MI LGBTQ training videos spark backlash, GV area educators and students respond


GVL / Meghan Tripp

Payton Brazzil, Staff Writer

The Michigan Department of Education (MDE) has received criticism in recent weeks after releasing a series of training videos regarding LGBTQ students. The videos explained how instructors should provide support and approach issues regarding their LGBTQ students.

Short clips from the training videos were shared on social media, sparking debates about teachers’ roles in LGBTQ students’ lives.

According to reporting done by Bridge Michigan, one of the project leaders informed training clip viewers that teachers have a legal requirement to report if a student has suicidal thoughts, but teachers don’t need to reveal students’ sexual orientation or gender identity in the process.

This statement received bipartisan backlash, including Republican gubernatorial candidate Tudor Dixon and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s administration.

Dixon called for the resignation of State Superintendent Michael Rice, referencing that the LGBTQ training videos coach teachers to hide information from a student’s parents – specifically when the student is suicidal.

“The Michigan Department of Education is actively training staff to help young kids transition (in terms of gender identity) and instructing them not to tell their parents, even if they are suicidal,” said Dixon in a news conference held outside the Department of Education building.

After Dixon’s statement, Whitmer’s Chief Operating Officer Tricia Foster also expressed concern over the videos in a letter to Rice. According to reporting from the Detroit News, the letter served as a reprimand to Rice and his department that, in the administration’s view, should instead place additional emphasis on parental involvement in education and core instructional subjects.

In response to the controversy, MDE defended the training videos in multiple press releases.

“Recent allegations that MDE has been holding secret professional development to ‘teach school employees how to facilitate the sexual transition of children under their care, while keeping the process a secret from parents,’ are patently false and deliberately divisive,” said MDE Director of Public and Governmental Affairs, Martin Ackley, in one of the statements. “Contrary to these harmful allegations, school staff do not facilitate the sexual transition of children.”

Michigan educator, Michele Ryan, said the message of the videos was not to confuse students on their sexual identity or to keep secrets from parents but to create a comfortable classroom environment.

“As educators, we are instructed to care after our students no matter how they’re perceived,” said Ryan. “Every teacher’s goal is to develop a sense of community in their classroom and if someone isn’t comfortable in that community, I would want to support them in the best way possible.”

LGBTQ youth who found their school to be LGBTQ-affirming reported lower rates of attempting suicide, according to a survey done this year by the Trevor Project.

At Grand Valley State University, students and employees at the university’s Milton E. Ford LGBT Resource Center, Celia McClure- Sikkema, agreed that supporting LGBTQ students is incredibly important for a comfortable school environment.

“If you’re an educator, you’re not just dealing with education but social situations,” McClure-Sikkema said. “Homophobia is widely ignored in school and with kids.”

McClure-Sikkema reflected on their personal experiences when teachers failed to support them in school.

“As a queer person, I’ve seen this in my own high school and college experience,” McClure-Sikkema said. “It’s seen as hurtful when someone who I thought was here to protect me is betraying a form of trust and transforming a comfortable space into somewhere that feels anxiety-inducing and uncomfortable.”

McClure-Sikkema also noted that LGBTQ issues should be talked about in class and at school more frequently.

For McClure-Sikkema and many other GVSU students, inclusion is extremely important for a comfortable learning environment.

GVSU’s Milton E. Ford LGBT Resource Center provides courses, training and sessions to educate and advocate for LGBTQ students. For students that are interested in learning about allyship skills, understanding identities, and more, the LGBT Resource Center offers a learning series starting next week.