Sexual orientations and/or identities are intrinsic to individuals, not acquired externally. In other words, children are born with specific anatomy and physiology that may or may not explain their sexual orientations. These orientations often emerge early in life and may differ from external expectations tied to their sexual anatomy (Poirier et al., 2014). Gender identities also emerge early in life. Young people today are increasingly exploring their sexual orientations and gender identities and are more open about living in ways that respect them.

Students who are part of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transexual, Queer/Questioning, Intersex, Asexual/Aromantic/Agender, Two-Spirit, and more (LGBTQIA2S+) community often suffer from increased incidences of bullying, marginalization, and physical and emotional harassment at school. These students are vulnerable due to their peer marginalization and are at increased risk for disorders like anxiety and depression, harmful coping mechanisms such as drug and alcohol use, school failure, drop-out and suicide. It is up to school personnel to provide supportive environments that can help these youths learn about themselves, cope with emotional and physical changes in a compassionate environment and ultimately succeed in school and life. This lesson will address vocabulary and concepts about the LGBTQIA2S+ community and will introduce strategies for supporting students in educational environments and creating inclusive and safe schools. It will also address perspectives toward LGBTQIA2S+ youth in Hawai‘i’s indigenous community as well as how to partner with families who are LGBTQIA2S+ and support families of students in this community.


Poirier, J. M., Fisher, S. K., Hunt, R. A., & Bearse, M. (2014). A guide for understanding, supporting, and affirming LGBTQI2-S children, youth, and families. www.glsen.org/research


Incidence of LGBTQIA2S+ in the United States

The incidence of individuals who identify as LGBTQIA2S+ in the US in 2017 was approximately 4.6%, with more women (5.1%) than men (3.9%), and more millennials (born between 1980 and 1999, 8.1%) than generation X (born between 1965-1979, 3.5%) (Newport, 2018, May 22). The incidence of younger people reporting a LGBTQIA2S+ identity has been increasing, one percentage point between 2012 and 2017, while older people are not significantly increasing their identification with this community over time. Increasing identification is reported most among Asians and Hispanic Americans, with White and Black people not increasing as much. Interestingly, people from lower income groups (less than $36,000/year) report higher incidences of LGBTQIA2S+ identification (6.2%) and higher income people (more than $90,000) report a lower incidence (3.9%). Per a 2020 Gallup poll, Hawai’i has one of the largest populations identifying as LGBTQIA2S+ among U.S. States (4.6%) with Nevada and Washington being the highest states at 5.6% and 5.5% (Williams Institute). However, Washington D.C. was the highest among all U.S. jurisdictions with approximately 10% at multiple measurement points from 2012 to 2020 (Gates & Newport, Feb. 15, 2013; Newport, 2018, May 22; Williams Institute). North Dakota was the lowest at 1.5%.

1) Gates, G. J., & Newport, F. (Feb. 15, 2013). Gallup, 5% of Hawaii residents gay. Hawaii Free Press. http://www.hawaiifreepress.com/Articles-Main/ID/8905/Gallup-5-of-Hawaii-Residents-Gay

2) Newport, F. (2018, May 22). In U.S., Estimate of LGBT Population rises to 4.5%. Gallup News.https://news.gallup.com/poll/234863/estimate-lgbt-population-rises.aspx

3) Williams Institute. (July, 2020). Adult LGBT Population in the United States. Williams Institute, UCLA School of Law. Retrieved February 26 from https://williamsinstitute.law.ucla.edu/publications/adult-lgbt-pop-us/

Challenges for LGBTQIA2S+ Youth

Acceptance of the LGBTQIA2S+ community is increasing as indicated by the large public acceptance of same-sex marriage and the 2015 Supreme Court declaration that same-sex marriage is legal in all states. However, students who identify as part of this community suffer greater incidents of bullying, verbal, and physical harassment than non-LGBTQIA2S+ students (GLSEN, 2019; Heiden-Roots et al., 2020). They also more often curtail their educational aspirations and miss more school due to feeling unsafe or not belonging than students who are not a part of this community (Kosciw et al., 2020). They are more prone than non-LGBTQIA2S+ students to suicide ideation or attempts, harming themselves through cutting and other self-harm strategies, use of illicit drugs, eating disorders, depression, and anxiety (Heiden-Roots et al., 2020).

Although the home is the most important place for LGBTQIA2S+ students to feel safe, many students experience difficulty with family members accepting their sexual orientation and/or identification at home. School can be a place in which students can safely explore their sexual orientations and/or identities through talking with their peers and trusted adults. However, other students and teachers often mirror the attitudes of society and perpetuate the stigmas that students experience; teachers may not stop the harassment or address it, thereby creating an unsafe environment at school for LGBTQIA2S+ students. In addition, school policies often discriminate against these students regarding bathroom and locker room rules for access, dress codes, and other policies. Teachers, school counselors, social workers, and administrators often do not get adequate training to support LGBTQIA2S+ students in school (GLSEN, 2019).

