The School Counselor and LGBTQ+ Youth
(Adopted 1995, Revised 2000, 2005, 2007, 2013, 2014, 2016, 2022)
ASCA PositionSchool counselors promote equal opportunity and respect for students regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression. School counselors recognize the school experience can be significantly more difficult for students with marginalized identities. School counselors work to eliminate barriers impeding LGBTQ+ student development and achievement.
The RationaleDespite widespread efforts, LGBTQ+ students continue to face challenges that threaten their academic and social/emotional development in schools. Students report feeling unsafe in school due to their sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression and report experiencing homophobic remarks, harassment and bullying (Kosciw et al., 2020). LGBTQ+ individuals often face multiple risk factors that may place them at greater risk for suicidal behavior (Johns et al., 2020).
School counselors realize these issues affect healthy student development and psychological well-being and advocate for conditions protecting LGBTQ+ youth. Students report lower levels of verbal and physical harassment when they have a supportive adult in school, participate in inclusive curriculum and have delineated policies protecting students from discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression (Kosciw et al., 2020).
The School Counselor's RoleThe school counselor works with all students through the stages of identity development and understands this may be more difficult for LGBTQ+ youth. It is not the school counselor’s role to attempt to change a student’s sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression. School counselors recognize the profound harm intrinsic to therapies alleging to change an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity (Ryan et al., 2020) and advocate to protect LGBTQ+ students from this harm. School counselors provide support to LGBTQ+ students to promote academic achievement and social/emotional development. School counselors are committed to the affirmation of all youth regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression and work to create safe and affirming schools. School counselors:
- Counsel students with questions about their sexual orientation and gender identity as well as students’ feelings about the identity of others in an accepting and nonjudgmental manner
- Advocate for equitable educational and extracurricular opportunities for all students regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression (ASCA, 2019)
- Advocate for transgender, nonbinary and gender-expansive students regarding access of building facilities (e.g., ensuring a safe environment for restroom use and changing) and gender presentation (e.g., wearing a dress or pants for an orchestra or vocal performance)
- Understand the intersections of students’ sexual, gender and racial identities and the additional victimization experienced by LGBTQ+ students of color (Kosciw et al., 2020) and the need for cultural competence when working with them and their families (Craig et al., 2018)
- Promote policies that effectively reduce the use of offensive language, harassment and bullying and improve school climate
- Address absenteeism, lowered educational aspirations and academic achievement, and low psychological well-being as a result of victimization and feeling unsafe at school (Kosciw et al., 2020)
- Provide a safe space for LGBTQ+ students and allies such as Genders and Sexualities Alliance Clubs
- Promote sensitivity and acceptance of diversity among all students and staff to include LGBTQ+ students and diverse family systems
- Advocate for the rights of families to access and participate in their student’s education and school activities without discrimination (GLSEN, 2021)
- Support an inclusive curriculum at all grade levels (Simons et al., 2018)
- Model language that is inclusive of sexual orientation and gender identity
- Advocate for adoption of school policies addressing discrimination and promoting violence-prevention programs to create a safe and supportive school environment (Gower et al., 2017)
- Support students in addressing possible discrimination by staff members (ASCA, 2019)
- Engage in training on supporting LGBTQ+ students and advocating for their rights in schools (Beck & Wikoff, 2020; Gonzalez, 2017; Kull et al., 2017; Simons et al., 2017)
- Encourage staff training on inclusive practices, an affirming school environment, accurate information and risk factors for LGBTQ+ students (Dragowski et al., 2016)
- Know the impact of family acceptance on student well-being and ability to thrive (Craig et al., 2018; Roe, 2017; Ryan et al., 2020)
- Support families whose children are coming out by helping them navigate these important developmental milestones in ways that protect LGBTQ+ students from harm and help families stay together (Ryan et al., 2020)
- Identify LGBTQ+ community resources for students and families and assess the quality and inclusiveness of these resources before referring to such resources
SummarySchool counselors promote affirmation, respect, and equal opportunity for all students regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression. School counselors promote awareness of and education on issues related to LGBTQ+ students and encourage a safe and affirming school environment. School counselors work to eliminate barriers impeding student development and achievement and are committed to all students’ academic, career and social/emotional development.
