry to inclusion work is low. For example, educators can start by making small but intentional changes to the way they address groups of students, by using gender-neutral phrases such as “folks,” “everyone,” or “y’all” instead of “boys and girls,” “ladies and gentlemen,” or “you guys.” This type of change is minimal but meaningful, and it signals to students who do not identify as male or female or are questioning their gender identity that they belong. It also models and normalizes inclusive language for all students, regardless of identity. For smaller content changes such as this, having editable materials, rather than textbooks, can be especially useful.

Inclusive professional learning materials are those that prepare educators to create learning environments in which inclusion is normal and expected. Such resources could be texts on relevant and contextual queer history, an explanation of some of the challenges that queer and trans people face more broadly, or simply information on language, pronouns, and why they matter. Ideally, these resources recognize nuance and diversity within queer communities and engage teachers around intentionally anti-racist queer inclusion. For early and elementary educators, this might be resources that explain the importance of including Black and brown same-sex families in a lesson on family trees. For secondary teachers, it might be adding to the class library foundational writings by Black and brown authors, such as Audre Lorde or Gloria Anzaldúa. Exposure to a diversity of queer ideas and narratives is critical for students, those who may see themselves represented in these stories and those who do not, to disrupt the single-story narrative.


The disproportionate educational outcomes that LGBTQ+ students face are the result of many compounding factors, such as a lack of representation and support in school, politicization of their existence, and systemic bias. Inclusive materials remain a critical part of the effort to address these challenges and are the focus of an increasing number of efforts. Although teaching and learning are intrinsically tied, it is important to recognize the different needs between student- and teacher-facing materials. Instituting inclusive curriculum laws and policies calls for inclusive professional learning, because if teachers are not adequately prepared, inclusive content will do very little to create more inclusive learning environments.

Key Questions

  • What does research tell us about the process of coming out in terms of both gender and sexual identity?
  • What is the range of responses to LGBTQ+ youth if they choose to disclose their gender or sexuality identities to family members? How do these responses affect LGBTQ+ peoples’ lives?
  • What are the differences between supportive and inclusive schools and those needing improvements?
  • What are some health and education disparities for minoritized gender and sexuality identities, and why do they exist?

Research Resources

Compiled by Rae-Anne Montague and Melody Scagnelli-Townley

  • Discuss: Choose one or two resources listed in this chapter, and discuss them in relation to what you have learned about education and LGBTQ+ youth.
  • Present: Choose a key topic or event found in this chapter. Then locate one or two resources from the “Quick Dip” and “Deep Dive” sections and develop a presentation for the class. Explain the significance of the topic, and provide additional details that support your explanation.
  • Create: What idea, person, or event from this chapter really moved you? Do more research on that idea, person, or event based on the resources in this chapter. Then create your own artistic response. Consider writing a poem, drawing a picture, or editing a photograph in a way that demonstrates both what you have learned and how you feel about the issue or person.
  • Debate: Find a partner or split into groups, and choose a topic, idea, or controversy from this chapter. Have each partner or group present an opposing perspective on it. Use at least two of the resources in this chapter to support your argument.

Quick Dip: Online Resources

“Chosen Family: Stories of Queer Resilience,” by Tyler Oakley

Tyler Oakley shares people’s stories of their LGBTQ+ experience in a series of videos at

Curricula Inclusive of LGBTQ+ People, from GLSEN

GLSEN is an educational organization that conducts research and partners with decision makers to ensure inclusive, safe school policies, empower student leaders via activities like Day of Silence and Ally Week, and create developmentally appropriate resources and curricula for educators. For its resources, see

GALE, the Global Alliance for LGBT Education

This international organization is a learning community that promotes full inclusion of LGBTQ+ people by “identifying, enhancing and sharing educational expertise.” See

“The Genderbread Person,” from Hues, a Global Justice Collective

Using a gingerbread image, this genderbread person is a teaching tool that helps explain the differences among gender identity, gender expression, anatomical sex, gender, and sexual orientation. The site also includes lesson plans, activities, and essays. All content on the site,, is free for others to use.

