Joe English was raised in a quiet, rural community in upstate New York, boasting a population of only 1,900 residents. As a gay teen, his small town and small school felt isolating with no LGBTQ+ representation to identify with and help him to embrace who he was.
“As a kid I never watched, saw or read anything that I felt fully spoke to me as a gay person,” Joe explains. “For me, it would have meant the world to have even one book with one gay character to read in school – to have a character and a story that I could identify with – that would have been incredible validation.”
Unfortunately, Joe’s experience is not unusual. A recent report by the Human Rights Campaign found only 13% of LGBTQ+ students report hearing positive messages about being LGBTQ+ in school and only 26% “always” feel safe in their classroom. Meanwhile, time in school largely defines our adolescent years – a period the National Institutes of Health calls “a critical window of opportunity for positive, life-altering development,” especially for LGBTQ+ youth.
Hope in a Box helps ensure every student feels safe, welcome and included at school, regardless of gender or sexual identity, by empowering educators with literature and curriculums to create more accepting and open classroom environments. Offering both high school and middle school options, each box includes 20-25 expertly curated books featuring LGBTQ+ characters and themes, spanning works from Mrs. Dalloway to Fun Home and more. Teachers also receive detailed curriculum guides tied to Common Core standards so the books can easily and effectively be incorporated into class. Beyond the books themselves, Hope in a Box cultivates a community for LGBTQ-inclusive educators through a variety of programming and workshops, and collaborates closely with both teachers and subject matter experts to iterate and improve their content. According to Kirsten Nelson, a Kansas-based educator who worked with Hope in a Box in 2018, “Hope in a Box curriculum guides are an incredible resource. In more than 20 years of teaching, these are some of the best resources I’ve seen.”
So far, Hope in a Box has impacted more than 45,000 students from 300 schools in 48 states, aiming to reach all 50 by the end of 2020. But, the impact of their boxes extends beyond the school day and classroom. They help open the hearts and minds of students and communities to LGBTQ+ – and all – identities, which can transform entire lives. Joe recounts a story of one transgender student who was contemplating suicide, but then reached out to a participating teacher for help because the Hope in a Box curriculum had shown them the teacher was an ally. According to The Trevor Project, LGBTQ+ youth who have at least one accepting adult are 40% less likely to attempt suicide. And Grant Thornton is incredibly proud to support this life-changing work.
“As a student opens the books we have in our box, I think it opens their minds to the possibility of living their truth and their identity in a way that feels really authentic,” says Joe. “Really, at the end of the day, that’s what belonging and acceptance is all about.”