LGBTQ+ Intent vs impact in schools

EMILY (she/her): Creating the Anti-Racism Impact Vs. Intent deck together helped to organize our thoughts on common mistakes that White educators (like myself) make when attempting to be inclusive and equitable, but then how we miss the mark because we are centering ourselves rather than POC.

In my practice as an LGBTQ+ consultant for international schools (and as a cis, pan person), I found myself looking for something similar to illustrate the concepts I work on with schools and, when I couldn’t find it, I naturally thought: let’s call Daniel and we’ll make one.

DANIEL (he/him): So glad you did. Being cishet and an LGBTQ+ ally, but currently doing more work in the area of Anti-Racism, I’ve greatly benefited from your expertise and experience as we’ve crafted this deck– and found some blindspots in my own mindsets, attitudes, language, and actions. This work has also helped me look at the environments and structures I inhabit through the same lens and critically analyze how aligned intention and impact are in these spaces.

So what patterns have you noticed in common, perhaps well-intentioned, LGBTQ+ allyship that indicate the need for deeper understanding of actual impact on LGBTQ+ individuals?

EMILY: I’ve run into a lot of folks who mistakenly believe that their internal acceptance of LGBTQ+ people is sufficient for inclusion. Kids can’t read teachers’ minds, however, so a classroom without LGBTQ+ representation looks uninviting, regardless of the teacher’s internal feelings.

Lots of educators will say that all students are safe and welcome in school, but when learning spaces ignore or erase LGBTQ+ people, it doesn’t feel safe and welcome. We need to actively and deliberately include LGBTQ+ students in order to cultivate equitable schools. Staying silent maintains the status quo of LGBTQ+ exclusion.

DANIEL: And that’s where Intent vs. Impact comes in! While educators might have supportive intentions, we need to take a deeper look at how our environments, practices, perceptions, language, policies, and decisions actually impact LGBTQ+ community members. It’s more than just believing in something– it’s about making sure that truly inclusive, equitable, and empowering outcomes really happen.

In creating this deck with you, I noticed that there are many common practices, phrases, and mindsets that (perhaps unintentionally) signal to LGBTQ+ individuals that their identities are invalid and unwelcome. How can these kinds of damaging signals affect LGBTQ+ youth, their identity development, and their lives?

EMILY: The research on this is really clear: LGBTQ+ children who grow up in contexts that provide support for their identity development, that nurture their healthy growth, and that affirm their sense of self are far more likely to thrive than LGBTQ+ children who do not see themselves reflected in a positive way[1][2][3]. Unfortunately, LGBTQ+ youth are at much higher risk than their cishet peers for a number of mental health issues and negative outcomes, such as suicidality, depression, anxiety, substance use, disordered eating, and declining school performance[4][5]. The good news is that these health disparities can be positively impacted by adjusting the context around the child, such as by cultivating safe, welcoming, and loving homes, communities, peer groups, and schools[6][7][8]. This cultivation must be deliberate and visible, however – the impact matters more than the intent.

DANIEL: I believe that this kind of deliberate self-analysis comes through in the LGBTQ+ Intent vs. Impact deck we’ve created, which outlines common well-intentioned actions or mindsets that actually have a negative impact on LGBTQ+ individuals.

Our hope is that fellow educators use these infographics– not as a checklist– but as an opportunity for brave, meaningful, and sustained self-reflection and ongoing growth. All of us, especially cishet allies like myself, should be constantly working to understand the depth and nuance within LGBTQ+ identities, shining light on our own blind spots, modifying our language and practices, and pushing for more inclusive and supportive policies– all of which will have a long-term positive impact on our LGBTQ+ community members.

The LGBTQ+ Intent Vs. Impact infographic introduces the concept, and the rest of the deck with specific examples will be rolled out on Twitter and in our online gallery.

Follow us on Twitter:
@DanielWickner                                                       @EmilyMeadowsOrg

Emily Meadows is an LGBTQ+ consultant for international schools. For LGBTQ+ inclusive policy support and faculty professional development, please contact Emily at: EmilyMeadows@gmail.com


[1] Hatzenbuehler, M. L. & Pachankis, J. E. (2016). Stigma and minority stress as social determinants of health among lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth: Research evidence and clinical implications. Pediatric Clinics of North America,63(6), 985-997.

[2] Russell, S.T., Pollitt, A.Am., Li, G., & Grossman, A.H. (2018). Chosen name use is linked to reduced depressive symptoms, suicidal ideation, and suicidal behaviour among transgender youth. Journal of Adolescent Health, 63, 503-505.

[3] Murchison, G. R., Agenor, M., Reisner, S. L., & Watson, R. J. (2019). School restroom and locker room restrictions and sexual assault risk among transgender youth. Pediatrics, 143(6), DOI: 10.1542/peds.2018-2901

[4] Becerra-Culqui, T. A., Liu, Y., Nash, R., Cromwell, L., Flanders, W. D., Getahun, D., Giammettei, S. V…. & Goodman, M. (2018). Mental health of transgender and gender nonconforming youth compared with their peers. Pediatrics, DOI: 10.1542/peds.2017-384.

[5] Duffy, M. E., Henkel, K. E., & Joiner, T. E., (2019). Prevalence of self-injurious thoughts and behaviors in transgender individuals with eating disorders: A national study. Journal of Adolescent Health, 64(4), 461-466.

[6] Hatzenbuehler, M. L., Birkett, M., Van Wagenen, A., & Meyer, I. H. (2014). Protective School Climates and Reduced Risk for Suicide Ideation in Sexual Minority Youths. American Journal of Public Health, 104(2), 279-286

[7] United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). (2016). Out in the open: Education sector responses to violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity/expression. Paris, France: UNESCO.

[8] Poquiz, J. L., Coyne, C. A., Garofalo, R., & Chen, D. (2020). Comparison of gender minority stress and resilience among transmasculine, transfeminine, and nonbinary adolescents and young adults. Journal of Adolescent Health, 104.

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