When a student tells you this information about themselves, unless they are out to everybody, it typically means that you are somebody in their life that they trust. You might be the first person they tell and there's power behind that. Any type of negative response while a student is opening up could result in them shutting down or cause them severe anguish. A simple, "Thank you for letting me know, I'm sure that couldn't have been easy, I want you to feel safe in my classroom and I want to respect you in anyway that I can," can go a long way with a student.
Most students will not feel comfortable sharing any kind of information unless they know it is confidential. Find a way to speak with them privately to get some more information. (With current school climates it could be good to have a conversation with the door open, or in view of another third party, but not within ear shot.)
During this time, ask questions like, "How can I help you feel comfortable in my class? What can I do? What pronouns do you use? Do you have another name you would like for me to call you? Have you spoken with your parents or other teachers/adults about this?
Most students are still figuring themselves out. They might not have all of the answers to the questions you ask, and you can reassure them and let them know that that's okay!
Some students are going to have a lot of support at home and know who they are 100%. Others are going to be terrified if a family member were to find out (as it can result in an uncomfortable living situation or homelessness). The biggest takeaway from this is that there is no "one size fits all" approach to any situation. Talk to the student to figure out what direction they are comfortable with about anything. Keep things confidential unless you become concerned the student is being harmed by somebody else, is harming themselves, or is thinking about harming others. Inform the student of those limitations because at the end of the day, you need to protect that student as well as yourself.
Start researching and find out the best ways to support your student. Learn about the LGBTQ+ community, learn different terminology so you are well-versed in case they use unfamiliar language. Find out where gender neutral bathrooms are. Have an open and honest conversation about your strengths and weaknesses in the area. Use this site to gain some more ideas.
It is a good idea to have resources for yourself and for your student. You can find these under the "Resources" tab on this site, but it is impossible for the list to be completely comprehensive. Have multiple different types of information at the ready, whether it's books, LGBTQ+ hotlines, journal articles, or even just a meme the student may appreciate. It is important for them to know they are not alone.
Talk to the student to figure out some of the stuff that can be challenging. That includes what name and pronouns you will use between the two of you, or in front of students/parents/other school staff, if they're wearing a formal uniform for concerts, what uniform that they will use, what name they want to appear in the program, etc. Be open to different ideas and work together to ensure the best classroom environment for them.
Part of the learning process is making mistakes--nobody is perfect and there isn't an expectation of perfection. If you slip up, maybe use the wrong pronoun or name, issue a quick apology and move on. Dwelling on the mistake will only make things more awkward for everybody. Apologize, move on, vow to do better, and then do better. You can always let your student know that you're trying and may not be perfect. Most of the time, students will appreciate the effort and will understand. When in doubt, check in with them privately and make sure all is well.
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