GSA Network

This national organization for LGBTQ+ racial and gender justice trains youth to organize gay-straight alliances, mobilize, and advocate for an intersectional movement for healthier communities and safer schools. It provides assistance for teachers and advisors starting an alliance, registering an alliance, and beginning a campaign. See

Journal of LGBT Youth

This quarterly journal presents peer-reviewed scholarly articles, practitioner-based essays, policy analyses, and revealing narratives from LGBTQ+ young people. For the most current issue, see

LGBTQ Writers in Schools, from Lambda Literary

Since 2015, Lambda Literary has joined with the New York City Department of Education to bring award-winning LGBTQ+ writers into schools to discuss their books and lives. Every participating student receives a free copy of the book discussed. To learn more, visit

“Movies with LGBTQ+ Characters for Teens,” from Common Sense Media

From goofy rom-coms and musicals to powerful documentaries and dramas, the picks in this list celebrate love, perseverance, and real-life icons. Other lists are available for TV, games, books, music, and more, from


This national organization advocates on behalf of all LGBTQ+ people and is where loved ones and youth can talk about coming out, affirmatively raising LGBTQ+ children, and other relevant matters; visit for more information.

“Rainbow Book List,” from American Library Association.

The “Rainbow Book List” presents an annual bibliography of quality books with significant and authentic LGBTQ+ content. Titles on this list are for people from birth to eighteen years old. For the latest list, see

Trevor Project

The Trevor Project provides crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to LGBTQ+ young people under age twenty-five. In the United States, dial 1-866-488-7386, or visit its website,

Welcoming Schools, of the HRC Foundation

The Welcoming Schools program sponsored by the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) provides lesson plans, resources, and trainers to work with schools and districts across the United States to improve school climate with gender and LGBTQ+ inclusive training. See

We Need Diverse Books

We Need Diverse Books is a grassroots organization that strives for change in the publishing industry leading to literature that reflects the lives of all young people. See

Deep Dive: Books and Film

Its Still Elementary: Reexamining LGBT Issues in Schools, directed by Debra Chasnoff

This film takes a look back at the controversial and revolutionary 1996 film Its Elementary: Talking about Gay Issues in School. The original documentary provided practical advice about how to talk with elementary school students about gay issues. After it aired on PBS, the film and the filmmakers came under attack by the religious right. Its Still Elementary documents that controversy and follows up with the students and teachers from the first film to see how learning about gay issues in a positive environment affected their lives (United States: New Day Films, 2007).

A Place in the Middle, written by Hinaleimoana Wong-Kalu, directed by Dean Hamer and Joe Wilson

In this true story, an eleven-year-old girl in Hawaii yearns to join the boys-only hula group at her school. A friendly teacher empowers her through traditional culture. This educational film encourages students to think about diversity and inclusion and discusses how to prevent bullying (United States: Pacific Islanders in Communications, Independent Television Service, and the Ford Foundation, 2015,

Queer, There, and Everywhere: 23 People Who Changed the World, by Sarah Prager

This collection of true stories is aimed at teen readers and uncovers a rich queer heritage that encompasses diverse cultures and eras (New York: HarperCollins, 2017).

Queer Brown Voices: Personal Narratives of Latina/o LGBT Activism, edited by Uriel Quesada, Letitia Gomez, and Salvador Vidal-Ortiz

Personal narratives from fourteen Latinx LGBTQ+ activists illuminate a history that has received little attention (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2015).

Raising My Rainbow: Adventures in Raising a Fabulous, Gender Creative Son, by Lori Duron

The author discusses raising a gender-nonconforming child, its effect on family dynamics, the perceptions by others, and her son’s reception in public education (New York: Broadway Books, 2013).

The Right to Be Out: Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity in Americas Public Schools, by Stuart Biegel

The second edition, updated in 2018, reviews the legal developments concerning curricula and pedagogy, transgender issues in educational environments, LGBTQ+ student participation in school sports, policy development on school bullying, and the right to be out for LGBTQ+ kindergarten–twelfth-grade educators. Biegel explains the social, political, and personal tensions of being out in school in the contexts of First Amendment and Fourteenth Amendment rights and that LGBTQ+ issues in educational environments affect all people. Biegel recommends strategies to provide safe environments for LGBTQ+ students and educators to thrive. The first edition provides valuable case studies of how the courts addressed bullying and workplace discrimination in kindergarten–twelfth-grade environments, and how school administrators responded to the court decisions. Both editions are must reads for students in all education programs (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press).

