Meet Carrie Colpitts a good friend and fierce advocate for LGBTQ youth. Carrie is a teacher, zine maker, and cat person.
As we work our way through April heading towards the end of the school year, consider thinking about how you can revamp your inclusion and awareness of LBTQ youth in your school.
The Power of Language, Visibility, and Advocacy
-Root your words and actions in kindness.
I use that phrase a lot, it’s always written above the board in my classroom and I say it as a gentle reminder to students.
Much of the work I do in making my classroom a safe space is done the first few days of school. The first minute, the first hour, the first day, the first week…those are extremely important times that set the tone in the classroom for the whole year. The first things on this list of ideas for making a welcoming classroom should be done on the very first days of school. Taking time to do these things will make the school year easier for every kid in your room who might need a little extra reassurance that you are committed to making a safe(r) space for them.
Have your Safe Space sign up and visible. GLSEN has them to order or download online and print.
Make your classroom guidelines simple and based on positive behavior. On the first day of class engage the students in a discussion of what the guidelines mean, why they are important, and how you all can stick to them. Specifically use an example of someone using an anti-queer remark as an insult and why that is not kind or respectful. (“That’s so gay” is a classic that sadly, is still used.) You probably won’t even have to mention it, usually a student comes up with an anti-queer example.
During the discussion of these guidelines I ask the students for their ideas and we make a big list on the board of ways to be kind, what it means to be safe, and what it means to be respectful to each other. I encourage you to review the guidelines at other points in the year and ask the students how they think things are going.
Do name introductions and pronoun checks at the beginning of the school year and also at the start of the semester or when your class groupings change, and if a new student joins the group, even when a visitor comes if you have time for individual introductions. Be sure students know they can chose the name they go by, Christopher can be Chris or could also be Maggie – it might not match the rooster, make a note and use that name.
Don’t forget the T! Gender is different than sexual orientation. Make sure your students know the difference and make sure they know your room is a safe space for trans people too. Talk to your students about the terms trans/gender non-conforming. This is something you can easily do right before you do the pronoun check with your class.
Have a discussion guidelines poster visible and go over those guidelines with the class. I call mine a Brave Spaces Guideline. While going over these guidelines use an example that relates specifically to GLBTQ people.
Here is what is on my discussion guidelines poster.
Brave Spaces Guidelines
- One Diva One Mic
Only one person speaks at a time.
- Step Up, Step Up
If you are talking a lot, step up your listening, if you aren’t talking at all, try to step up your input.
- Don’t Yuck My Yumm
Don’t shame people for their likes and interests, even if they are different from your own.
- Avoid Generalizations & Use I Statements
Instead of saying, “All young people….” try “I know some young people who….”
- Challenge With Care & Own It
Find ways to respectfully challenge others and be open to challenges of your own views. In addition, own your intentions and impacts, be open to dialogue.
- The Vegas Rule
Share the message, not the messenger. If you talk about a class discussion with some of your other friends or your parents, don’t use specifics and or names.
The following are things you can do throughout the year and encourage others in your school to do.
If you are a queer teacher and it is safe for you…BE OUT. Be out to your administration, your co-workers and most importantly – your students. I sincerely wish every queer teacher worked in an environment where it was okay to be out but I realize some do not have that freedom. If you have that environment, there is little more empowering and comforting to a young queer person than to see someone in the position of a teacher as an out and proud queer who will be a support for them and also educate others to be accepting and become allies.
Out yourself but don’t ever out your students.
Be sure the quotes you have on the walls in your room include words from GLBTQ people. Same deal if you use quotes as a bell ringer exercise to kick off classes. Also, don’t be afraid to talk about the originators of the quotes and note that they are GLBTQ.
Be sure the books you have in your room include those from GLBTQ writers.
Integrate works from GLBTQ people in your curriculum. Yes, June is Pride month but students should be exposed to the work and achievements of GLBTQ folks all year around. But please, celebrate GLBTQ folks in June too.
Don’t assume hetrosexual language when speaking. Asking about someone’s mom and dad assumes they have a mom and dad, maybe they have two dads, or one mom, etc. If you don’t know, don’t assume.
Don’t assume gender specific language when speaking to your students. Using boys and girls or ladies and gentlemen could very well leave a someone feeling left out. I often use students or friends when addressing the whole class.
When you do have to speak with a student about hurtful language they have used towards or about GLBTQ people remember that punitive punishment will not help much. You don’t want them to just stop problematic language around you, you want them to stop using it all together. Explain why it’s problematic, have a two way discussion not a one way admonishment.
Use good sense when you need to talk to a student about their behavior. Calling out a homophobic remark and attempting to correcting behavior when the student(s) it was aimed at are right there could make things worse for them. Assess the situation and remember that it is the wronged party that comes first. But always follow up, never let any kind of homophobic behavior or language go.
Encourage other teachers to put up safe space stickers and implement some of the welcoming and affirming methods you use.
If your school has a GSA (or QSA, I really like that acronym better as I think it’s more inclusive) offer support and encourage your students to join. If your school does not have a GSA figure out how to get one started.
Ask administration about all gender bathrooms. I was successful in getting an all gender bathroom set up in the last school I taught. I took a proposal the the principal which outlined why I thought it was important to offer a gender neutral option restroom and she agreed! With a few minor changes (lock on the door/sign change) a boys restroom was changed to an all gender restroom. Don’t forget the follow up with staff and students about the restroom. I went to classrooms with my supervisor and we talked about why we implemented the restroom and how it is to be used. Having a family restroom or staff restroom available for trans/genderqueer students to use isn’t enough, they need a student restroom that can be used by all genders.
Encourage your administration to offer staff trainings in working with GLBTQ students.