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The role of school counselors in addressing sexual orientation in schools.

Issues of sexual orientation are relevant to multiple levels of the school community, including students, school professionals, and schools as institutions. School counselors, with their developmental training, systems perspective, and commitment to diversity, are unique& positioned to be leaders in efforts not only to provide support for students engaged in the process of recognizing and accepting their own sexual identities, but also to promote more sophisticated dialogue about issues of sexual orientation in schools. This article presents a three-tiered action plan that will provide school counselors with tools necessary to address the issue of sexual orientation in their schools.


Over the past few decades, awareness of the diversity of sexual orientations has been consistently increasing across various spheres of society, including schools. Several defining characteristics of school counselors, including their training in child and adolescent development, their systems perspective, and their commitment to diversity, distinguish them as potential leaders in addressing the issue of sexual orientation in schools. Sexual orientation is defined as an enduring emotional, romantic, and sexual attraction that can range from exclusive homosexuality to exclusive heterosexuality and includes various forms of bisexuality (American Psychological Association, 1998).

In the school counseling literature, explorations of sexual orientation have been somewhat limited in frequency. Professional School Counseling published a special issue on sexual orientation in schools in 1998. More recent literature includes articles on the legal obligations to protect gay and lesbian students (McFarland & Dupois, 2001) and on systemic anti-oppression strategies for school counselors (Chen-Hayes, 2001). In light of the substantial changes that have occurred in both society's understandings of sexual orientation as well as the role of the school counselor over the past few decades, it is time to renew the conversation about issues that face gay, lesbian, and bisexual students in schools, and the implications these issues have for the practice of school counselors. The focus of this article is on issues of sexual orientation among middle and high school students and implications for school counselors at those levels. The significant differences in developmental level between elementary and secondary school students require a separate discussion of strategies and interventions that would be suitable for elementary students.

While this article focuses on issues of diversity of sexual orientation, it does not specifically address issues related to gender identity. However, much of our discussion is relevant to transgender and gender-variant youth because of the link between heterosexism, that is, the devaluing of non-heterosexual identities (Herek, 2007), and sexism, the punishment of nonconformity to traditional gender norms (Kite, 2001). Though there is an overlap between lesbian/gay/bisexual youth and gender-variant youth insofar as both groups bear the negative social consequences of transgressing gender norms (Herek, 1992), transgender youth contend with a unique set of challenges (e.g., the process of gender transition) that require a specific focus and are beyond the scope of the current discussion. As a result, this article often refers to the LGB (lesbian, gay, bisexual) community, instead of the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) community, in an effort to avoid the sweeping assumption that transgender individuals face the same issues as lesbians, gay men, or bisexual individuals.

After an overview of the current social context visa-vis sexual orientation, this article articulates the relevance of sexual orientation issues in school communities and focuses on the opportunities and responsibilities for action on the part of school counselors.


The 1973 decision by the American Psychiatric Association (APA) to remove "homosexuality" as a disorder from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, 2nd Ed. began a lengthy process of reshaping psychology's and society's understandings of homosexuality from a problem to be cured to a normal expression of sexual identity (APA, 1973). As political visibility of the LGB community has increased, so has the presence of LGB-identified figures in popular culture. Their stories, both true and fictional, continue to be integrated into mainstream media and become further relevant in the dominant culture of the United States (Herman, 2005).

Though moderate voices and opinions undoubtedly exist, the social debate on issues of homosexuality is often framed as a face-off of absolutes in which the extreme points of view are given the most airtime (Hull, 2006). When treated this way, the debate becomes polarized and can result in confusion for adolescents as they explore their sexual identifies and discern their perspectives on these issues. This public clash of ideologies reflects the difficulty of the current transitional moment in history in which the nation is struggling to strike a balance that maintains its twin ideals of tradition and acceptance. Within this social context, the topic of sexual orientation can be difficult for school counselors to raise in schools.


Issues of sexual orientation impact different levels of the school community, including students, school staff, and schools as institutions.

