Start the School Year with Confidence

Worried about the first day of school? These tips will help you figure out what resources your school already offers and what to do in times of trouble.

This post was originally published at the Pacific Center for Human Growth’s now-closed blog on August 21, 2017.

No matter what grade you’re starting this fall, heading back to carries added pressure for LGBTQ students. This is especially true for students who’ve come out over the summer and are returning with a new gender presentation, name and pronouns, etc. To make things easier, here are some tips for figuring out what resources are already available to help you at your school, as well as tips on how to talk to your school’s faculty and staff about what you need.

1. Look at the school website.

Let’s be real — a lot of school websites are outdated and difficult to navigate. But it’s a great place to start because you don’t have to talk anyone or give out any information. Poke around and see if there’s already a section about resources for students. Get background information on what your school has available. There might even be a section specifically for LGBTQ students. You’ll also probably be able to find teachers’ email addresses, in case you want to contact them before school starts, or a phone number for the school’s main office, which could also probably help you find contact info for your teachers.

If you’re starting to look for colleges, look at the school’s website, but also try the Campus Pride Index, which provides information on LGBTQ-friendly schools.

2. Learn about mental health services.

Hopefully the website can tell you about the guidance counselor or health center or whatever your school offers, so that you already have the information if it ever becomes relevant to you or a friend. Mental health services can be helpful in many situations, so don’t just think of them as a last resource. They could help if you need to talk to someone who doesn’t know you very personally, or if you need to bounce ideas off another person. This could also be a great place to ask for advice on talking to your teachers about your name, pronouns, gender expression, etc.

More generally, though, it can be helpful to educate yourself about the mental health risks that are unique to the LGBTQ community and make yourself aware of outside mental health resources, too.

3. Find out if there are relevant clubs.

Even if you don’t want to join a Gender and Sexuality Alliance, it could be useful to know what teacher or professor supervises it, and therefore openly cares about LGBTQ students, or might even be a member of the community themselves. Learning about or joining clubs can also help you find students, staff, or faculty who have the same interests as you, and that’s a good way to find people you’re comfortable with.

4. Pick a go-to teacher or professor.

Having a teacher you trust is important for a lot of reasons. If you can’t find the answer to a question on the school website, you can ask them, and if you’re not comfortable using your school’s mental health services, it’s good to have a teacher you can go to if you need help. For example, you could ask a teacher you trust to go with you to talk to one you’re less comfortable with.

5. Figure out if there’s a way to anonymously communicate.

There are a lot of reasons you might want to tell your school something anonymously, and many schools understand that. Some have anonymous suggestions boxes, and colleges often have ombuds offices that act as neutral parties. (This link from Oregon State University explains further what an ombuds is.) As an LGBTQ student, it can be especially important to have a way to voice your opinion without outing yourself, so if your school doesn’t have this kind of option, you might even suggest it to a staff or faculty member you’re comfortable with.

6. Ask an older student.

It doesn’t have to be an LGBTQ student or someone who knows you’re an LGBTQ student, but it can be really helpful to ask an older student what you should know going in. They can tell you all about specific teachers and classes, the school as a whole, or how students treat kids who are out. Having someone you can go to, someone who’s already experienced what you’re going to experience, can make you feel much safer.

7. Contact your teachers before school starts.

Especially if you’re coming into the school year using new pronouns and a new name, it can really help to reach out before school actually starts to let your teachers know and answer their questions. If their email addresses aren’t on the school website, the school’s main office might be able to help you reach them. Mental health services might also be available before school starts, and they’d most likely be able to put you in contact with your teachers too.

When it comes to actually messaging your teachers, let them know that you’re using new words to refer to yourself, and that you’re telling them so that they can do the same without any confusion. Asking them to use new language, rather than telling them, leaves room for them to consider it an option request, but it’s not. It could be helpful to link them to a resource that explains what being trans is, depending on where you live and if anyone else in your school has come out before, but ultimately it’s not your job to educate your teacher, and they shouldn’t ask anything more from you except clarifications on how to make you feel comfortable.

There are other lists of LGBTQ student resources out there that you should definitely check out and could even show to your teachers, like this one from GLAAD in 2014, and this one from the ACLU. Overall, feeling prepared, having resources at the ready, and reaching out to people in advance can ease a lot of back-to-school anxiety. Whether you’re starting at a new school, coming out for the first time, or facing a regular old first day of school, consider figuring out what your school actually has to offer. It could save your butt in a crisis, or it could make what you thought was an okay experience even better. Either way, LGBTQ students should feel safe and comfortable at school, and I hope that your school is providing you with the means to achieve that.

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