Top 250 LGBTQ Books for Teens: Coming Out, Being Out, and the Search for Community, by Michael Cart and Christine A. Jenkins

This book identifies and summarizes titles that address important topics like coming out, being out, and community. The authors cover fiction, graphic novels, and general nonfiction aimed at readers in middle school and high school. Recent publications as well as classics are included (Chicago: Huron Street Press, 2015).


cisnormativity. Viewing all people as cisgender, or those whose gender aligns with the sex assigned at birth.

coming out. Also known as coming out of the closet; a process in the lives of LGBTQ+ people of disclosing one’s sexual orientation or gender identity to others.

gay-straight alliances. School-based organizations of LGBTQ+ youth and allies who meet to support LGBTQ+ students. This can involve advocacy and activism, as well as a social component.

heteronormativity. Viewing all people as heterosexual, or those who feel attraction to the “opposite” sex.

identity recognition. When LGBTQ+ individuals first identify their sexual or gender identity.

PFLAG. Formerly known as Parents, Family, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays; an organization that supports the family and friends of LGBTQ+ people as they seek to understand and affirm their LGBTQ+ loved ones.

Title IX. A federal law banning discrimination based on sex at schools receiving federal funding. This includes harassment and discrimination for failing to conform to gender expectations and is interpreted to often include LGBTQ+ persons.

transitioning. The process—social, legal, and/or medical—one goes through to affirm one’s gender identity.