Student Level

All students benefit from a greater awareness of issues of sexual orientation as they begin the process of exploring and integrating their sexual identities. For heterosexual students, an awareness of the process of discovery experienced by their LGB peers can enhance their appreciation of the various dimensions of sexual identity (Striepe & Tolman, 2003; Worthington, Savoy, Dillon, & Vernaglia, 2002). For some students, a heightened awareness of sexual orientation may result in their beginning to acknowledge their identity as lesbian, gay, or bisexual and embarking on the developmental "coming out" process. Recent trends suggest that the age of first awareness typically ranges from 8 to 11 years, and that the age of identifying as LGB typically ranges from 15 to 17 years (Savin-Williams & Diamond, 2000). Approximately 5% of America's high school students identify as lesbian or gay, which means that, on average, every secondary school classroom in the United States has one LGB student (Kosciw, 2004). Finally, regardless of the number of students who "come out" publicly in schools, there are a significant number of students who struggle silently with same-sex attraction.

When students self-identify as LGB in schools, they can face hostile environments. LGB students face significant risks, such as verbal and physical harassment and a lack of safety in school. In a recent national survey of LGB-identified youth conducted by the Gay Lesbian and Straight Educational Network (GLSEN; Kosciw, 2004), 91.5% of LGB students reported hearing homophobic remarks at school frequently or often, and 84% reported being verbally harassed because of their sexual orientation. Further, 39% reported experiencing physical harassment and 64% reported that they did not feel safe at school. In addition, heterosexual students are not immune to harassment on the basis of sexual orientation. In fact, for every LGB student who reported harassment, four heterosexual students reported harassment for being perceived as gay or lesbian (Reis, 1996). Many school counselors have witnessed the harassment that students perceived to be gay or lesbian encounter in schools, including ridiculing, exclusion, physical intimidation, hitting, and shoving (Faulkner & Cranston, 1998).

School counselors are well aware that negative school experiences contribute to and intensify negative health and mental health outcomes. It is important to note that the literature documenting a laundry list of negative psychological outcomes for young LGB persons is controversial and has been politically manipulated at times both by those who support LGB youth and those who oppose a homosexual "lifestyle" (Savin-Williams, 2005). However, well-designed research has demonstrated that LGB students are at high risk for dropping out of school, suicidal ideation and behaviors, depression, self-harm, substance abuse, loneliness, social dissatisfaction, and risky sexual behavior (Cochran & Mays, 2000; D'Augelli, 2002; McDaniel, Purcell, & D'Augelli, 2001; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1999).

The risk factors associated with identifying as LGB in schools are often compounded by risks present within the family or larger social systems (Lerner, 1995). Students who face multiple institutional risks, such as racism and heterosexism, contend with unique obstacles in their processes of recognizing and integrating their racial identities with their sexual orientation (Kumashiro, 2001). As efforts are made to address racism and heterosexism as distinct issues in schools, the intersection of race and sexual orientation is often ignored, and the paradoxical challenges to identity development issues faced by LGB students of color may remain unrecognized (Kumashiro). The predominant association of issues of sexual orientation with a White racial identity has characterized the mainstream LGB culture as well as LGB political movements. As a result, LGB students of color typically feel both alienated from the LGB community and marginalized from their cultural community for embracing a sexual minority status that is often associated with a White racial identity (Kumashiro).

School Staff Level

In addition to its impact on students and their development, the growing presence of sexual orientation issues in schools has clear implications for school professionals, such as teachers and administrators, who are in a position to witness and stop harassment and bullying of LGB students. Intervention and support from teachers and school counselors makes a difference (Ponterotto, Utsey, & Pederson, 2006). LGB students who can identity, a supportive teacher or staff member are more likely to report feeling safe at school, to achieve greater academic success, and to plan to go to college after secondary school (Kosciw, 2004). However, only 3.4% of LGB students in the GLSEN survey reported that faculty members "always" intervene when they hear homophobic remarks, and only 13.7% of students reported that faculty members intervene "most of the time" (Kosciw). These numbers leave substantial room for improvement. Further, knowledge and understanding of issues confronting LGB students can be particularly useful when working with families of LGB students or with same-sex parents. Well-informed school staff members are in a position to facilitate conversations between LGB-questioning students and their families, who may be grappling with cultural or religious values that impede acceptance.