1) GLSEN, A., ACSSW, & SSWAA,. (2019). Supporting safe and healthy schools for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer students: A national survey of school counselors, social workers, and psychologists. GLSEN. www.glsen.org/research

2) Heiden-Roots, K., Salas, J., More, R., Hasan, S., & Wilson, L. (2020). Peer victimization and mental health outcomes for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and heterosexual youth: A latent class analysis. Journal of School Health, 90, 771-778. https://doi.org/10.1111/josh.12940

3) Kosciw, J. G., Clark, C. M., Truong, N. L., & Zongrone, A. D. (2020). The 2019 National School Climate Survey: The experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer youth in our nation’s schools. GLSEN. www.glsen.org/research




Many terms have been developed to appropriately describe people with varied gender identities, expressions and behaviors. Using appropriate terms indicates knowledge about gender issues, sensitivity to people with non-conforming sexual orientations and/or genders, and inclusion of people with all types of gender orientations, identifications, and expressions. The Centers for Educational Justice and Community Engagement at the University of California-Berkeley has developed a comprehensive list of related terms that is available at: https://cejce.berkeley.edu/geneq/resources/lgbtq-resources/definition-terms. Below, we have listed more common terms that all educators should be familiar with and use.

Gender Identity

An individual’s sense of his, her, or their gender, regardless of whether this is congruent with sexual biology. Gender identity is now recognized as a spectrum rather than a dichotomy of male and female. It could be male, female, neither male nor female, both male and female, or a moving target somewhere between male and female.

Gender Conforming and Non-Conforming

Gender conforming includes people whose gender conforms to majority societal expectations of gender expressions of men and women. Gender non-conforming includes people whose gender expressions do not conform to majority societal expectations.


A person is cisgender when the birth sexual biology (male or female) is congruent with the individual’s perception of personal gender identity. The shortened version “cis” is often used.

Sexual Orientation

Sexual orientation indicates to whom one is sexually or romantically attracted. This could include homosexual, gay, or lesbian for someone attracted to a person of the same sex; bisexual or pansexual refers to someone attracted to people of different sexual orientations; and heterosexual or straight refers to a person who is attracted to someone of a different sex.


A person is homosexual or gay when attracted to someone of the same or similar sex. A lesbian is a woman attracted to other women. A gay man is attracted to other men.


A person who is bisexual is attracted to both men and women. The term pansexual is currently more accepted since it does not imply a dichotomous sex of only men and women.


When the birth sexual biology (male or female) is not congruent with the individual’s perception of personal gender identity, a person identifies as transgender. This person may or may not wish to change their body to better reflect personal gender identity. The shortened version “trans” is often used.


A variant of transgender, transsexual generally refers to a person who wishes to alter his, her or their body through hormones or surgery to better reflect personal gender identity.

Trans Girl/Woman

A trans girl is an individual who was born with male biology, who identifies as female.

Trans Boy/Man

A trans boy is an individual who was born with female biology, who identifies as male.


A person who is asexual is an individual who does not experience sexual attraction toward anyone and/or does not engage in sexual relations.

Gender Fluid

When gender identification changes and individuals identify at different times as male or female, or in between, they are known as gender fluid.


People often indicate their gender identity by announcing which pronouns they are comfortable using. These could include “he, him, his” for male cisgender or male transgender. “She, her, hers” could refer to someone who identifies as female cisgender or female transgender. “Their or theirs” could refer to a person who identifies as having a fluid gender or who does not identify with any particular gender. Indicating one’s pronouns when meeting someone in person or on correspondence or online can indicate one’s openness to the LGBTQIA2S+ community.

Gender Expression

How a person expresses individual gender identity is their gender expression. This can include dress, behavior, language, and social interests.

Contexts of LGBTQIA2S+ Students in Schools

On average, youth become aware of their attraction to others of the same or different sexes by age 10. They identify as LGBTQIA2S+ around age 16, and come out to others by age 18 (Toomey & Russell, 2016). These figures can vary significantly based on social identities such as race, socioeconomic status, sexual identity, and gender (Bishop et al., 2020). This makes the middle and high school years potentially very confusing and difficult for sexual minority youth. Some schools have a Gay Alliance club or organization that serves the function of providing a place to belong, support for students who are unsure or questioning their sexual identity, and activities to promote social support. But, many schools do not provide this type of support. Young people negotiating their sexual orientation or gender identity can benefit greatly from informed social support of peers and adults, and from teachers who have examined their own views about minority sexuality and recognize the strong biological and social influences on adolescents.