Media Attributions

  1. D. L. Espelage and S. M. Swearer, “Addressing Research Gaps in the Intersection between Homophobia and Bullying,” School Psychology Review 37 (2008): 155–159.
  2. C. Ryan, D. Huebner, R. Diaz, and J. Sanchez, “Family Rejection as a Predictor of Negative Health Outcomes in White and Latino Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Young Adults,” Pediatrics 123 (2009): 346–352; C. Ryan, S. Russell, D. Huebner, R. Diaz, and J. Sanchez, “Family Acceptance in Adolescence and the Health of LGBT Young Adults,” Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Nursing 23 (2010): 205–219.
  3. For percentages of youth identifying as LGBTQ+, see M. E. Eisenberg, A. L. Gower, B. J. McMorris, G. N. Rider, G. Shea, and E. Coleman, “Risk and Protective Factors in the Lives of Transgender/Gender Nonconforming Adolescents,” Journal of Adolescent Health 61 (2017): 521–526; and M. M. Johns, R. Lowry, J. Andrzejewski, L. C. Barrios, Z. Demissie, T. McManus, C. N. Rasberry, et al., “Transgender Identity and Experiences of Violence Victimization, Substance Use, Suicide Risk, and Sexual Risk Behaviors among High School Students—19 States and Large Urban School Districts, 2017,” Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report 68, no. 3 (2017): 67,; for labels staying consistent, see V. M. Silenzio, J. B. Pena, P. R. Duberstein, J. Cerel, and K. L. Knox, “Sexual Orientation and Risk Factors for Suicidal Ideation and Suicide Attempts among Adolescents and Young Adults,” American Journal of Public Health 97 (2007): 2017–2019; and for estimates of those who identify as lesbian, gay, or bisexual, see G. Gates, “How Many People Are Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender?,” 2011,
  4. Human Rights Campaign, Growing Up LGBT in America: HRC Youth Survey Report Key Findings (Washington, DC: Human Rights Campaign, 2013); Pew Research Center, A Survey of LGBT Americans: Attitudes, Experiences, and Values in Changing Times (Washington, DC: Pew Research Center, 2013); for youth who resist identity-based labels, see R. C. Savin-Williams, The New Gay Teenager (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2005); and M. A. Wagaman, “Self-Definition as Resistance: Understanding Identities among LGBTQ Emerging Adults,” Journal of LGBT Youth 13, no. 3 (2016): 207–230.
  5. J. L. Herman, A. R. Flores, and K. K. O'Neill, “How Many Adults and Youth Identify as Transgender in the United States?,” 2022,
  6. Human Rights Campaign, “2018 LGBTQ Youth Report,” 2018,; for mothers’ and fathers’ responses, see A. H. Grossman, A. R. D’Augelli, T. J. Howell, and S. Hubbard, “Parent Reactions to Transgender Youth Gender Nonconforming Expression and Identity,” Journal of Gay and Lesbian Social Services 18, no. 1 (2005): 3–16.
  7. C. L. Martin and D. N. Ruble, “Patterns of Gender Development,” Annual Review of Psychology 61 (2010): 353–381.
  8. For reducing distress and dysphoria, see K. R. Olson, L. Durwood, and K. A. McLaughlin, “Mental Health of Transgender Children Who Are Supported in Their Identities,” Pediatrics 137 (2018), e20181436; for reducing the likelihood of depression and so on, see A. D’Augelli, A. Grossman, and M. Starks, “Parents’ Awareness of Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Youths’ Sexual Orientation,” Journal of Marriage and Family 67 (2005): 474–482; R. Garofalo, J. Deleon, E. Osmer, M. Doll, and G. W. Harper, “Overlooked, Misunderstood and at Risk: Exploring the Lives and HIV Risk of Ethnic Minority Male-to-Female Transgender Youth,” Journal of Adolescent Health 38 (2006): 230–236; A. L. Roberts, M. Rosario, H. L. Corliss, K. C. Koenen, and S. Bryn Austin, “Childhood Gender Nonconformity: A Risk Indicator for Childhood Abuse and Posttraumatic Stress in Youth,” Pediatrics 129 (2012): 410–417; W. C. Skidmore, J. A. W. Linsenmeier, and J. M. Bailey, “Gender Nonconformity and Psychological Distress in Lesbians and Gay Men,” Archives of Sexual Behavior 35 (2006): 685–697; R. Toomey, C. Ryan, R. Diaz, N. Card, and S. Russell, “Gender-Nonconforming Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Youth: School Victimization and Young Adult Psychosocial Adjustment,” Developmental Psychology 46 (2010): 1580–1589; and R. Travers, G. Bauer, J. Pyne, K. Bradley, L. Gale, and M. Papadimitriou, Impacts of Strong Parental Support for Trans Youth: A Report Prepared for Children’s Aid Society of Toronto and Delisle Youth Services, .
  9. For family as protection against negative health outcomes in early adulthood, see B. L. Needham and E. L. Austin, “Sexual Orientation, Parental Support, and Health during the Transition to Young Adulthood,” Journal of Youth and Adolescence 39, no. 10 (2010): 1189–1198,; and Ryan et al., “Family Acceptance in Adolescence and the Health of LGBT Young Adults”; for family support as a lifelong impact, see P. Zaninotto, E. Falaschetti, and A. Sacker, “Age Trajectories of Quality of Life among Older Adults: Results from the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing,” Quality of Life Research 18 (2009): 1301–1309,; and Y. Luo, J. Xu, E. Granberg, and W. M. Wentworth, “A Longitudinal Study of Social Status, Perceived Discrimination, and Physical and Emotional Health among Older Adults,” Research on Aging 34 (2012): 275–301,; and for trans youth and family support, see Travers et al., Impacts of Strong Parental Support for Trans Youth.