Institutional Level

Finally, schools as institutions face the question of whether and how to offer institutional support for an increasing number of LGB-identified students and their families. Often, school policies are influenced by governing authorities, such as a school board that includes "sexual orientation" in its nondiscrimination policy or a state legislature that passes a "Safe Schools Policy." The establishment of such policies is controversial and can lead to community protest (Macgillivray, 2004). Some community members contend that such policies promote homosexuality. Some argue that these policies offer special rights and protections to LGB students, which infringes upon the Equal Protection Clause. Thus, schools face decisions about how to respond to these controversies and implement policies in ways that are congruent with the shared values of students' families and the school community in which they are located.

The significance of issues of sexual orientation at multiple levels of the school community creates a need for more knowledge among school professionals and a deeper level of developmentally appropriate dialogue with students. School counselors are not only experts in adolescent development, but also leaders of school change (American School Counselor Association [ASCA], 2005). Therefore, they are strategically positioned to connect with all levels of the community, from the students to the administrators. What follows is an action plan that will allow school counselors to lead their schools in engaging issues of sexual orientation and, further, enable them to engage in work that is comprehensive, oriented toward prevention, and developmental in nature (ASCA).


The proposed action plan for school counselors to address issues of sexual orientation in schools includes activities that fall along a continuum: (a) whole-school prevention, (b) targeted prevention, and (c) intensive intervention. This approach is embedded in a comprehcnsive system of student support that addresses all students and focuses on strengths as well as risks (ASCA, 2005; Education Trust, 2003; Green & Keys, 2001).

Whole-School Prevention

The most inclusive level of the comprehensive prevention continuum seeks to serve the whole school by creating a school climate that is safe, affirming, and conducive to learning and healthy development for all students. A safe school climate for students who identify as LGB or question their sexuality is evident in a physical environment that demonstrates respect and acceptance of diverse sexual orientations, a social environment that works to counteract heterosexism by promoting safe and respectful dialogue, an affective environment that facilitates a sense of belonging for all students, and an academic environment that is inclusive and values diversity (Michigan State University., 2004).

School counselors can enhance school climate through the use of strategies to enhance the visibility and acceptance of LGB issues. These strategies can include displaying symbols (e.g., "Safe Space" stickers) that communicate their openness to supportive dialogue regarding LGB issues and ensuring the availability, of print and video resources that address issues significant to the development of LGB individuals (e.g., coming out). Further, school counselors can encourage LGB-identified faculty role models and all faculty members to be openly supportive of LGB youth by promoting gay-straight alliances and other social and academic activities that support LGB youth (Ouellett, 1996).

Given that language is a powerful tool in the perpetuation as well as the confrontation of social inequity (Foucault, 1972; Rojek, Peacock, & Collins, 1988), school climate is enhanced when school counselors understand the terminology used in the LGB community and engage in the use of inclusive language. One issue that school counselors often encounter is "coming out," which is the ongoing process of acknowledging one's sexual orientation to one's self and disclosing one's sexual minority status to others (Cass, 1979; Magruder & Waldner, 1999). School counselors also may hear students referring to themselves as "queer," a term that historically has been derogatory but currently is used proudly by members of the LGB community, particularly those who identify as not exclusively heterosexual but resist strict categorization as gay, lesbian, or bisexual (Kumashiro, 2002).

The assumption that heterosexuality is universal, which is marginalizing and devaluing for LGB youth, is evident in language commonly used in schools (Kumashiro, 2002) and thus a detriment to school climate. For example, it is often assumed that a student who refers to his or her "parents" is a part of a traditional family headed by a mother and a father. In reality, some parents may be same-sex couples. Further, students can feel marginalized when teachers ask them to bring school materials home to "Mom and Dad" or when a classmate asks a new girl at school if she has a boyfriend.

