In celebration of Pride Month, I wanted to put together some tips on LGBTQ+ inclusive teaching that I've been thinking about for a while.
If you haven't seen my first post in this series, click here. It's not essential reading, but I do recommend checking it out if you're interested in finding out more about trans and nonbinary identities in particular.
LGBTQ+ Inclusive Teaching: Why Does it Matter?
This may feel like an obvious question to start with, but if you're a teacher or educator of any kind, you may be curious what kind of an impact these kinds of changes can have on students.
First up, it's important to remember that including LGBTQ+ identities is important not only in areas like sex education, but in teaching across subjects. By including, recognising and supporting students, we can help build safe, welcoming spaces that are conducive to learning for all.
Speaking from my own experience, the only class I have ever failed was one during my year abroad in Japan where I felt deeply uncomfortable and unwelcome due to how the teacher handled conversations about gender roles. It may sound exaggerated, but at a time in my life when I was going through a lot of difficulties with mental health and gender identity, it completely bulldozed my ability to participate in the class.
LGBTQ+ rights charity Stonewall have a great article, This is how LGBT-inclusive education can change lives, which talks about how "without inclusive education, so many LGBTQ+ young people feel isolated, or even unwanted in school. It can feel as though your identity isn’t ‘normal’, or that it’s brushed under the carpet and not talked about". While young people of course make up a large proportion of those in education, these issues can affect people at any age, and in fact, LGBTQ+ inclusivity benefits everyone, regardless of sexuality or gender identity.
Below, I've put together five tips that should be relevant to pretty much any kind of teaching or learning, although naturally, my bias is towards language teaching!
This blog does not claim or intend to cover every single thing we can do better to include LGBTQ+ students - nor do I claim to be doing each of these things perfectly myself - but I hope that it proves useful in some form or other.
1. Avoid Splitting Students by Gender
If you are teaching a group lesson, it may be tempting to split students up into "girl/boy" groups for certain activities. If possible, try to avoid doing this, as it can be unpleasant (to say the least) for students who are trans and/or nonbinary.
As an alternative to splitting by gender, you could try going by something else such as birthdays (odd vs even dates) or favourite colours (e.g. green vs red).
2. Try to Use Inclusive Language
While it can take some time to adjust to, adapting your language to be more inclusive (or neutral) can go a long way to making many LGBTQ+ students feel welcome. For example:
- If possible, use a word like "partner" instead of "boyfriend" or "girlfriend", or "spouse" instead of "husband" or "wife" when asking questions like "Do you have a ___?". For example, if a language textbook includes the question "Do you have a boyfriend/girlfriend?", you could add the option of "Do you have a partner?".
- Rather than saying "he/she", use the singular "they", e.g. "A person should go to the doctor if they feel ill".
- When greeting a group, opt for a gender inclusive phrase like "hello everyone" or "good morning folks" rather than "ladies and gentlemen".
- If you are a language teacher, try to find out more about gender-inclusive terms and phrases in your target language. If your language is limited in this regard, be aware that it may be challenging for some students and, if possible, acknowledge the gendered nature of the language at hand when introducing it. You may find your students have some really interesting questions about language and gender!*
*To give an example from my own teaching: while Japanese doesn't have grammatical gender like many European languages, there are certain speech styles associated more with men than with women and vice versa. When introducing these, I make sure that I describe them as traditional differences that are strongly tied to gender norms, adding that there are no set rules as such. My hope in doing so is that students can feel comfortable finding a way of speaking that feels right for them.
3. Reflect On Your Biases
When teaching Japanese, I like to try and make my lesson materials nice and visually engaging.
One thing I realised recently was that, when teaching a lesson about families, all of the illustrations and family tree structures I was showing were based on nuclear families with a mum and a dad (like my own family).
While I don't think that my future lessons on the family need to include every conceivable type of family, this is certainly something I'd like to do better on. For example, I could introduce a slightly wider family tree, including gay couples (e.g. uncles and uncles), nonbinary characters or families with more or less than two parents/caregivers.
LGBTQ+ issues aside, this is something I've (belatedly) realised can be important for student from single-parent families, those with step siblings or pretty much anyone whose family structure differs from the nuclear norm.
Whatever the topic, it can help to take a step back and see where you might be forgetting those with different identities, experiences and backgrounds from your own.
4. Respect Students' Names and Pronouns
While I'd like to think this one would be a given, there are sadly plenty of accounts of trans/nonbinary students not having their names and pronouns (i.e. their chosen names and pronouns) respected by teachers. As such, even if you have a good overall relationship with your students, you may find that some of them will not feel safe to share this information without knowing that they're in a safe space in which to do so.
Some quick tips I have to help foster an environment where students feel comfortable include:
- If a student asks to be called by a different name or different pronouns, take care to observe these in class and all other communication
- If you make a mistake, apologise and move on without drawing extra attention to the situation
- As a rule, avoid talking about "preferred" names and pronouns, as this can suggest that trans/nonbinary people's names and pronouns aren't as "real" as those of cisgender (non-trans) people*
- If you feel comfortable doing so, share your pronouns in your email signature, social media profiles and Zoom name. On Zoom, you can set this so you can choose to share or not share your pronouns at the start of each meeting (click here for my post showing how).
- Finally, never pressure anyone to share their pronouns
*While this will not apply to everyone, many trans/nonbinary people these days just say "my name is ____" or "my pronouns are ____".
5. Keep On Learning!
Thank you for reading this far! The fact that you've made it is already a fantastic sign that you're eager to help create an LGBTQ+ inclusive environment.
If you're keen to continue to support LGBTQ+ students and others, the best thing I can recommend is to keep openminded, stay curious, and keep on learning! There are absolutely tonnes of resources out there to explore, but if you don't know where to get started, click here to see my previous blog post, which includes a list of suggestions.
If it feels like this blog post covered a lot of new information and things to try out, don't feel like you need to make every single change immediately. I suggest picking one and going from there.
I hope that this post has been useful, and that you feel better equipped to move towards greater LGBTQ+ inclusivity. I know I still have things to work on!
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