Road to Acceptance: LGBTQ Students Share Experiences in the Classroom

Gisselle Ellington, Feature Editor

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), around 2% of high school students identify as transgender, making their voices very marginalized among a pool of predominantly cisgender, heterosexual voices. 

Many of these transgender high school students experience discrimination in their schools and communities, either from students, teachers or substitutes.

Furthermore, they are widely misunderstood by both their family members and their peers, making it difficult for them to come out.

“I impulsively came out to my dad over text because I didn’t know how else to tell him and he called me screaming,” says Theodore Benson, a transgender student at North Little Rock High School. “It got so bad that I didn’t go over to his house for a month.”

This experience isn’t something that is unique to Benson. Many LGBTQ teenagers have a hard time coming out to their families and even after coming out are treated terribly or completely rejected by their loved ones..

Fortunately for Benson, this is not entirely his experience.

“The most supportive person in my life is either my mom or my boyfriend,” says Benson, “my mom is a little more actively supportive, she’s just very confused and says some insensitive things sometimes. She’s trying.”

According to, only 27% of transgender youth say that their families are supportive.  More than half of trans and non-binary youth do not have an adult in their family who they can turn to whenever they feel sad or worried, resulting in many of them not coming out. 

“My mother is unaware,” says Azail Johnson, a junior at North Little Rock High School who identifies as non-binary, “I can’t tell my mother because I fear what will happen. She’s very religious.”

Azail Johnson identifies as non-binary and thinks that more teachers should welcome their LGBT students.

According to WestEd.Org, lacking familial and social support leads to LGBTQ students being less likely than their cisgender, straight peers to report the presence of key school supports, to be engaged in school, or to have a high grade point average.

Many students who are a part of the LGBTQ community don’t feel safe within their schools and are more likely to report being bullied and harassed. Some fear experiencing physical violence. 

LGBTQ students are also more likely to experience depression and consider self-harm. According to around 40% of LGBTQ students considered committing suicide. Certain external forces like familial support and peer support have great effects on the mental health of these teenagers.

Better treatment at school can potentially improve the experiences of these students and also could be a great way to prevent low academic performance and low engagement. 

Many Americans over the past few years have advocated for the teaching of LGBTQ topics in the classroom for children as young as elementary school age.

“The younger the better because I think that helps normalize it,” says Jessica Pigott, a North Little Rock High School teacher who teaches English to sophomores.

Ms. Pigott is a teacher who believes it’s important for LGBT topics to be taught in class.

On the other end, there are also many Americans who are against teaching about LGBTQ topics in the classroom. Some believe that it is not needed or is inappropriate for the classroom.

“I think that what should be taught in the classroom is respect for every student that’s there,” says Robert Irons, a teacher at North Little Rock High School who teaches physical science, “I don’t think this is the place for that just like it is not a place for other things that are not allowed in school to be discussed. I think we need to stick to the academics as far as math and science and English.”

Even though LGBTQ topics are not taught in many schools, since the beginning of the 21st century, some believe much progress has been made when it comes to tolerance and acceptance. 

“I think a lot more people today are more accepting and less mocking of or making fun of or being critical of [LGBTQ students],” says Irons, “that happened a lot more back in the 80s, and the 90s.” 

Irons has been teaching for over 30 years and is one of many teachers who struggles to understand LGBTQ students, however he insists that it’s important that everybody is treated equally and with respect at school and in the classroom, no matter their race, religious background, sexuality or gender.

Mr. Irons is a science teacher who believes its important to make all of his students feel welcome regardless of their differences.

“It’s okay to believe differently, and that’s probably even good that we believe differently, but I think we still should respect every human being,” he says. “So many times when we are talking to people we are already making up in our mind a discussion, whereas with empathic listening (having empathy) is when you listen to someone and hear what they’re saying, not only their words but their feelings and everything that they’re putting into it.”

Over the years, many teachers at North Little Rock High School have committed to creating an environment of acceptance and respect for their LGBT students, by choosing to use a student’s preferred pronouns and names and encouraging other staff to do the same.

“When school starts teachers come in a week before students and we do professional development and we get our classrooms ready and I remember our counselors making a really big point to say, if a student has preferred pronouns you have to use them. Making sure that we encourage that among our staff,” says Pigott.

Though it is not a perfect world for many LGBTQ students in this country, some say that progress is being made. People are challenging what is taught in classrooms and how students are treated. Even some educators who don’t completely understand LGBTQ students still ensure that their students are getting the adequate education and respect that they need. It is the hope of many that everyone, no matter their gender or sexuality, is treated with respect in and outside of school.