Just as these typically unintentional linguistic missteps can perpetuate the marginalization and invisibility of LGB students (Kumashiro, 2001), deliberate utilizations of inclusive language by school counselors can subtly challenge stereotypes and encourage awareness (Ouellett, 1996). Examples include using the term sexual orientation instead of sexual preference, because the latter term suggests a degree of voluntary choice that is contrary to the experience of LGB individuals and that has not been empirically demonstrated (American Psychological Association, 2001). Further, to promote awareness and challenge stereotypes through language, school counselors can use examples of LGB people when referring to activities that are typically associated only with heterosexual people. For instance, school counselors can use examples of same-sex couples as parents in discussions of families or reference the LGB-identified people in a discussion of religious identity or involvement. Finally, when comparing a group of gay men, lesbians, or bisexual people to others, it is important to use parallel group terms. For example, contrasting lesbians with "the general public" or "normal women" perpetuates marginalization, while a comparison of lesbians to "heterosexual women" avoids a value judgment (American Psychological Association).

School climate is significantly impacted by school policy. Protecting vulnerable students is a critical component of creating a positive school climate and enabling students to flourish academically and socially. Federal law has provided motivation for schools to prevent anti-LGB harassment in schools. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that schools can be sued under Title IX if districts tail to protect students from sexual harassment, which is typically interpreted to include harassment based on sexual orientation (Buckel, 2000; Macgillivray, 2004). Schools can make their intentions to protect students clear by instituting a policy that prohibits discrimination explicitly on the basis of sexual orientation. At schools with nondiscrimination policies that include sexual orientation, students hear fewer homophobic remarks, teachers and other school personnel intervene more frequently in harassment situations, and students feel safer to report incidents of harassment to their authorities (Kosciw, 2004; Phoenix et al., 2006).

The level of opposition that such policies generate largely depends on the social and political context of a particular geographic region. School counselors, equipped with a systemic perspective, may be best suited to assess the climate both within and beyond school walls regarding LGB issues and to inform district or school-wide decisions regarding such policies.

In short, by virtue of their training, school counselors are well positioned to foster a safe and healthy school climate for all students. However, school counselors also can support LGB students through targeted prevention.

Targeted Prevention

The targeted-prevention domain is aimed at specific groups of students who face established risks (e.g., classism, racism, heterosexism). Targeted prevention is viewed as critical to a socially just approach to education because it seeks to thwart chronic and predictable risks caused by various factors, including systemic inequities (Prilleltensky, 1997; Vera & Speight, 2003). If LGB youth develop both in a social context and in schools that assume heterosexuality and devalue homosexuality, they face systemic risks that have far-reaching implications for their personal and academic development, such as chronic fear for their safety at school, lowered academic achievement, and compromised career development (Dupper & Meyer-Adams, 2002; Elliott, Hamburg, & Williams, 1998; Fassinger, 1995). Targeted prevention can help to buffer LGB students from risks and increase opportunities for healthy personal and academic development.

Examples of targeted prevention include (a) professional development for teachers, (b) gay-straight alliances, and (c) partnerships with community agencies that serve the LGB population.

Professional development for teachers. School counselors can access any of several guides that offer strategies for furthering teachers' understanding of sexual orientation, including one published by the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights (1999). Generally, these training materials raise awareness of the challenges faced by sexual minority students and provide strategies for teachers to reduce discrimination, both through intervening in harassment situations and being approachable for students who need a safe authority figure (McFarland & Dupois, 2001; U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights). For example, school counselors can help teachers to intervene when students use the phrase "That's so gay," a phrase often used derisively if not always to deride homosexuality specifically. Despite the lack of homophobic intention, such comments have a homophobic impact that can be perpetuated if the comments are not addressed.

