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5 Ways Teachers Can Make Class More LGBTQ-Friendly

5 Ways Teachers Can Make Class More LGBTQ-Friendly

5 Ways Teachers Can Make Class More LGBTQ-Friendly

An inclusive classroom is a better classroom—for every student.

As a K-5 after school teacher, I expected LGBT issues to come up very infrequently. While they definitely didn’t come up as often as they might have with an older group of students, I quickly realized how ingrained ideas like the gender binary or "gay" as a way to describe something negative already were. I tried to make my classrooms more LGBT friendly, not because I was part of the community, but because it was a disservice to every student in the classroom if I didn’t counter bullying or stereotypes. Here are 5 ways other teachers who want to make their classes more LGBT friendly can start:

Conduct a student survey

At the beginning of class, hand out a student survey that includes, "Name on student records,""Name I should call you in class," and, "Your pronouns (he/she/they/other)," if you can get away with it in your district. Surveys give students an opportunity to write private notes to you about how they want you to address them in classes and in private conferences, and let your students know upfront that you care about their safety and inclusion in the classroom. It can also be a more comfortable option than putting students on the spot in verbal classroom introductions.
Stop dividing students by gender

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While student surveys didn’t seem quite as relevant in my time as a K-5 after school teacher, dividing students by gender was one standard practice I regularly avoided, and that is relevant for students of all ages. Whether you’re dividing students into groups at recess, or pairing off students for an in-class project, avoid instructing boys to go one place and girls to go another. For a lot of students, it might just be a subtle message that enforces the gender binary, while for others, it might be a deeply painful and alienating experience. Children and teenagers get enough of these messages in their other classes, and from popular media. That doesn’t mean you need to reinforce them too.

Counter gender stereotypes

A lot of homophobia and transphobia  is deeply rooted in misogyny and harmful gender stereotypes. Children and teenagers absorb the world around them, and act accordingly, so it’s not uncommon to hear students mocking a boy for having long hair, or putting down a girl for wearing clothing that’s not traditionally feminine. While teachers should always shut down bullying, it’s also important to challenge children to question their assumptions about gender. Compliment the trait that students are mocking, then ask, "Why can’t a boy have long hair? It seems like a silly rule. Who made that rule up?" Or say, "You know, a few decades ago girls weren’t even allowed to wear pants to school. Can you believe that? I know a lot of people like skirts and dresses, but personally, I love having the option to wear jeans." Children and teenagers model a lot of their behavior off of adults in their lives. If you model inquisitiveness about gender stereotypes and confidently challenge them, they’ll usually follow suit.

Take the time to explain why gay jokes and slurs are hurtful

Occasionally a student I was working with would say something like, "That’s so gay," or would use a homophobic slur to insult another classmate. Rather than quickly reprimanding them with, "You don’t say that in my class," sending them to the principal, or calling their parents (where they might be getting the language from in the first place), take the time to sit down and talk to them after class. Ask, "What did you mean when you said that word?" or "What does that word mean to you?" Often students insist they didn’t even mean gay; they just wanted to express that they didn’t like something. I don’t buy into the school of thought that children shouldn’t have negative opinions about anything, so I would give them some alternative phrases like, "That’s so ridiculous," or "That’s so uncool." Then I would tell them, "Even if you didn’t intend for your words to be harmful, using that word in that way hurts people. I know that’s not what you wanted to do, so choose what you say carefully." I'm sure I earned a reputation as the weird lecture teacher, but hopefully, something stuck. Punishing students for something when they don’t understand what they did wrong doesn’t change their behavior. It just changes who they exhibit that behavior in front of.

Be a resource for students

If you can get away with it in your district, include LGBT people in your curriculum. At the very least, have books about LGBT people available in your classroom for students to borrow. You can also volunteer to be an advisor for your school’s GSA, or help students get a GSA off the ground. (Check out GLSEN’s educator resources for more information.) Navigating LGBT issues in school is difficult. You’ll run into parents, administrators, and other educators who take issue with any discussion of LGBT issues. But ultimately, a teacher’s job is to serve every student, and you will work with LGBT students, whether they’re at an age where they’re coming out or not. Be a reliable resource for your students in whatever way you can.

(Lead photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash.)

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Cassie Sheets