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  • Writer's pictureMegan Humburg

10 Ways to Support LGBTQIA+ Students in your Classroom

TLDR: This is a list of tips for how to make your classroom and your teaching practices more welcoming and inclusive for students, their loved ones, and other members of the school community who identify as LGBTQ+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and other minoritized gender and sexual identities). These practices can also help all students, regardless of how they identify, to develop kind and inclusive behaviors that they can take with them in the future, which will help LGBTQ+ folks beyond your classroom as well!

 

#1: Take attendance in a respectful way

Taking attendance can be stressful and uncomfortable for students whose names do not match what is listed on their school records. To avoid deadnaming a student (i.e., using a name that a trans or nonbinary student no longer uses) or otherwise embarrassing them, you can hand out note cards on the first day of class and ask students to list their name and pronouns, and use those note cards to take attendance rather than the official roster.


You can model the questions on the board to ensure that all students understand what pronouns are and how to use them. You should also consider adding a question to the notecard that asks students to tell you who they are comfortable using their names and pronouns with if their answer differs from their school records.


For example, “You can use this name / these pronouns…[only one-on-one], [in our class], [in our school], [with my parents]”.

Students may not have shared chosen names or pronouns with everyone in their life, so you’ll want to make sure you don’t accidentally out students to someone who is unaware of their gender identity.
 

#2: Ask for pronouns and use them consistently

An easy way to make all of your students feel welcome is to introduce yourself using your pronouns, and ask them their pronouns as well. As we mentioned above, you can do this respectfully and privately using the notecard activity – you can also choose to do this via a survey before class begins.


In general, it’s considered inappropriate to do a go-around on the first day to share pronouns in a K-12 context – while this is becoming commonplace for adults, for young adults and kids this can put pressure on students to disclose their gender identity to their peers before they are ready, so it is best practice to give students a private way to let you know their pronouns, and then allow them to tell you when and with who they are comfortable using their chosen pronouns.


It might feel awkward at first if you aren’t used to it, but even if none of your students use pronouns other than he/him and she/her, you’re still helping to make asking others for their pronouns feel like a commonplace, everyday activity. This makes both your students and any LGBTQ+ individuals who interact with them in the future more comfortable. It can also help the class avoid misgendering students with gender-neutral names or names from other languages that you may not immediately recognize as belonging to a particular gender.


For younger students, you can consider using nameplates with students’ names and pronouns, so that you and your students have a visual reminder of students’ correct pronouns as you get to know each other.

Consistently remind students to respect each other’s pronouns if you notice students misgendering their peers – don’t make it that student’s job to enforce kindness in the classroom.
 

#3: Showcase LGBTQ+ diversity in classroom materials

When choosing books, pictures, activities, and more, consider whose lives are being represented in your classroom. Consider adding some books with LGBTQ+ characters, or characters who have two moms, two dads, and/or a nonbinary parent.

Take a look around your room, and in your worksheets, videos, etc. and ask: “Which stories are present, and which are absent?”

As a starting point, you can check out our recommended list of awesome LGBTQ+ books for a variety of ages.


These things may seem small, but they add up to make your students either feel seen, or invisible. Adding materials that represent LGBTQ+ students and families can make your students feel more welcome and supported in your classroom.

 

#4: Avoid binary language

Another way to support your students in an easy way is to check the assignments, emails, class newsletters, and other written materials you create for language that unintentionally leaves out your LGBTQ+ students. Binary language is anything that assumes only two choices, such as “boys and girls”, “moms and dads”, or “brothers and sisters”.


For example, rather than using “she or he” or “him or her”, you can use more gender-neutral language such as “they” or “them” to include all people in your statements.

Using they and them as singular pronouns is now considered to be grammatically correct by most professional style guides.

Avoid gendering activities where gender is not actually relevant, such as splitting up students into boys vs. girls teams for activities.


When talking to students about relationships, use words like “date” or “partner” rather than assuming students are dating someone of a specific gender. These practices can support both students who are dating same-gender partners as well as nonbinary students more generally.

 

#5: Acknowledge and account for diverse family structures

Instead of saying “Bring this letter home to your mom & dad”, you can say “Bring this letter home to your grownups”.

Avoid scheduling father-daughter or mother-son events, which not only leaves out students who don’t have a parent who uses one of those titles, but also students who identify as nonbinary.


Mother’s day and father’s day can also be difficult for students for a variety of reasons – consider hosting more general celebrations for caregivers who are important in students’ lives.