In the context of professional development, school counselors can coach teachers to help students understand that it is not the word "gay" that is problematic, but rather the way it is used. Teachers can communicate that the word "gay" is used proudly by a group of people and, therefore, should not be used in all insulting way to demean this group. In addition, school counselors may advocate that teachers use a personal testimonial, such as mentioning that they have LGB friends or that they identify as LGB, to communicate that these comments hurt real people. Above all, teachers can learn through professional development that it is important to avoid simple reprimands such as "Don't say that word," which thwarts conversation instead of furthering it (Krywanczyk, 2007).

In addition to these didactic approaches, effective professional development with teachers provides some opportunities for teachers to examine their own beliefs and values regarding LGB issues and individuals. It is likely that some teachers have religious, cultural, or moral objections to same-sex attractions, behaviors, or identities. Some teachers may believe that raising awareness of issues of sexual orientation in schools actually promotes homosexuality. School counselors can face these challenges by drawing a distinction between promoting homosexuality and protecting students. Sensitive and effective professional development enables teachers to voice and maintain any personal objections to homosexuality, they may have, while ensuring that they are able to fulfill their professional obligations of providing a safe learning environment for their students.

Gay-straight alliances (GSAs). A comprehensive view of prevention in schools focuses not only on the reduction of school-related risks such as bullying and harassment, but also the promotion of protective factors and processes for the students facing these risks every day (Walsh, DePaul, & Park-Taylor, 2009). For LGB students, who often feel invisible, alone, and unsafe, and lacking in positive social supports and a feeling of belonging (Ryan & Martin, 2000; Thompson & Johnston, 2003), schools can offer opportunities to connect with and support one another through GSAs.

Although GSAs are a relatively new phenomenon, having originated in the mid-1980s, they have grown rapidly. This quick growth can be partially attributed to GLSEN, a national organization that is devoted to guiding schools in establishing alliances. GLSEN has registered 3,000 alliances across the country. GSAs are student-led and student-organized school clubs that strive to create a safe, welcoming, and accepting school environment for all youth, regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity. GSAs seek to serve not only LGB students, but also students who are perceived as LGB, students who question their sexual orientation, students who have LGB friends and family members, and all those who care about LGB issues (Lee, 2002).

Early research on GSAs has begun to demonstrate their effectiveness at promoting protective factors. For example, it is been shown that they can yield positive social relationships, further educational aspirations, and foster an increased sense of identification with school (Lee, 2002). Identifying with school is especially significant for LGB youth, who have been historically at elevated risk for dropping out of school (Garofalo, Wolf, Kessel, Palfrey, & DuRant, 1998; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1999). Motivated by positive outcomes, a number of states, including Massachusetts, New Jersey, and North Carolina, have passed policies urging all secondary schools to establish GSAs.

School counselors can contribute to the positive outcomes associated with GSAs by providing support and guidance to student leaders as they seek to form alliances and by working with these groups to help them effectively assess and meet the needs of the student body. Though students ideally lead efforts to establish GSAs, the involvement of school personnel is critical to shepherd them into existence and to maintain their success and relevance (GLSEN, 2005).

Given the particular challenges faced by LGB students of color, it is crucial that school counselor allies and GSA members make concerted efforts to engage both straight allies of color and LGB-identified students of color. In addition, school counselors can educate the GSA members about the multifaceted intersection of racism and heterosexism while promoting dialogue and building coalitions with student groups that focus on cultural diversity.

