Robin Coaches Charlie Trotman and Caroline Reinstadtler discussed why representation matters, what inspired them to become advocates for the community and how to create safe and supportive environments for LGBTQIA+ students. Watch the full recording here and don’t forget to download our LGBT Q+A Guide for more FAQs, key terms and resources.
What inspired you to become advocates for the LGBTQ+ community?
Charlie: Being a queer young person myself, I was confused and had no information or words from my school, family or elsewhere to describe who I was. I also realized other young people were experiencing the same thing, whether they were queer or trans or not. Everyone deserves to feel like they’re equal to everyone else and have the same level of care and support. When that wasn’t happening in high school, somebody had to say and do something. That person was me.
I now go into schools to share my story and let other queer and trans young folks realize, you do have the power to speak up not just for yourself, but also for other people.
Caroline: I came to terms with and started understanding my queer identity in high school, but it wasn’t really until college that I became more comfortable with not only expressing and talking about my identity, but with really celebrating it and advocating for others like me. I found throughout my adolescence that there were missing puzzle pieces in my educational experience. If I had had the language and the tools to hear these words and understand what they meant as identities that were valid and valuable, that would have made a huge difference in my journey. It certainly would have sped up the process of my self love and self acceptance.
What are some strategies that educators and school leaders can use to make their schools a safe and supportive community for everybody?
- First, be willing to learn. Find other educators who want to learn with you because it’s always easier to learn with a group than it is by yourself.
- Always call in support if you don’t know; the most powerful thing you can do is say I do not know and then take action to find help.
- Use a person’s chosen pronouns. If you are in a space where you cannot talk about gender identities, then don’t. But everybody can use pronouns regardless of their identity.
- Allow students to use their chosen names and then find out where it’s safe to call them that. If the administration where you are is really challenging and doesn’t allow for that, then let it be a general concept that you allow. The main point is that you make your students feel seen, heard and respected by acknowledging whatever name they’d like to be called.
Why are words so important? Can you give us an example of how to use inclusive language in the classroom?
Caroline: Young people are spending most of their time in schools so the impact that educators have on young people’s understanding not just of the world, but of themselves is huge. Words are one way you can make your students feel seen and heard and cared for. Using pronouns is one small way to start.
If a student is presenting you with a word or phrase you don’t know, it’s less important that you’ve never heard it before. It is more important that you’re willing to learn it. So just be willing to show up, learn and grow.
Any advice you can offer for those of us who may make a mistake? For example, not using a term correctly or calling somebody an incorrect pronoun. What can they do, either in that moment or after class or the next day, to make sure their students feel supported?
- Start off by acknowledging your mistake and correct yourself.
- Then apologize and move on.
- It doesn’t have to be a big thing, even though it can feel like it is. Give yourself a moment to acknowledge that and take a breath. Young people need to know that it’s okay to make a mistake and not feel like it’s the end of the world. You’re modeling that for them.
How do you address bullying in the classroom?
The best cure is prevention. One of the ways that we can establish that is at the beginning of the school year. You can set a code of conduct with your student, outlining what will fly and what doesn’t, no bullying or identity based harassment, for instance. If you do witness an incident of bullying, it’s important to both stop it in the moment and to address intent versus impact. Address the student who is bullying, make it clear that that’s not okay, and also make it clear that the student who has bullied is not an evil, horrible person. It’s just a behavior that we, as a community, will not accept.
What I’ve learned about bullies is that often the bully has been taught something that they don’t even realize that they’ve been taught.
They may be thinking “that person gets to express themselves, but what about me?” Now we have a different kind of conversation going on. The more we are having conversations about intersectionality, equity, respect and highlight different identities, the better. This allows there to be a classroom conversation on a more regular basis about how we connect with one another and how we respect one another.
What are the three most important traits of a good ally?
- Ask us what we need and want
- Show up for us even when we’re not there
- Do your own learning
- Downloading our LGBT Q+A Guide is a great start!
From your perspective, why does representation make such an impact, particularly on the LGBTQ+ community?
Caroline: To me, representation often shows us what’s possible, and it often models a life. So when a young person reads a book or sees a movie or listens to a song, they’re learning about the millions of different ways that a life can be.
What happens if nowhere in these models do we see people who remind us of ourselves? You might begin to feel like it’s not possible. The thing that you are, the thing that you want, is not possible.
I think to not see any queer people in those ideals is delegitimizing when that is your identity. I wonder, if I had been 12 or 13 and one or two of those romcoms had shown queer relationships, I might have begun to understand that it was possible.
Charlie: Queerness is literally not new. It is as old as time. For me it was learning about James Baldwin, Marsha P. Johnson, Sylvia Rivera, Harvey Milk – all these queer and trans people who believed in a better world, in having a better life, in their own power. We exist. We’re here. So I think making students aware of that is really important so if that is how they feel they do not have to feel alone.
I live in a state where the policy forbids talking about these issues with my class. How can I show my support and provide a respectful environment for all my students?
Charlie: Keep it subtle.
- Use gender neutral language such as “y’all” or “folks” when addressing the classroom.
- Go find some queer mathematicians or authors in history to talk about. You don’t even have to mention that they’re queer.
- Have resources in the classroom available and on light display. Providing resources such as help lines or organizations can be life changing without you having to say or directly address anything.
If there’s one takeaway you want to leave with people, what would that be?
Caroline: I would say that at the heart of all of this, we just want to make students feel seen and respected. We’re using inclusive language and practices so that our students will feel cared for, so that they can be themselves. My main advice would be to pay attention to your students, listen to them.
Allow yourself to be a beginner. Everybody’s learning. So it’s important that we listen to students and do our own work of learning and unlearning.
Be in community with your students and know that as you continue to make space comfortable and safer for students to be themselves, the whole community will benefit.
Sonny: I love and appreciate that. Thank you both so, so much. I’m proud to be a beginner and learn from the two of you.
About the Coaches
A published author, accomplished singer-songwriter and coach, Caroline engages all members of the school community in critical discussions around diversity and inclusion, resilience and other skills to support mental well-being. An eating disorder survivor, she encourages students to appreciate their bodies, but to look past them towards the attributes that give them power and purpose. Caroline supports educators to develop a DEI acumen and a heightened cultural self-awareness with a focus on growing inclusive leadership skills. She has helped parents and guardians build stress-management practices into family routines, developing stronger foundations of resilience.Meet Caroline
Charlie is a powerful and dynamic Speaker, Coach and Educator. He focuses on cultivating holistic and trauma informed spaces for youth and the people who support them.Meet Charlie