ReferencesAmerican School Counselor Association (ASCA) (2019). The ASCA National Model: A framework for school counseling programs (4th ed.). Author.
Beck, M. J., & Wikoff, H. D. (2020). “Professional development is really key”: Experiences of school counselors engaging in professional development focused on LGBTQ youth. Professional School Counseling, 24(1), 1-11.
Craig, S. L., McInroy, L., & Austin, A. (2018). “Someone to have my back”: Exploring the needs of racially and ethnically diverse lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender high school students. Children & Schools, 40(4), 231-239.
Dragowski, E. A., McCabe, P. C., & Rubinson, F. (2016). Educators’ reports on incidence of harassment and advocacy toward LGBTQ students. Psychology in the Schools, 53(2), 127-142.
GLSEN. (2021). Improving school climate for transgender and nonbinary youth: Research brief. https://www.glsen.org/research/improving-school-climate-transgender-and-nonbinary-youth .
Gonzalez, M. (2017). Advocacy for and with LGBT students: An examination of high school counselor experiences. Professional School Counseling, 20(1A), pp. 38-46.
Gower, A. L., Forster, M., Gloppen, K., Johnson, A. Z., Eisenberg, M. E., Connett, J. E., & Borowsky, I. W. (2017). School practices to foster LGBT-supportive climate: Associations with adolescent bullying involvement. Prevention Science, 19(6), 813-821.
Johns M.M., Lowry R., Haderxhanaj L.T., Raspberry, C. N., Robin, L., Scales, L., Stone, D., & Suarez, N. A. (2020). Trends in violence victimization and suicide risk by sexual identity among high school students — Youth Risk Behavior Survey, United States, 2015–2019. MMWR Suppl, 69, (Suppl-1):19–27.
Kosciw, J. G., Clark, C. M., Truong, N. L., & Zongrone, A. D. (2020). The 2019 National School Climate Survey: The experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer youth in our nation’s schools. GLSEN.
Kull, R. M., Kosciw, J.G., & Greytak, E.A. (2017). Preparing school counselors to support LGBT youth: The roles of graduate education and professional development. Professional School Counseling, 20( 1A), pp. 13-20.
Roe, S. (2017). “Family support would have been like amazing”: LGBTQ youth experiences with parental and family support. The Family Journal: Counseling and Therapy for Couples and Families, 25(1), 55-62.
Ryan, C., Toomey, R. B., Diaz, R. M., & Russel, S. T. (2020). Parent-initiated sexual orientation change efforts with LGBT adolescents: Implications for young adult mental health and adjustment. Journal of Homosexuality, 67(2), 159-173.
Simons, J. D., Beck, M. J., Asplund, N. R., Chan, C. D., & Byrd, R. (2018). Advocacy for gender minority students: recommendations for school counsellors. Sex Education, 18(4), 464–478.
Simons, J. D., Hutchinson, B., & Bahr, M. W. (2017). School counselor advocacy for lesbian, gay, and bisexual students: Intentions and practice. Professional School Counseling, 20(1A), pp. 29-37.
American Psychological Association (APA). (2015). Promoting resiliency for gender diverse and sexual minority students in schools. Retrieved from https://www.apa.org/pi/lgbt/programs/safe-supportive/lgbt/resilience
GLSEN. (2020). 2019 National School Climate Survey. Retrieved from https://www.glsen.org/research/2019-national-school-climate-survey
GLSEN. (2022). Gender triangle education guide. Retrieved from https://www.glsen.org/sites/default/files/2019-11/GLSEN-Gender-Triangle-Education-Guide.pdf