1) Bishop, M. D., Fish, J. N., Hammack, P. L., & Russell, S. T. (2020). Sexual identity development milestones in three generations of sexual minority people: A national probablility sample. Developmental Psychology56(11), 2177-2193. https://doi.org/http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/dev0001105

2) Toomey, R. B., & Russell, S. T. (2016). The role of sexual orientation in school based victimization: A meta-analysis. Youth and Society48(2), 176-201.

Hawai'i's Perspectives on LGBTQIA2S+

Native Hawaiians have a unique Indigenous perspective toward individuals who do not identify exclusively as male or female. The term “mahu” is used for a man who lives as a woman. In the traditional Hawaiian culture, a mahu had spiritual powers and was deeply respected. This practice is reflected in the Samoan community that uses the term “fa’afafine.” Mahu and fa’afafine are well accepted in their cultural contexts. In general, people are accepted as they are in these cultures. A short film called “In the Middle” about a teacher and an 11-year-old student who both consider themselves “in the middle” can help teachers and parents better understand this cultural phenomemon (Hamer & Wilson, 2017).

1) Hamer, D., & Wilson, J. (2017). A Place in the Middle [film]. D. Hamer, & Wilson, J.; QwavesLLC. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TIQ5fHc5_KA

Supporting Families that Include LGBTQIA2S+ Adults and Children

Families often include those who identify in a particular LGTBQIA2S+ group. This can include biological parents and children, adoptive parents and children, foster parents and children, step parents, aunties, uncles, grandparents, and those who are informally adopted into the family. In Hawaiʻi, people in this latter group are often called “hanai” family members, and they are privileged with all of the respect and rights as any other family member. This practice holds true for many other Pacific Island cultures as well. Guardians are those who take responsibility for children, and are not always the legal or biological relatives. This is important to recognize because there are as many diverse family structures as there are diverse sexual orientations and identities.

When one or more parents are LGBTQIA2S+, teachers should respect each parent/guardian’s responsibilities and roles in their children’s lives. If legal guardianship is needed for specific permissions or signatures, then the need should be explained to those who are the acting parents or guardians so that they can help obtain the needed signatures. When children are LGBTQIA2S+, they need to be supported unconditionally by educators. Parents may need assistance to learn about or come to understand their children. Often, it is the parents who become strong advocates for their children and educate teachers about children’s needs.

Recommendations for Educators for Inclusive and Supportive Schools

It is strongly recommended that educators inform themselves about child and adolescent sexual orientation and gender identity development, and support and advocate for all students. Here are some ways that educators can support LGBTQIA2S+ students.

  1. Educate yourself. Look at your own biases and explore your own feelings about sexual orientations and gender identities that are different from your own. Look at the resources provided on this website to expand your own knowledge about these topics.
  2. Welcome students to talk about their sexual orientation and gender identity explorations. Listen without judgment. Encourage your students to educate you further about themselves and their feelings.
  3. Insist that other students, teachers, and administrators are respectful to students with sexual orientations and gender identities different from their own. Do not allow bullying, put downs, or non-verbal discrimination. Make clear your expectations that everyone is treated respectfully.
  4. Use terms that indicate your own acceptance, welcoming, and advocacy of LGBTQIA2S+ youth. Many of these terms are defined in this lesson. Insist that others use appropriate terms to refer to this population, including appropriate pronouns.
  5. Find resources that are available for youth who are exploring their sexual orientations and gender identities in your school, community, and online, and refer youth and families to these resources (some resources are attached). Share resources with family members and with the school community.
  6. Consider volunteering to start a Genders and Sexualities Alliance or a related program at your school. These programs often provide a place to belong for LGBTQIA2S+ youth and have been shown to help youth avoid many of the mental health and social difficulties that can affect their peers who do not have this resource.
  7. Advocate to change school and community policies to promote equity for LGBTQIA2S+ youth. Demonstrate that you are an ally and a friend to all youth.
  8. Have a student/family panel – families and students can share their experiences and what they want schools to know.
  9. Incorporate literature and articles that tell stories of LGBTQIA2S+ community members, such as “The Real Boy Crisis.”
  10. Develop a professional development course for teachers focusing on how to support LGBTQIA2S+ families. Topics could include school climate, bullying, etc.
    • “Helping Families to Support Their LGBT Children” at https://store.samhsa.gov/sites/default/files/d7/priv/pep14-lgbtkids.pdf
    • Creating Safe and Supportive Learning Environments, A Guide for Working with Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Questioning Youth and Families Fisher and K.Komosa-Hawkins, eds., 2013. (Book)
    • See “Schools, School Climate, Bullying, and Bias” section on the list of attached resources

This list of resources for supporting LGBTQIA2S+ students and their families was complied by Jo Chang (ocsjosie@hotmail.com). We are grateful to her for sharing it with us. https://affect.coe.hawaii.edu/resources-for-supporting-lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgender-queer-and-other-sexual-and-gender-minority-lgbtq-children-youth-and-their-families/