June 16, 2021

A Call to Action: LGBTQIA Inclusivity in Classrooms and Schools

Victoria Thompson
Victoria Thompson photo with Title

“How do I support my LGBTQIA students?”

This is a question I get pretty often from educators, administrators, and everybody in between. As a gay Black woman and educator, I have always felt very strongly about the positive impacts of LGBTQIA inclusivity in classrooms. To better serve all of our students, let’s take some time to discuss best practices for implementing authentic inclusivity.

Before we start, let’s dive into the history and purpose of LGBTQIA inclusivity.

What’s the history?

The short answer is Pride Month is celebrated annually each June to honor the 1969 Stonewall riots, which were a series of demonstrations by members of the gay community in response to a police raid in Greenwich Village in New York City. The long answer is that while Pride Month and Pride events honor the Stonewall riots, Pride also serves as a month to center on the work to achieve opportunity and justice for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning, intersex, and asexual (LGBTQIA) folx.

Why should Pride and LGBTQIA inclusivity matter to me and my classroom?

First and foremost, LGBTQIA rights are human rights. These should matter to you because, in the same way that you are a human being, so are your LGBTQIA brothers, sisters, students, colleagues, families, and members of your community.

Second, you may well have a student, or student parent, who identifies as LGBTQIA. Most K-12 curriculum does not cover LGBTQIA folx, issues, or celebrations, and focuses on a mainly cisgendered, heterosexual lens. Personally, I cannot count a single instance of learning about an openly LGBTQIA person in my own K-12, undergraduate, or graduate school experience. It is important we shift to include more perspectives, stories, and opportunities for students to see themselves in the curriculum.

Here are some tips for getting started with LGBTQIA inclusivity in your classroom.

How to begin

  • Map out your journey to allyship. Being an ally means you stand in solidarity with the LGBTQIA community, are willing to fight for them in their challenges, and celebrate with them in their successes. Human Rights Campaign has many resources on how to begin with allyship.
  • State your acceptance. Be up front with your students, colleagues, and school — state your acceptance of and solidarity with the LGBTQIA community. This typically begins in the classroom with an announcement to your students, but can also be shared with colleagues, administration, and your school community.
  • Post “Safe Zone” signs in your classrooms. Safe Zone signs establish your classroom as a space where members of your school community can be themselves, free from judgment. This is especially important for students who may not have safe spaces at home or in the community. For more information, check out The Safe Zone Project.
  • Avoid using gendered language to address students, and avoid grouping students by gender. This is a common exercise that can be avoided with a change in mindset and language. So often, we address the class as “boys and girls,” or divide students up for games and activities by gender. This assumes gender and should be avoided. Consider using “y’all, “everyone,” or “you all” instead.
  • Do not ask for students to present their pronouns unless they want to. Some students may not yet be aware of their identity, or perhaps have not told friends/family members about their identity. Leave room for them to make the choice to share their pronouns if and when they are ready.
  • Seek out professional development on LGBTQIA inclusivity, and continue to listen and learn. The flagship organization for this is the Gay, Lesbian, & Straight Education Network (GLSEN), which “aims to empower educators to act in allyship with LGBTQ students.” There are also multiple Twitter chats, articles, and lessons that advocate for LGBTQIA inclusivity in classrooms and schools.

Getting started with Pear Deck

When I work with students and colleagues on LGBTQIA inclusivity, I find Pear Deck’s social-emotional learning and mindfulness templates to be extremely helpful. These templates give students and colleagues the opportunity to connect with each other, raise emotional awareness, and build empathy within the classroom community. Concepts like stress checks, describing different perspectives, and thinking critically about points of view can be helpful when introducing LGBTQIA inclusivity into your school community, especially for students who may be encountering this topic for the first time.

As a word of caution, it’s imperative to make sure you establish class/school norms before diving into these conversations. Without them, these discussions could create a space where students do not feel they can be their authentic selves. Be sure to cultivate classroom ideals before each conversation and state the intended outcomes of these conversations, lessons, and activities. Give students opportunities to share feedback and reflect, as well as chances to speak up about amplifying LGBTQIA voices in the curriculum, classroom, and your school community.

As you begin to implement LGBTQIA representation and inclusivity into your classroom or school, always remember: lead with humanity first. As I mentioned before, we are all human beings. Leading with humanity lets you see a person for their whole self and gives you the opportunity to support them holistically.