GSCA Position Statement: SB - 88
This position statement was developed in opposition to HB 88 which has been introduced during the 2023 legislative session.
The Georgia School Counselor Association supports school counselors in Georgia as they promote student success. School counselors demonstrate their belief and their ethical responsibility, as outlined in the Ethical Standards for School Counselors, that all students have the ability to learn by advocating for an education system that provides optimal learning environments for all students (ASCA 2022).
An education system that provides optimal learning environments for all students includes students' rights to be respected and treated with dignity, to a physically and emotionally safe, inclusive and healthy school environment, both in-person and through digital platforms, free from abuse, bullying, harassment, discrimination and any other forms of violence, to equitable access to a school counseling program that promotes academic, career and social/emotional development and improves student outcomes for all students, including students historically and currently marginalized by the education system, to equitable access to school counselors who support students from all backgrounds and circumstances and who advocate for and affirm all students regardless of but not limited to ethnic/racial identity; nationality; age; social class; economic status; abilities/disabilities; language; immigration status; sexual orientation; gender identity; gender expression; family type; religious/spiritual identity; and living situations, including emancipated minor status, wards of the state, homelessness or incarceration, and to information and support needed to enhance self-development and affirmation within one’s group identities (ASCA 2022).
Ethically school counselors:
Have a primary obligation to the students, who are to be treated with dignity and respect as unique individuals.
Foster and affirm all students and their identity and psychosocial development.
Support all students and their development by actively working to eliminate systemic barriers or bias impeding student development.
Respect students’ and families’ values, beliefs and cultural background, as well as students’ sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression, and exercise great care to avoid imposing personal biases, beliefs or values rooted in one’s religion, culture or ethnicity.
Advocate for equitable, anti-oppressive and anti-bias policies and procedures, systems and practices, and provide effective, evidence-based and culturally sustaining interventions to address student needs.
Advocate with and on behalf of students to ensure they remain safe at home, in their communities and at school. A high standard of care includes determining what information is shared with parents/guardians and when information creates an unsafe environment for students.
Actively work to establish a safe, equitable, affirming school environment in which all members of the school community demonstrate respect, inclusion, and acceptance.
Understand and advocate for all students’ right to be treated in a manner that honors and respects their identity and expression, including but not limited to race, gender identity, gender expression, sexual orientation, language, and ability status, and to be free from any form of discipline, harassment or discrimination based on their identity or expression (ASCA 2022).
Knowing that over eighty percent of LGBTQ+ students surveyed reported feeling unsafe in school because of at least one of their actual or perceived personal characteristics and that a majority of LGBTQ+ students (58.9%) had experienced LGBTQ+ related discriminatory policies or practices at school, specifically those that targeted students’ gender, potentially limiting their ability to make gender-affirming choices and negatively impacting their school experiences (GLSEN 2021), school counselors have a full understanding that based on their ethical responsibility and unique training they can be work to create safer spaces for LGBTQ+ students to help eliminate barriers that create negative school experiences for students. Despite widespread efforts, LGBTQ+ students continue to face challenges that threaten their academic and social/emotional development in schools and will continue to advocate for conditions protecting LGBTQ+ youth. (ASCA 2022).
The effects of a hostile school climate against LGBTQ+ students may be increased absences, lower levels of belonging, poorer academic performance, less likely to plan to pursue postsecondary education, lower self-esteem, and higher levels of depression (GLSEN 2021). School counselors in Georgia seek to ameliorate negative effects for LGBTQ+ students by providing the appropriate and equitable support they need to succeed academically, plan for postsecondary paths for success and increase their sense of belonging, self-efficacy, self-confidence, and overall positive wellbeing.
School counselors are committed to the affirmation of all youth regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression and work to create safe and affirming schools where they counsel students with questions about their sexual orientation and gender identity as well as students’ feelings about the identity of others in an accepting and nonjudgmental manner. Students report lower levels of verbal and physical harassment when they have a supportive adult in school, participate in an inclusive curriculum and have delineated policies protecting students from discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression (ASCA 2022). School counselors in Georgia aim to not only be a supportive adult for LGBTQ+ students but also increase the capacity for other adults in students’ lives to be supportive and affirming as well as advocate for practices and policies that create an overall supportive and affirming school environment for LGTQ+ students.
School counselors recognize the responsibility for determining a student’s gender identity rests with the student rather than outside confirmation from medical practitioners, mental health professionals or documentation of legal changes. Each student’s unique situation should be addressed on a case-by-case basis, using a student-centered approach that includes ongoing student and parent/guardian engagement (as appropriate) and school personnel with a legitimate educational interest per the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). Transgender and nonbinary students have a FERPA-protected right to privacy; this extends to students’ gender identity, birth name, sex assigned at birth and medical history. This right to privacy and prohibition of disclosing students’ gender identity extends to students’ parents/guardians, with whom schools should work collaboratively, directed by students’ comfort about what and with whom to share their confidential information (ASCA 2022).
With fewer than 1 in 3 transgender and nonbinary youth finding their home to be gender affirming and over a quarter of LGBT youth identifying non-accepting families as the most important problem facing their lives right now (HRC, 2017), school counselors understand the importance of being a trained professional who is able to support LGBTQ+ students by giving them the space to talk about their personal experiences and emotions. This counsel and support can also assist students in their coming out process with other adults in their lives. Being able to provide such support not only can assist with LGBTQ+ students finding academic, social, and postsecondary success, schools that are LGBTQ-affirming also helps reduce the rates of suicide attempts by LGBTQ youth (The Trevor Project, 2022).
Forty-five percent of LGBTQ youth seriously considered suicide in the past year. LGBTQ youth who live in communities that is accepting of LGBTQ people reported significantly lower rates of attempting suicide compared to those who do not (The Trevor Project, 2022). With such serious implications for LGBTQ+ students’ mental health, school counselors can help create an accepting and affirming community within schools and outside of schools to help reduce the suicidal ideation and attempts from students. Part of creating this accepting and affirming community is creating a space for LGBTQ+ students where they can safely, and confidentiality disclose and discuss their own perspectives and experiences with sexual orientation and gender identity and expression.
School counselors are also able to help parents/guardians understand the five most common ways that LGBTQ youth reported feeling supported by parents/caregivers including welcoming LGBTQ friends, talking with them respectfully about their LGBTQ identity, using name and pronouns correctly, supporting their gender expression and educating themselves about LGBTQ people and issues (The Trevor Project, 2022). School counselors work in support of what is best for students, but they do not do this work alone. School counselors consult and collaborate with parents/guardians in ways that are safe for a student's wellbeing for the student to be best supported in all areas of their lives.
School counselors will continue to champion for safe and affirming educational settings for all students by opposing legislation and policies that create and extend challenges and barriers that could be unsafe and affirming for LGBTQ+ students and that are contrary to professional ethical standards of school counselors due to the harm they create to the emotional wellbeing and prosocial development of students as well as detrimental to the academic success and postsecondary readiness of all students.
School counselors work to ensure students feel accepted and valued and learn skills to prepare them for the future of contributing to a diverse society, just as their students’ parents/guardians do. Legislation and policies proposing actions that would take away any student’s acceptance, safety, and individual value based on their sexual orientation or gender identity and expression in Georgia schools, would hinder the self-determination and development of LGBTQ+ youth. It would create a less safe and unwelcoming atmosphere for all students by demonstrating that not all students will have equitable access and opportunities in our school buildings.