Keep in mind that even if none of your students have LGTBQ+ parents, some of them may live with a single parent, a grandparent, a foster parent/guardian, or some other family dynamic that you may not have thought of. Inclusive language helps everyone!

 

#6: Set classroom norms that support students’ right to self-identify

As social norms change, so do the norms for our classrooms, and not all students come from communities where LGBTQ+ people are treated with kindness. Consider setting up classroom expectations together with your students, to make it clear that all members of the classroom community are expected to use their peers’ correct pronouns and treat each other with respect.

Setting these norms at the beginning of the year and reminding students regularly will be more effective than waiting until someone makes an unkind mistake.
 

#7: Affirm students if they choose to come out to you

Students may come out to you in a variety of ways: in casual conversation, in a class assignment, in a one-on-one discussion, or they may simply talk about their identity with friends within earshot. It is important to remember that even if a student seems casual about their identity, your reaction to their coming out can have a big impact on how welcome and safe they feel at school.


A key thing to remember is to take your cues from the student. If a student casually mentions their identity to you, a simple “Thanks for sharing that with me!” might be all you need.

You don’t want to make a huge deal out of it, and being casual in your reaction can help LGBTQ+ students learn that coming out doesn’t have to be stressful and dramatic.

However, if it seems like the student is nervous or emotional about what they’ve just told you, they might need more direct encouragement, such as “I’m really happy you felt comfortable enough to share that with me. You are always welcome to be exactly who you are in my classroom.”

 

#8: Don’t share information that isn’t yours to share

After a student comes out to you, another key element of support is being careful about not sharing their identities with people who they have not yet chosen to come out to. If a student shares their identity with you, don’t assume that they are out to their friends, to other teachers, to their parents, or to their community more generally.

Even if a student appears to be out to others in the class, do not assume that this gives you free reign to share their identity with others.

If you are unsure whether a student is out publicly, err on the side of caution and assume that their identity is not your information to share. This means not discussing it with other teachers, other students, or the student’s parents unless the person you’re speaking to makes it clear that they have already been told by the student themselves. It also means that if someone shares a student’s identity with you without the student’s permission, you should make it clear to that person that outing someone is never okay.


Being LGBTQ+ is nothing to be ashamed of, and in an ideal world our identities would never need to be a secret, but sharing that part of yourself with others is currently an emotional and personal journey for many LGBTQ+ folks, so just remember that it is up to your student to decide when and with whom they share their identities.

 

#9: Stand up for your students

An unfortunately common experience for LGBTQ+ students is being bullied by peers (and even school staff) and watching the teachers they hoped would support them ignore or minimize the hurt they’ve experienced. A key way to support LGBTQ+ students in your school is to be ready to step up and challenge anyone who say rude or disparaging things about any part of the LGBTQ+ community.

Even statements meant to be “jokes” can be deeply hurtful to students who already feel self-conscious or judged.

No one enjoys confrontation, so it can be tempting to try and minimize issues between students, saying “Oh, they’ll work it out themselves” or “That’s just how kids are”. But if you want your classroom and your school to be a place of love and support for LGBTQ+ students, be willing to step up in the moment of a rude encounter and tell students (and even your colleagues), “We don’t speak to others like that in this classroom / school.” Gentle reminders, such as “We respect pronouns in our classroom” can also go a long way towards making students feel welcome.

 

#10: Handle corrections with grace

We’re all human and as humans sometimes we mess up.

If you make a mistake with someone’s pronouns, correct yourself quickly and move on – do not apologize profusely and put the student in the position of needing to make you feel better.

The same goes with accidentally deadnaming a student or otherwise using language that is inaccurate. A simple “She–sorry, they–brought up a really great point...” is enough when you make a mistake. If a student corrects you, try not to get defensive. Simply thank them for the reminder and correct yourself as you continue with the lesson.


If you find yourself making mistakes often, try to practice using students’ correct pronouns / names with your colleagues in the breakroom or with family at home. The more often you practice, the easier it will feel in the future.


If you notice others misnaming or misgendering a member of the school community, take the same approach of “correct quickly and firmly, then move on”. If a colleague says “[Student’s deadname] did a great job at the science fair”, repeat their statement with the correct name and a gentle correction: “Yeah, [Student’s chosen name] did a great job – we should remember to use his/her/their correct name”.

 

Additional Resources


Reviewed by: Allie Smith (they/them) & Suraj Uttamchandani (he/him)

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