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Standing Out and Standing Up!

By Brian Coleman | October 2021

Spoiler alert: I’m a Black cisgender gay man. And, I am writing this article on National Coming Out Day (October 11), a day designed to celebrate LGBTQAI+ identities and combat the phobias and discrimination that thrive in spaces that attempt to silence these identities. This is a special day for me and so many others – and it has me reflecting on my personal and professional journeys and the work we can do as school counselors in support of our LGBTQAI+ students and colleagues.

Before I get ahead of myself, let me take you back for a second to my freshman year of high school. At the time, I was a high-performing student with two significant secrets: my debilitating depression and my burgeoning identity as a gay teen. It was pretty difficult to keep these two realities a secret and, unfortunately, I was living and learning in an environment that reinforced the notion that secrets and silence were a necessity. I didn’t know anyone else struggling with these issues and I didn’t have any adults in my school or community that felt trustworthy enough to hold this information. Language around sexuality and mental health was relatively non-existent (minus the discriminatory language I heard my peers and adults use to demean those they suspected to be gay or suffering with mental health issues). Before too long, I needed to seek crisis support when my thoughts and feelings about these secrets became too much to bear. 

While in treatment for these issues, I met a social worker who changed my life. At the time, I was in a fog of depression, self-hatred, and insecurity – and she did something novel. She came out to me as a lesbian and shared that she was a successful, happy therapist. She had a hunch that I needed living, breathing proof that it could get better for me as an LGBTQA+ person. And she was right. Twenty years later, I can still remember how she made me feel. Seen. Connected. Hopeful.

Fast-forward to the present. I’m a National School Counselor of the Year and a Human Rights Campaign (HRC) Upstander Award Recipient. I’ve dedicated my life to affirming and supporting marginalized LGBTQAI+ students and raising awareness around their diverse, intersectional experiences. I feel lucky to have platforms that give me the opportunity to advocate on behalf of these issues and continue creating spaces for others to feel seen and supported, but it didn’t just happen. It has required so many wonderful friends, educators, and support professionals in my life to get me to this point. I think that is where YOU come in.

To me, school counseling is all about relationships and leveraging relationships built on authenticity and trust to help students believe in themselves and work toward their goals. Who is better positioned to affirm and validate our students than us? Who is better positioned to raise awareness in our school communities and give our colleagues the tools to better support our marginalized students? Who better to advocate on behalf of our students, disrupt discriminatory practices, and connect students to needed supports? I think you know the answer. 

Over the years, I’ve had so many LGBTQAI+ students, parents and colleagues thank me for supporting them in a variety of ways. Some things you might expect: using students’ chosen names and pronouns and/or helping them navigate the coming out process, etc. Some things you might not expect: advocating for and offering inclusive sexual health education, “coming out” myself at school, challenging discriminatory practices and policies, offering staff professional development, etc.

So, my question for you is, how are YOU showing up for your LGBTQAI+ students? There are so many different ways to engage in support of our LGBTQAI+ students. I just ask that you find your way in (if you haven’t already) and use what you know (and are continuing to learn) from our students, communities and professional organizations – like ISCA and ASCA – to make a positive impact. When we stand up for LGBTQAI+ students, we are making our schools and communities a safer, more inclusive space for all students.

Coming Out – A Resource for LGBTQ Students (from GLSEN)
Coming Out (from the Human Rights Campaign) – resources to help you come out and live openly at home, at work and in your community.

Contact Brian Coleman, ISCA boar member, at