Creating Safe Schools for LGBTQ+ Youth

Core Competencies for Professional Development

This brief provides key learning objectives that schools and school districts can incorporate in their PD offerings to help teachers and other school staff build core competencies for supporting LGBTQ+ youth in schools.

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer/questioning (LGBTQ+) youth are more likely than non-LGBTQ+ youth to experience violence at school and have lower levels of school connectedness.

Professional development (PD) for teachers and other school staff on how to support LGBTQ+ youth is a best practice for improving safety and connectedness in schools for both LGBTQ+ youth and their cisgender, heterosexual peers.

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Learning Objectives

Learning Objective 1: Describe the Basics

Understanding how sexual orientation and gender identity are defined and how the two differ is the first step in building a safe and supportive environment for LGBTQ+ youth. By knowing and applying these concepts, teachers and other school staff can help LGBTQ+ youth feel more welcomed at school.

Sexual Orientation

  • Define sexual orientation
  • Describe the diversity of sexual orientation among adolescents and young adults
  • Describe how sexual orientation is formed and evolves during adolescence

Gender Identity

  • Define gender identity
  • Describe the diversity of gender identity among adolescents and young adults
  • Describe how gender identity is formed and evolves during adolescence

Inclusive Language

  • Describe the differences between sexual orientation and gender identity
  • Identify appropriate language, including affirming pronouns, when talking to or about LGBTQ+ youth

Learning Objective 2: Identify Health Disparities & Their Root Causes

LGBTQ+ youth experience stigma and discrimination that put them at increased risk for negative health outcomes, such as poor mental health and high-risk substance use. Understanding what places LGBTQ+ youth at higher risk for negative health outcomes can provide teachers and other school staff with an important foundation for working to mitigate these health disparities.

Discrimination & Stress

  • Describe how stigma, discrimination, harassment, and microaggressions affect LGBTQ+ youth
  • Describe how these negative experiences influence the psychological and physical stress levels of LGBTQ+ youth

Health Risks & Disparities

  • Define sexual health, mental health, substance use, and violence
  • Describe how LGBTQ+ youth disproportionately experience these negative outcomes
  • Identify the role of discrimination and stress in shaping negative health outcomes for LGBTQ+ youth

Learning Objective 3: Recognize the Influence of School Environments

Being in a healthy, supportive school environment can help LGBTQ+ students thrive and help lessen some of the health disparities they face. Teachers and other school staff can build knowledge and awareness around what factors within schools have the potential to cause harm and what factors could help prevent some of these health risks.

Risk Factors
in Schools

  • Define risk factors
  • Identify risk factors which primarily occur in school environments
  • Describe how school-based risk factors impact LGBTQ+ youth

Protective Factors
in Schools

  • Define protective factors
  • Identify protective factors which primarily occur in school environments
  • Describe how school-based protective factors impact LGBTQ+ youth

Learning Objective 4: Implement Supportive Policies & Practices

Teachers and school staff can promote positive changes within school environments that address health disparities and help LGBTQ+ youth thrive in schools. These policies and practices can be implemented by individual teachers within classrooms, or throughout the broader school community.


  • Describe how inclusivepdf iconlanguage and content in curricula can positively impact LGBTQ+ youth
  • Identify characteristics of inclusive curricula

School Policies

  • Identify examples of LGBTQ+-inclusive school policies
  • Describe how school staff can enact change within their school communities

Success Story

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From 2015 to 2017, the American Psychological Association (APA)external icon partnered with education agencies to implement an in-person professional development workshop on supporting LGBTQ+ students—RESPECT Workshopexternal icon.

State education agencies in Illinois, Mississippi, New Mexico, and Vermont participated in data collection before and after the workshops. After completing the workshop, 100% of survey respondents reported promoting school policies, programs, and practices for a safe and supportive school environment.

These respondents reported significant increases in knowledge, skills, and confidence in their abilities to promote safe school environments; motivate students to prevent HIV, STDs, and pregnancy; and assist LGBTQ+ students in coping with specific challenges.