Fostering Virtual Community and Connection for LGBTQ Youth

District of Columbia Public Schools, Washington, DC

The District of Columbia Public Schools, with support from CDC, developed creative ways to maintain a sense of community and connectedness for LGBTQ youth and their families during widespread school closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Young LGBTQ couple reading on a laptop

Like many other school districts, the District of Columbia Public Schools grappled with finding innovative ways to engage students, staff, and families during the COVID-19 pandemic. Early in the pandemic, DC Public Schools quickly pivoted their support for LGBTQ students to virtual platforms to ensure students, staff, and families could easily access and connect with trusted LGBTQ-serving organizations, agencies, and leaders.

DC Public Schools hosted monthly virtual coffee chats for parents and caregivers of LGBTQ+ youth to come together and share resources. These conversations provided the space for caregivers to build community and gave DC Public Schools’ staff information on how to better support LGBTQ students. They also launched an online project that captures D.C. and national LGBTQ+ history to help young people build a deeper connection to and appreciation of their place in history.

DC Public Schools’ staff created a podcast to inform students, families, and staff of community resources and build connectedness. In each episode, the host, a trusted district staff member, discussed backgrounds, passions, and stories with local and national LGBTQ+ people. Interviewees ranged from a high-school Gender and Sexuality Alliance (GSA) member, to GSA advisors and classroom educators, and LGBTQ+ community members.

The podcast was positively received and drew listeners from other school districts around the nation as well as other countries, including Canada and the United Kingdom. Parents, caregivers, and school-based staff locally and from outside of the Washington, DC area began reaching out to seek support and learn how they could replicate activities highlighted in episodes. The podcast has had over 1,500 downloads.

DC Public Schools recognized the great need to build community during a time of widespread social isolation among their students, families, and staff. Evidence shows that implementing policies and practices that are designed to support LGBTQ youth, reduce risk and negative experiences for all youth.

Through their innovative programming, DC Public Schools fostered a sense of connectedness and pride, and increased access to resources for LGBTQ students, while also promoting safe and supportive school environments for all students.