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Skills for Youth

All Skills for Youth

Increasing Tolerance for Diversity

It includes:
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The student skill for this month addresses increasing tolerance for diversity, specifically for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and questioning individuals (GLBTQ). Webster’s dictionary defines tolerance as "a sympathy or indulgence for beliefs or practices differing from or conflicting with one’s own." Increasing tolerance in youth for GLBTQ individuals is important for the creation of a nurturing and safe environment for all the youth in our schools.

In order to build this tolerance, youth need to do three things:

#1 Identify the facts and myths about GLBTQ individuals.

The first step in providing facts about GLBTQ individuals is to define terms related to these individuals. See this month's Topic in Brief for a list of definitions. You might write these words on the blackboard or newsprint, ask the youth to define them, and then correct any misinformation.

A second step might be to have youth complete a myth/fact activity. To do this, ask youth to complete the Myth/Fact Worksheet following the directions below.

  1. Have youth work in pairs or triads to answer each question on the Myth/Fact Worksheet. Instruct them to discuss each item and try to come to agreement on the correct answer. For lower skilled groups, you might want to read each question aloud and have teens mark the answers. Or write the statements on index cards and have pairs or groups put the cards in a "true," "false" or "not sure" pile.

  2. Once groups have finished the Myth/Fact Worksheet, review the answer to each question. Be sure to make the points suggested on the Myth/Fact Answer Sheet.

  3. Next, ask youth to imagine how these myths might have a negative impact on GLBTQ individuals. Some examples might be that myths can lead to unfair judgments which result in name calling, insults, or even discrimination.

  4. In order to imagine how these negative experiences might feel, ask the youth to think of a time when they felt different from their friends or school mates. For example, they might have felt too thin, or too fat, or have been a different religion from everyone else. Encourage them to talk about how that difference made them feel (e.g. sad, hurt, angry, alone, etc). Explain that GLBTQ individuals have these feelings.

#2 Identify how myths get played out in our world, including the negative impact they have on GLBTQ individuals.

After we have learned to separate myth from fact, the second step in this process is to become aware of how often our myths and beliefs about GLBTQ individuals get played out in a negative way in the world around us. In order to increase youths' awareness, give them the homework assignment described below.


Ask youth to notice, in the next few days, how myths about GLBTQ individuals get played out in the world. State that they may hear name calling, derogatory comments about someone, or a news release about discrimination against a GLBTQ individual. Tell them that they don’t need to do anything except notice what the incident is and remember it for discussion later in the week.

After several days, ask youth to report what they have observed. Process their sharing by asking: a) how the person receiving the insult, act of discrimination, etc., might have felt, and b) what might have motivated the person(s) who acted in the negative, biased way. Emphasize that being discriminated against is always hurtful.

#3 Make a commitment to challenge these myths and negative behaviors within ourselves and others.

Once youth learn the myths and facts about GLBTQ individuals and observe how myths and prejudice get played out in our world, they are ready to use this knowledge and awareness to increase their own tolerance for diversity. There are two different aspects to practicing tolerance. The first is to challenge our own attitudes and beliefs, and the other is to challenge the myths, jokes, slurs and discrimination in our environment.

Challenging our own beliefs:

To help youth challenge their own beliefs about GLBTQ individuals, implement the Learning Activity: "Toward Understanding."

Challenging biased practices in our world:

To help youth challenge these unfair practices in our world, implement the following activity:

  1. Present the following situations to the class and ask youth to help you write responses that would challenge these biased practices. A useful model for developing responses might be: "When you ____________, I___________, because __________." See the examples included after each situation.

    Situation #1
    You are out with a bunch of friends, and someone tells a joke about "queers." Possible response: Hey dude, when you make fun of people, I don’t want to hang with you because it isn’t cool.

    Situation #2
    You overhear a classmate calling someone a "lesbo." Possible response: When I hear you put down (classmate name) like that, it makes me mad because my cousin is gay.

    Situation #3
    A friend says that all "homos" are child molesters. Possible response: When I hear statements like that, it makes me mad because I learned in class that most child molesters are not gay.

    Once youth have identified some possible responses to these situations, have them pair up with someone and practice their own responses to each situation. Conclude by having youth share what they learned from the practice.


  • It's important that educators don’t make students wrong for having biases. The point of this skill is to provide them with the knowledge and awareness to reduce their biases. Making them wrong won’t change their thoughts and beliefs; it will only make them defensive.

  • Expect discomfort, laughter and joking around. Homosexuality is an uncomfortable topic in our culture. The educator can model acceptance of this discomfort while making a clear statement that name calling, put downs and discrimination are not acceptable. Increasing tolerance is a slow process; be patient with the youth.

  • It's important that school districts have a zero tolerance policy for biased incidents, hate crimes and sexual harassment. See the Educator Skill Why We Need to Address Lesbian and Gay Issues in our Schools for more information about district policies.

  • For additional information about GLBTQ issues, see this month's Topic in Brief on this web site.