  10. For negative outcomes after family rejection, see D. Bontempo and A. D’Augelli, “Effects of At-School Victimization and Sexual Orientation on Lesbian, Gay, or Bisexual Youths’ Health Risk Behavior,” Journal of Adolescent Health 30 (2002): 364–374; A. H. Grossman, A. R. D’Augelli, and T. S. O’Connell, “Being Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and 60 or Older in North America,” Journal of Lesbian and Gay Social Services 13 (2001): 23–40,; Pew Research Center, A Survey of LGBT Americans; Ryan et al., “Family Rejection as a Predictor of Negative Health Outcomes”; and Toomey et al., “Gender-Nonconforming Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Youth”; for rejection being associated with emotional distress, see D’Augelli, Grossman, and Starks, “Parents’ Awareness of Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Youths’ Sexual Orientation”; A. D’Augelli, S. Hershberger, and N. Pilkington, “Suicidality Patterns and Sexual Orientation-Related Factors among Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Youths,” Suicide and Life Threatening Behavior 31 (2001): 250–264; G. Remafedi, “Suicidality in a Venue-Based Sample of Young Men Who Have Sex with Men,” Journal of Adolescent Health 31 (2002): 305–310; and Ryan et al., “Family Rejection as a Predictor of Negative Health Outcomes”; for suicidal ideation, see D’Augelli, Grossman, and Starks, “Parents’ Awareness of Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Youths’ Sexual Orientation”; D’Augelli, Hershberger, and Pilkington, “Suicidality Patterns and Sexual Orientation-Related Factors among Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Youths”; and Remafedi, “Suicidality in a Venue-Based Sample of Young Men Who Have Sex with Men”; for suicide attempts, see Ryan et al., “Family Rejection as a Predictor of Negative Health Outcomes”; for homelessness, see N. Ray, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Youth: An Epidemic of Homelessness (New York: National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Policy Institute and the National Coalition for the Homeless, 2006); and for percentage of homeless youth, see S. K. Choi, B. D. M. Wilson, J. Shelton, and G. Gates, Serving Our Youth 2015: The Needs and Experiences of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Questioning Youth Experiencing Homelessness (Los Angeles, CA: Williams Institute / True Colors Fund, 2015),
  11. “Our Story,” PFLAG, accessed April 28, 2021,
  12. GLSEN, “Policy Maps,” accessed 2015,
  13. J. G. Kosciw, E.A. Greytak, N. M. Giga, C. Villenas, and D. J. Danischewski, The 2015 National School Climate Survey: The Experiences of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Youth in Our Nation’s Schools (New York: GLSEN, 2016),
  14. C. Rosky, “Anti-Gay Curriculum Laws,” Columbia Law Review 117 (2017): 1461–1541,; for these policies’ effects, see GLSEN, “Laws Prohibiting ‘Promotion of Homosexuality’ in Schools: Impacts and Implications,” research brief (New York: GLSEN, 2018),
  15. For an abstinence-based approach, see J. S. Santelli, L. M. Kantor, S. A. Grilo, I. S. Speizer, L. D. Lindberg, J. Heitel, A. T. Shalet, et al., “Abstinence-Only-until-Marriage: An Updated Review of U.S. Policies and Programs and Their Impact,” Journal of Adolescent Health 61 (2017): 273–280; for reinforcement of gender stereotypes, see Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States, “Pride or Prejudice: How Fear-Based Abstinence-Only-until-Marriage Curricula Present Sexual Orientation,” 2008,; and for percentages of parents who favor sex education, see “Parents and Teens Talk about Sexuality: A National Poll” (New York: Planned Parenthood Federation of America and Center for Latino Adolescent and Family Health, 2015).
  16. For mentions in health classes, see L. K. Gowen and N. Winges-Yanez, “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and Questioning Youths’ Perspectives of Inclusive School-Based Sexuality Education," Journal of Sex Research 51 (2014): 788–800,; for same-gender relationships, see R. P. Jones and D. Cox, How Race and Religion Shape Millennial Attitudes on Sexuality and Reproductive Health: Findings from the 2015 Millennials, Sexuality, and Reproductive Health Survey (Washington, DC: Public Religion Research Institute, 2015); and for omission from sex education curricula, see A. M. Miller and R. A. Schleifer, “Through the Looking Glass: Abstinence-Only-until-Marriage Programs and Their Impact on Adolescent Human Rights,” Sexuality Research and Social Policy 5 (2008),