Community partnerships. School-community partnerships are increasingly becoming a critical part of schools' efforts to enhance the learning and development of their students (Sanders, 2005; Walsh & DePaul, in press; Walsh, Howard, & Buckley, 1999). In addition to giving students access to supports and resources that help them achieve academically, partnerships with agencies can enhance schools' capacity to respond to the racial, ethnic, and cultural differences in student bodies (Constantine & Yeh, 2001; Holcomb-McCoy & Mitchell, 2005; Walsh & DePaul; Walsh et al., 2009). Community-based LGB youth programs can play invaluable roles in school counselors' efforts to create a safe environment for LGB and indeed all students. For example, community partners can provide expertise regarding the unique developmental pathways of LGB youth and systemic risks such as heterosexism. These agencies may be able to provide training and professional development for teachers, administrators, and students about inclusive language and the promotion of respectful dialogue about diversity of sexual orientations. Finally, community agencies that explicitly support the LGB population can provide consultation about how to conduct constructive conversations with students, parents, family, and community members who may be opposed to LGB school visibility (Griffin & Oullet, 2002).

Furthering collaboration with LGB-friendly community agencies can enhance the student support process through which at-risk students are identified, assessed, and served. The effectiveness of the student support process hinges on the diversity of services the school can access and how well those services fit the needs and strengths of the students being served (Constantine & Yeh, 2001). If the appropriate connections are in place, student support teams can refer students to LGB-knowledgeable clinicians when same-sex attraction causes students distress.

Intensive Intervention

Despite school counseling's shift away from an exclusive reliance on direct services to address mental health issues in schools, intensive intervention with identified "at-risk" students remains an integral and essential aspect of the role of school counselors. The challenges posed to LGB students in contexts that assume heterosexuality cannot always be addressed with school-wide interventions or targeted prevention. A comprehensive approach to addressing mental health in schools includes individual work with students who have already experienced negative outcomes. This type of intervention requires school counselors to have an appreciation of not only the well-documented risks faced by LGB students but also their unique resiliencies and strengths (Anderson, 1998).

Despite a focus in the literature and in society on the costs of being non-heterosexual, the process of accepting a non-heterosexual identity and navigating a heterosexist society often creates strengths and adaptive characteristics (Anderson, 1998). For example, though the initial phases of the coming-out process are often associated with a temporary but precipitous decrease in self-esteem, particularly for women (Fassinger, 1995), it has been found that LGB youth possess positive self-esteem overall (Anderson; Savin-Williams, 1990). Some conditions that enable the self-esteem of LGB youth to blossom include personal and parental acceptance, LGB youth's level of comfort with and acceptance of their sexual identity (Swann & Spivey, 2004), and the development skills to understand and navigate difficult social and cultural contexts (Anderson).

Awareness of risk and resilience factors is required for effective intervention with individuals and groups. For LGB students, the traditional identity formation challenges of adolescence are compounded by the difficulties of accepting and expressing an identity that is socially devalued within cultural, religious, familial, and social contexts (Dube & Savin-Williams, 1999). School counselors are more effective practitioners when they are aware of the risks and educated about the specific ways to alleviate them while fostering personal strengths. As with all students who may require intensive intervention, LGB students can benefit from (a) individual and group counseling, and (b) psychoeducation with the individual and his and her parents.

Individual and group counseling. The ASCA National Model (2005) includes responsive services (e.g., individual and group counseling, crisis intervention) as one of four essential components of service delivery. With LGB students, small-group and individual counseling can be effective instruments in reducing gay-related stress and internalized homophobia, which can result in further negative outcomes (Kocarck & Pelling, 2003; Lemoire & Chen, 2005; Lewis, Derlega, Griffin, & Krowinski, 2003; Stone, 1999).

For LGB youth in the process of coming out to themselves and integrating their sexuality into their lives, brief and supportive counseling may present a rare opportunity to safely discuss their experiences, to receive support regarding immediate problems (e.g., who to tell, how to tell them), and to strengthen capacities for future growth and development (Stone, 1999). The principles that guide person-centered counseling--unconditional positive regard and empathy--are particularly effective at counteracting the stigmatization that these youth experience (Lemoire & Chen, 2005). By experiencing acceptance from a culturally competent school counselor, students will, in time, internalize the skills for accepting themselves. The relational aspect of individual counseling allows for a restoration of the capacity for interpersonal authenticity in adolescents who may have presented false selves to the world for some period of time.

