“I’m a high school English teacher, and I want to make my classroom more welcoming to LGBTQ students. Any advice on how to go about this? Thanks!”
Question Submitted Anonymously
Answered by Sara Kost
Thank you so much for your question. I think it’s fantastic that you want to make your classroom more welcoming to LGBTQ students. So many LGBTQ youth need supportive teachers and school environments so they can feel safe. As educators, we should all do more to make our queer students feel safe in our schools. After all, they spend a good six hours a day or more with us, and in that time, they should feel safe, comfortable, and welcome to be who they are so that they can learn their best.
According to the Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network (GLSEN) 2013 National School Climate Survey, students who experience bullying or victimization because of their sexual orientation or gender identity were more likely to have missed school, have lower GPAs than students who were less often harassed, and had higher levels of depression and lower levels of self-esteem. However, LGBT students in schools with an LGBT-inclusive curriculum were less likely to hear homophobic remarks, were less likely to feel unsafe because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, were less likely to miss school, and felt more connected to their school community.
To start with, make your classroom a safe and inclusive space. Having Safe Space stickers and other equality or LGBTQ-friendly posters to your room can go a long way. I remember as a high schooler before I came out noticing which teachers in my high school had rainbow stickers or posters. Just seeing those stickers and posters made me feel more comfortable, and that visibly can help a struggling student feel more trusting of you. According to the GLSEN 2013 survey, “students who had seen a Safe Space sticker or poster in their school were more likely to identify school staff who were supportive of LGBT students and more likely to feel comfortable talking with school staff about LGBT issues.”
The next step is to take note of your words and actions. Do you always step in when you see bullying happen in your classroom and school hallways? Do you always call out students using anti-gay slang or other offensive language? Do you always comment positively on LGBTQ-related situations or even current events?
If you’re not actively being an agent of change in your building, then please do more through your actions and words. I make it a point from day one to be very clear that anti-gay slurs like “no homo” or “that’s so gay” are not welcome in my room, and I overtly call out the students who use them in my presence. As the school year goes on, I hear less and less, and my students will even call out each other, or at least go “dude, you know Ms. Kost is gay, right?” when they hear other students use that language. Your actions and words speak volumes to LGBTQ students, and you never know who is listening.
Once you have a classroom space that feels more inclusive, you can start making your curriculum more inclusive. As an English teacher, there are so many LGBTQ authors, poets, journalists, musicians, guest speakers, etc. that you can draw upon. The writings of LGBTQ individuals are vast and multifaceted. Be overt in telling your students that such-and-such writer was Gay, Bi, Trans, or what have you and acknowledge the role their sexuality or gender identity played in their writings. Many authors might already be in your curriculum, such as Oscar Wilde, Walt Whitman, Virginia Woolf, Emily Dickinson, Alice Walker, Tennessee Williams, Truman Capote, and many more!
Lastly, if it’s possible within your curriculum, include titles with LGBTQ characters, both major and minor, in whole class activities, small group lit circles, or just in your classroom library for independent reading time. You can also work with your school librarian to develop an LGBTQ fiction section in your school library. There are many great YA books for LGBTQ youth that you can include, like Keeping You A Secret, Rainbow Boys, Geography Club, and Luna. Books are a wonderful and subversive way for queer and questioning youth to see themselves and their experiences reflected in the printed word.
Best of luck! And never stop making your classroom, your curriculum, and your school more supportive for LGBTQ students!
Sara Kost is an out, queer Educator in Minneapolis, MN. She spent five years as a leader in the LGBT student organizations at St. Cloud State University where she completed her undergrad in Secondary Social Studies Education. Sara currently co-leads the in-school and after-school GSA groups at the middle school where she works, and she is thankful for the opportunity to support her students as they grow into fully-functioning adults. She has also created a training workshop on LGBT Issues in Schools and has presented it to groups of Social Studies teachers, other educators, and students alike.
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