A new pilot project by London-based researchers aims to help teachers create a better learning environment for students who identify as 2SLGBTQIA+.
Lawson Health Research Institute launched the project, called Queer in the Classroom, to study the benefits a proactive, inclusive approach in the classroom could have on students who identify as members of the Pride community.
"When we look at the data, youth in the 2SLGBTQIA+ community are 14 times more likely to die by suicide,” Lawson Scientist Dr. Arlene MacDougall, said in a statement. “We need to be focusing on this population who are also experiencing a higher degree of isolation, stigma and substance use.”
Through professional development, teachers and school staff are being shown how to tailor the learning space to best support these students to promote resilience and positive mental health.
“This project is about connecting with school boards and teachers to help develop the knowledge and skills to create spaces that go beyond tolerating differences,” said MacDougall, who is also the director of the Mental Health INcubator for Disruptive Solutions (MINDS) and a psychiatrist at St. Joseph’s Health Care London. “The focus is to create an environment that is more affirming, more responsive and more proactive rather than reactive.”
Researchers began by reviewing existing research on the same topic by the MINDS. They then conducted interviews with 2SLGBTQIA+ students at elementary and secondary schools in Ontario, parents, and teachers.
"We focused on not only their safety in school, but also being celebrated for who they are,” said Iylah Neves, Lawson research assistant through MINDS. “We drew on all of this research to best inform the practices we are using with the Queer in the Classroom initiative.”
The pilot project is so far only being rolled out at school boards by-request. However, researchers are discussing the possibility of wider implementation.
"Queer in the Classroom has been driven by the voices of students with personal experiences who feel there is a deep need for this type of innovation,” said Neves. “It is our responsibility to make those changes so that students can access a safe, inclusive and nurturing environment."