  17. J. P. Elia and M. J. Eliason, “Dangerous Omissions: Abstinence-Only-until-Marriage School-Based Sexuality Education and the Betrayal of LGBTQ Youth,” American Journal of Sexuality Education 5 (2010): 17–35,
  18. L. Y. Bay-Cheng, “The Trouble of Teen Sex: The Construction of Adolescent Sexuality through School-Based Sexuality Education,” Sex Education: Sexuality, Society, and Learning 3, no. 1 (2003): 61–74,
  19. M. H. Whatley, “Keeping Adolescents in the Picture: Construction of Adolescent Sexuality in Textbook Images and Popular Films,” in Sexual Cultures and the Construction of Adolescent Identities, ed. J. M. Irvine (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1994), 183–205.
  20. Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Human Rights Campaign Foundation, et al., “A Call to Action: LGBTQ+ Youth Need Inclusive Sex Education,” May 2021,
  21. GLSEN, “Policy Maps,” updated August 2020,
  22. D. L. Espelage, S. R. Aragon, and M. Birkett, “Homophobic Teasing, Psychological Outcomes, and Sexual Orientation among HS Students: What Influences Do Parents and Schools Have?,” School Psychology Review 37 (2008): 202–216; D. L. Espelage and S. M. Swearer, “Addressing Research Gaps in the Intersection between Homophobia and Bullying,” School Psychology Review 37 (2008): 155–159; S. Horn, “Adolescents’ Reasoning about Exclusion from Social Groups,” Developmental Psychology 39 (2007): 71–84.
  23. L. Kann, E. O. Olsen, T. McManus, W. A. Harris, S. L. Shanklin, K. H. Flint, B. Queen, et al., “Sexual Identity, Sex of Sexual Contacts, and Health-Related Behaviors among Students in Grades 9–12—United States and Selected Sites, 2015,” Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, surveillance summaries, 65, no. 9 (2016): 1–202,
  24. M. E. Eisenberg, A. L. Gower, B. J. McMorris, G. N. Rider, G. Shea, and E. Coleman, “Risk and Protective Factors in the Lives of Transgender/Gender Nonconforming Adolescents,” Journal of Adolescent Health 61, no. 4 (2017): 521–526.
  25. For mental health, see D’Augelli, Grossman, and Starks, “Parents’ Awareness of Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Youths’ Sexual Orientation”; and Espelage, Aragon, and Birkett, “Homophobic Teasing”; for bullying, mental health, and school outcomes, see J. G. Kosciw, E. A. Greytak, N. A. Palmer, and M. J. Boesen, The 2013 National School Climate Survey: The Experiences of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Youth in Our Nation’s Schools (New York: GLSEN, 2014); for bullying’s effect on school outcomes, see C. Goodenow, L. A. Szalacha, and K. Westheimer, “School Support Groups, Other School Factors, and the Safety of Sexual Minority Adolescents,” Psychology in the Schools 43 (2006): 573–589; T. B. Murdock and M. B. Bolch, “Risk and Protective Factors for Poor School Adjustment in Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual (LGB) High School Youth: Variable and Person-Centered Analyses,” Psychology in the Schools 42 (2005): 159–172; and S. M. Swearer, R. K. Turner, J. E. Givens, and W. S. Pollack, “‘You’re So Gay!’: Do Different Forms of Bullying Matter for Adolescent Males?,” School Psychology Review 37 (2008): 221–227.
  26. For discriminatory and violent behavior, see E. A. Dragowski, C. P. McCabe, and F. Rubinson, “Educators’ Reports on Incidence of Harassment and Advocacy toward LGBTQ Students,” Psychology in the Schools 53 (2016): 127–142; for anti-gay and homophobic speech at school, comments about gender expression, and staff nonintervention, see J. G. Kosciw, E. A. Greytak, A. D. Zongrone, C. M. Clark, and N. L. Truong, “The 2017 National School Climate Survey: The Experiences of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Youth in Our Nation’s Schools (New York: GLSEN, 2018); for educators not recognizing harassment, see S. Z. Athanases and T. G. Larrabee, “Toward a Consistent Stance in Teaching for Equity: Learning to Advocate for Lesbian- and Gay-Identified Youth,” Teaching and Teacher Education 19 (2003): 237–261; P. C. McCabe, E. A. Dragowski, and F. Rubinson, “What Is Homophobic Bias Anyway? Defining and Recognizing Microaggressions and Harassment of LGBTQ Youth,” Journal of School Violence 12 (2013): 7–26; and R. Mudrey and A. Medina-Adams, “Attitudes, Perceptions, and Knowledge of Pre-service Teachers regarding the Educational Isolation of Sexual Minority Youth,” Journal of Homosexuality 51 (2006): 63–90; and for youth not reporting harassment and assault, see Kosciw et al., The 2013 National School Climate Survey; and for educator bullying, see Dragowski et al., “Reports on Incidence of Harassment and Advocacy toward LGBTQ Students.”
  27. National Center for Transgender Equality, “Know Your Rights,” accessed April 28, 2021,
  28. T. Kushner, “News for Educational Workers,” Radical Teacher 92 (2011): 74–78.
