We all know there are faculty and staff, even at conservative colleges, who are loving and affirming. These people can make an enormous difference in the lives of LGBTQ students. So how do you do it? How do you balance the fear of consequences with the desire to provide a safe space for students?
A few suggestions:
- It is essential to keep in mind that every school is different. What went smoothly at one school might be disastrous at another. Know your administration well and be sure you are prepared for any consequences.
- Some administrations will fire a faculty member for supporting what they view as a “homosexual agenda”. If that’s a stance you want to take and something you want to deal with, it may be the right thing for you. Keep in mind, though, that if you do lose your job, you won’t be around to help the students still struggling to get through.
- If you can’t be completely open about your ally status, make little statements that, to someone searching, might stand out.
- Some faculty members keep books on their desk written by prominent LGBTQ people or their allies (ex: “Love, Ellen”, by Betty DeGeneres).
- Start a reading group for other faculty members who may be open where you can read stories from LGBTQ Christians or books by Christian allies that might open up some discussion.
- Network, network, network! Get LGBTQ students connected with one another and with allies (if they’re willing, of course). Talk to other affirming faculty members about who they might know.
- LISTEN. Hear the stories, the struggles, the pain, and the joy of your students. Help them be heard when they want to be heard.
- Discuss LGBTQ issues in class. There are some subjects that make this more difficult, but if you teach history, literature, art, psychology–all of these fields are affected in some way by LGBTQ people.
- If this causes you problems, it’s not hard to defend. Anyone who might continue their education post graduation at another institution is most likely going to have to confront these issues at some point. Things like queer theory, the history of the gay rights movement, and sexual psychology are topics about which graduate students (and in some cases, professionals) will be expected to have a basic understanding. Students at least need to be able to discuss these issues in an academic setting while maintaining a certain amount of dignity and respect.
- When you do discuss LGBTQ issues in class, begin with ground rules. Emphasize that all viewpoints should be weighed based on merit, not agreement. Note that there may be students in the class who are, themselves, LGBTQ or who have family or friends who are. No discussion should involve direct attacks on any person or group of people.
In setting these ground rules, you may be indicating to LGBTQ students that you are capable of listening respectfully and that you care about them.