School counselors' awareness of diversity enables them to focus on cultural strengths without pathologizing cultural and religious values (Yeh, 2004). For example, school counselors can focus on spiritual strengths and the positive philosophy of a religion that may otherwise consider homosexuality morally wrong in practice. Finally, by forming and facilitating a counseling group or support group experience for LGB and questioning students, school counselors can foster a sense of connectedness and community where there may have been isolation and alienation (Medeiros, Seehaus, Elliott, & Melaney, 2004; Muller & Hartman, 1998).

Psychoeducation with students, families, and caregivers. Given that LGB youth's self esteem is related to personal acceptance and parental support (Swann & Spivey, 2004), school counselors can provide psychoeducation for students and parents. For students, school counselors might present a history of social and cultural understandings of sexual orientation, which may enable students to better understand themselves and to place themselves in a historical context. Further, when working with students of color, school counselors can focus on cultural strengths and fostering deeper awareness of the evolution of their cultural belief systems that pertain to homosexuality. For example, school counselors may encourage students to research historical figures from their cultural background who identified as gay, lesbian, or bisexual within the context of their coursework. For example, African-American students may find encouragement in exploring the literary and historical legacy of James Baldwin, an openly gay African-American writer who is remembered for integrating his racial, religious, and sexual identities in his work. In exploring Baldwin's work, students would learn about his struggles against discrimination on the basis of race and sexual orientation. This knowledge may help students endure the negative psychological impact of the social stigma prevalent in contemporary African-American cultural norms and values.

In working with families and caregivers, it is important that school counselors maintain a nonjudgmental attitude, possess the knowledge of theories and research related to sexual identity development, and remain aware of their own biases. Ideally, school counselors delivering psychoeducation to parents and caregivers would refrain from focusing on religious, personal, and cultural values that oppose homosexuality and instead focus on cultural strengths, familial bonds, and support systems available in the community. Aware of the empirically validated benefits of parental acceptance of their LGB-identified children, school counselors might help parents communicate support for their children without necessarily condoning sexual behavior. Psychoeducational interventions with parents and caregivers may involve educating parents regarding the difference between their children's sexual orientation and their sexual behavior and also providing both informational resources and connections with support groups (e.g., Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays; Stone, 2003).

Moving Beyond Fear to Action

Implementing the proposed action plan outlined here may require many school counselors to overcome valid hesitations and address potential fears. Given that hesitancies and fears are often borne of discomfort with the relatively unknown, school counselors can readily become more knowing about the world and experiences of LGB students. There is a wealth of anecdotal literature that lends a human face to the statistics about LGB youth (e.g., Cross, Gust-Brey, & Ball, 2002; Edwards, 1997; Eisen & Hall, 1996; Tobias, 1998). Ultimately, however, school counselors' process of coming to understand LGB students requires authentic dialogue with LGB young people and student allies in their schools. School counselors have well-recognized skills for connecting with each and with all students. Listening to the stories and learning from the experiences of LGB students will enable school counselors to address their fears, implement an effective action plan, and effect important change.


Schools are one of society's most stable institutions and, thus, are slow to change. The high fences and walls of some schools still stand as a visible reminder of their stability and separation from the flux of social context. On the contrary, school staff and school counselors in particular have recognized society's impact on schools and adapted their role in response to the contemporary and ever-evolving developmental challenges and barriers to learning faced by today's children. By raising the level of conversation regarding issues of sexual orientation and implementing supports for LGB students at multiple levels, school counselors can shepherd their schools toward meaningful and responsible change and their students toward further acceptance and opportunity.


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Jillian DePaul is a psychology intern, Mary E. Walsh, Ph.D., is a counseling psychology professor, and Uma C. Dam is a graduate student, all with Boston College, Chestnut Hill, MA. E-mail:
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Author:DePaul, Jillian; Walsh, Mary E.; Dam, Uma C.
Publication:Professional School Counseling
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Date:Apr 1, 2009
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