  29. For New York’s and Washington’s laws, see P. DeWitt, Dignity for All: Safeguarding LGBT Students (Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin, 2012).
  30. 34 C.F.R. § 99.7(a)(2)(ii).
  31. National Center for Transgender Equality, “Know Your Rights.”
  32. For schools as positive spaces for youth, see W. W. Black, A. L. Fedewa, and K. A. Gonzalez, “Effects of ‘Safe School’ Programs and Policies on the Social Climate for Sexual-Minority Youth: A Review of the Literature,” Journal of LGBT Youth 9 (2012): 321–339; for positive schools, see Aragon and Birkett, “Homophobic Teasing”; for supportive school groups, see Black, Fedewa, and Gonzalez, “Effects of ‘Safe School’ Programs”; and Goodenow, Szalacha, and Westheimer, “School Support Groups”; for policies to reduce harassment and bullying, see Kosciw et al., The 2013 National School Climate Survey; and for supportive schools, see M. Birkett, D. L. Espelage, and B. Koenig, “LGB and Questioning Students in Schools: The Moderating Effects of Homophobic Bullying and School Climate on Negative Outcomes,” Journal of Youth and Adolescence 38 (2009): 989–1000; and Goodenow, Szalacha, and Westheimer, “School Support Groups.”
  33. For student achievement and quality of life, see J. K. McGuire, C. R. Anderson, R. B. Toomey, and S. T. Russell, “School Climate for Transgender Youth: A Mixed Method Investigation of Student Experiences and School Responses,” Journal of Youth and Adolescence 39 (2010): 1175–1188; for educator allyship, see L. Carroll and P. J. Gilroy, “Transgender Issues in Counselor Preparation,” Counselor Education and Supervision 41 (2002): 233–243,; M. Gonzalez and J. McNulty, “Achieving Competency with Transgender Youth: School Counselors as Collaborative Advocates,” Journal of LGBT Issues in Counseling 4 (2010): 176–186,; and McGuire et al., “School Climate for Transgender Youth”; and for supportive school staff making trans youth feel safer, see M. O’Shaughnessy, S. Russell, K. Heck, C. Calhoun, and C. Laub, Safe Place to Learn: Consequences of Harassment Based on Actual or Perceived Sexual Orientation and Gender Nonconformity and Steps for Making Schools Safer (San Francisco: California Safe Schools Coalition, 2004); and S. T. Russell, J. K. McGuire, S. A. Lee, and J. C. Larriva, “Adolescent Perceptions of School Safety for Students with Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Parents,” Journal of LGBT Youth 5 (2008): 11–27,
  34. For gay-straight alliances, see P. Griffin, C. Lee, J. Waugh, and C. Beyer, “Describing Roles That Gay-Straight Alliances Play in Schools: From Individual Support to School Change,” Journal of Gay and Lesbian Issues in Education 1 (2004): 7–22; and S. T. Russell, A. Muraco, A. Subramaniam, and C. Laub, “Youth Empowerment and High School Gay-Straight Alliances,” Journal of Youth and Adolescence 38 (2009): 891–903; and for LGBTQ+ clubs in schools, see J. E. Schindel, “Gender 101—beyond the Binary: Gay-Straight Alliances and Gender Activism,” Sexuality Research and Social Policy 5 (2008): 56–70.
  35. For LGBTQ+ clubs as protective factors, see N. C. Heck, A. Flentje, and B. N. Cochran, “Offsetting Risks: High School Gay-Straight Alliances and Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Youth,” School of Psychology Quarterly 26 (2011): 161–174; V. P. Poteat, K. O. Sinclair, C. D. DiGiovanni, B. W. Koenig, and S. T. Russell, “Gay-Straight Alliances Are Associated with Student Health: A Multischool Comparison of LGBTQ and Heterosexual Youth,” Journal of Research on Adolescence 23 (2013): 319–330; C. M. Porta, E. Singer, C. J. Mehus, A. L. Gower, E. Saewyc, W. Fredkove, and M. E. Eisenberg, “LGBTQ Youth’s Views on Gay-Straight Alliances: Building Community, Providing Gateways, and Representing Safety and Support,” Journal of School Health 87 (2017): 489–497; and E. Saewyc, C. Konishi, H. Rose, and Y. Homma, “School-Based Strategies to Reduce Suicidal Ideation, Suicide Attempts and Discrimination among Sexual Minority and Heterosexual Adolescents in Western Canada,” International Journal of Child, Youth and Family Studies 5 (2014): 89–112; for research on victimization, see G. A. Portnoy, “Perceptions of School Climate, Psychological Sense of Community, and Gay-Straight Alliances: A Mixed Method Examination” (PhD diss., University of Maryland, Baltimore County, 2012); R. Toomey, J. K. McGuire, and S. T. Russell, “Heteronormativity, School Climates, and Perceived Safety for Gender Nonconforming Peers,” Journal of Adolescence 35 (2012): 187–196; and N. E. Walls, S. B. Kane, and H. Wisneski, “Gay-Straight Alliances and School Experiences of Sexual Minority Youth,” Youth and Society 41 (2010): 307–332; for drug use, see N. C. Heck, N. A. Livingston, A. Flentje, K. Oost, B. T. Stewart, and B. N. Cochran, “Reducing Risk for Illicit Drug Use and Prescription Drug Misuse: High School Gay-Straight Alliances and Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Youth,” Addictive Behaviors 39 (2014): 824–828; for mental health, see Poteat et al., “Gay-Straight Alliances”; and Walls, Kane, and Wisneski, “Gay-Straight Alliances”; and for youth feeling empowered, see Griffin et al., “Describing Roles That Gay-Straight Alliances Play in Schools”; M. Mayberry, T. Chenneville, and S. Currie, “Challenging the Sounds of Silence: A Qualitative Study of Gay-Straight Alliances and School Reform Efforts,” Education and Urban Society 45 (2013): 307–339; and J. B. Mayo Jr., “Expanding the Meaning of Social Education: What the Social Studies Can Learn from Gay Straight Alliances,” Theory and Research in Social Education 41 (2013): 352–381.
