What can schools do in order to move beyond “safe spaces” and create school environments where LGBTQIA+ students can thrive?
Teachers in the United States have long been guiding and encouraging the growth of young minds across the country, but school institutions have unknowingly played a vital role in reinforcing the dominant culture. Unfortunately, marginalized groups have historically been left out of the educational narrative in the US, which has prevented many students from being able to grow in a safe learning environment. Studies show that many lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning (LGBTQ+) young people experience worse outcomes in physical and mental health as well as in education when compared to heterosexual peers (Snapp et al., 2015). Snapp et al. (2015) reports that in recent years, schools have received considerable attention in the media and beyond due to reports of ongoing school-based victimization of LGBTQ+ youth. In this paper, we discuss research that emphasizes the need for safer and more LGBTQ+ inclusive school environments, curriculum and pedagogy in K-12 schools in the United States.
A changing public opinion of LBGTQ+ issues in the US, evolving societal gender norms, and a growing number of policies aimed at protecting the most vulnerable in our schools has made a large impact in creating queer inclusive schools over the past thirty years. Building environments where LGBTQ+ students feel safe is an important starting point, but it is clear that schools must do more if we want to create educational spaces where all students can recognize their value and reach their potential. Educators must recognize that the ultimate goal is far more complex and has inclusive implications for all students, not just LGBTQ+ youth. “At its best, [queer-inclusive education] moves well beyond LGBTQ-inclusive education (intended to benefit children who may be LGBTQ-identified or from families with an LGBTQ-identified family member) toward an inclusive, critical education for all children” (Lin, 2017). This is the ultimate aim of education: a lofty, yet attainable goal that can be furthered by teachers and teacher-training institutions investigating and internalizing the importance of inclusive pedagogy, applying those pedagogies within inclusive curricula, and giving students across the US a grounded view of the importance of examining and rejecting that which does not allow us to see the value in others.
Queer-inclusive pedagogy requires teachers to continually fight against the heteronormative, gender-normative curricula that has been accepted as the status quo for decades and acknowledge multiple sexualities and gender identities (Lin, 2017). While this looks different throughout the K-12, all teachers can use asset-based, humanizing, and social justice pedagogies to include LGBTQ+ students and encourage heteronormative students to reject their worldview and experiences as the norm (Chappell, 2018). Asset-based pedagogies allow teachers to recognize and value the experiences of all members of the classroom community, and in turn, give students examples of non-traditional experiences being “centered” within the classroom (Chappell, 2018). Pedagogy and curriculum are often grounded in heteropatriarchy, and force the idea that there are “normative ways of knowing, being, and behaving” (Souto-Manning, 2019). By placing importance on the assets all students–particularly marginalized ones–bring to the table, teachers can embrace the validity and importance of LGBTQ+ students and their experiences. Asplund and Ordway (2018) speak to the role school counselors can play toward shaping an LGBTQ-inclusive school climate by using the SCEARE model. Counselors can scaffold their interventions beginning with education, affirming adults, lgbtq responsive bullying prevention, and finally student empowerment. The school counselor(s) can play instrumental roles in providing educational opportunities for students, parents, and staff which can truly transform a school environment and raise the bar for schools being “safe spaces” to places where LGBTQ+ youth can truly thrive.
Question: What can schools do in order to move beyond “safe spaces” and create school environments where LGBTQIA+ students can thrive?
Chappell, S. V., Kauffman, K. E., & Richardson, L. (2018). Gender diversity and LGBTQ inclusion in K-12 schools: A guide to supporting students, changing lives. Routledge.
Lin, C. K. Changing the shape of the landscape: Sexual diversity frameworks and the promise of queer literacy pedagogy in the elementary classroom. (2017). In D. Linville (ed.) Queering education: Pedagogy, curriculum, policy. (pp. 22-38). Bank Street College of Education. https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED573409.pdf.
Sadowski, M. (2016). Safe is not enough: Better schools for LGBTQ students. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press.
Sanders, A., Isbell, L., & Dixon, K. (Eds.). (2020). Incorporating LGBTQ+ Identities in K-12 Curriculum and Policy. IGI Global.
Souto-Manning, M., & Lanza, A. (2019). Pedagogical third spaces: Inclusion and re-presentation of LGBTQ communities in and through teaching as a matter of justice. International Journal of Critical Pedagogy, 7(1), 115-142. http://dx.doi.org.proxy2.library.illinois.edu/10.1080/00405841.2018.1536921.
Snapp, S. D., McGuire, J. K., Sinclair, K. O., Gabrion, K., & Russell, S. T. (2015). LGBTQ-inclusive curricula: Why supportive curricula matter. Sex Education, 15(6), 580–596.
Queer- inclusive pedagogy is inclusive pedagogy for all.
Christopher, I appreciate your post and especially where you mention that “educators must recognize that the ultimate goal is far more complex and has inclusive implications for all students, not just LGBTQ+ youth.” This is a framework that I try my best to come from in all my workshops and trainings. Examining the impact of binary perspectives of gender and orientation benefits all youth, not just queer youth. We know that cisgender and heterosexual young men are chased by rigid notions of masculinity (within the binary) such as “boys don’t cry”, or taunted by anti-gay slurs for doing anything that gets associated with femininity. And cisgender and heterosexual girls are impacted by extreme binary notions of femininity with an immense focus on their appearance- leading to 80% of 10-year-old girls on diets (Robinson, 2015), being steered away from sports, and STEM. A shift away from either-or thinking, from binary thinking about gender, expression, and identity is not only critical for queer youth but for all youth. Consider the reaction to queer identities and experiences are rooted in expectations of gender that are rooted in binary frameworks about who we get to be in the world.
Furthermore, and this is not as clear as I’d like it to be language but I think that by creating an LGBTQ+ anything while certainly empowering, needed, and vital at the same time it continues to other people. My questions are, what would it look like to have queer-inclusive pedagogy be just that- inclusive pedagogy (all-encompassing)? What would it look like to not be an add-on to curriculum, and policies, but naturally be a part of the language, conversation, and efforts? Patrice palmer a Black nonbinary DEI leader, and TED x speaker said it best, “It’s one thing to say all are welcome, it’s another to say I had you in mind”. (link to their amazing and powerful TEDx talk here https://youtu.be/CQCWLS_Atj0)
What does it look like to come from- I had you in mind, on topics of gender and orientation identities, as well as intersecting marginalized identities such as, ability, race, and class?
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