  36. For banning school clubs, see Mayberry, Chenneville, and Currie, “Challenging the Sounds of Silence”; Mayo, “Expanding the Meaning of Social Education”; and Boyd County High School Gay Straight Alliance et al. v. Board of Education of Boyd County, KY, 03-17-DLB (2003).
  37. For states suing over bathroom rights, see C. Emma, “10 More States Sue Obama Administration over Transgender Bathroom Directive,” Politico, July 8, 2016,; and for bathrooms as unsafe spaces, see Porta et al., “Kicked Out.”
  38. S. M. Lee, C. R. Burgeson, J. E. Fulton, and C. G. Spain, “Physical Education and Physical Activity: Results from the School Health Policies and Programs Study 2006,” Journal of School Health 77 (2007): 435–463.
  39. Human Rights Campaign, “Play to Win: Improving the Lives of LGBTQ Youth in Sports,” 2017,
  40. For preservice training, see P. C. McCabe and F. Rubinson, “Committing to Social Justice: The Behavioral Intention of School Psychology and Education Trainees to Advocate for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered Youth,” School Psychology Review 37 (2008): 469–486; and for unavailability of professional development, see T. Israel and G. Hackett, “Counselor Education on Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Issues: Comparing Information and Attitude Exploration,” Counselor Education and Supervision 43 (2004): 179–191; and J. S. Whitman, S. S. Horn, and C. J. Boyd, “Activism in the Schools: Providing LGBTQ Affirmative Training to School Counselors,” Journal of Gay and Lesbian Psychotherapy 11 (2007): 143–154.
  41. For community opposition, see A. B. Dessel, “Effects of Intergroup Dialogue: Public School Teachers and Sexual Orientation Prejudice,” Small Group Research 41 (2010): 556–592; for research on the importance of inclusion and school safety for LGBTQ+ students, see Athanases and Larrabee, “Toward a Consistent Stance in Teaching for Equity”; for teachers unwilling to advocate, see T. G. Larrabee and P. Morehead, “Broadening Views of Social Justice and Teacher Leadership: Addressing LGB Issues in Teacher Education,” Issues in Teacher Education 19 (2010): 37–52; and for teachers unwilling to discuss sexual and gender minority identities in the classroom, see K. K. Kumashiro, “Uncertain Beginnings: Learning to Teach Paradoxically,” Theory into Practice 43 (2004): 111–115.
  42. J. G. Kosciw, C. M. Clark, N. L. Truong, and A. D. Zongrone, “The 2019 National School Climate Survey: The Experiences of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Youth in Our Nation’s Schools” (New York: GLSEN, 2020).
  43. For the COVID-19 pandemic worsening mental health, see Trevor Project, “Issues Impacting LGBTQ Youth,” January 2022,; and for state legislation that limits discussions of LGBTQ+ identities, see Wyatt Ronan, “2021 Officially Becomes Worst Year in Recent History for LGBTQ State Legislative Attacks as Unprecedented Number of States Enact Record-Shattering Number of Anti-LGBTQ Measures into Law,” Human Rights Campaign, press release, May 7, 2021,
  44. In 2020 a U.S. district court judge found that South Carolina’s “no promo homo” laws violated the rights of LGBTQ+ students. John Riley, “Federal Court Declares South Carolina’s “No Promo Homo” Law Unconstitutional,” Metroweekly, March 11, 2020,
  45. Kosciw et al., “The 2017 National School Climate Survey.”
  46. R. S. Bishop, “Windows, Mirrors, and Sliding Glass Doors,” Perspectives: Choosing and Using Books for the Classroom 6, no. 3 (Summer 1990).
  47. S. A. Nuamah, How Girls Achieve (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2019).

About the author

Kimberly Fuller, PhD, is associate professor at Cleveland State University in the School of Social Work, a licensed independent social worker, and a certified sex therapist. Her area of research is in LGBTQ+ youth development, supportive relationships, and institutional inequities. Additionally, she provides therapy to LGBTQ+ adolescents and adults in private practice. She is a researcher with THRiVE Research Collaborative intent on developing a justice-focused LGBTQ+ sex education curriculum.



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Introduction to LGBTQ+ Studies: A Cross-Disciplinary Approach Copyright © by Kimberly Fuller is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.