3.1 Classroom ideas
- Everyone (all LGBTQIA students)
- Transgender, gender fluid, and gender-nonconforming students
- Intersex students
- Children with LGBTQIA parents
- Engage students in conversations that question society’s conceptions of sexuality and gender.
- These do not have to be overtly political. Rather, ask students questions such as “What influences your beliefs? Do the people or groups who influence us ever disagree or change their minds? What might that tell us?” Engaging in open dialogue can be frightening as it gives control to the students, but allowing it can result in more honest communication and give students a chance to talk about things they may not have a chance to discuss otherwise.
- Display a “safe zone” or “safe space” sticker/poster.
- This shows students, colleagues, and students’ families that you are supportive of LGBTQIA people. Displaying this sticker means that LGBTQIA people may talk to you if they need support or just a friendly space in the school.
- Don’t assume a girl has a boyfriend, or a boy has a girlfriend.
- If you see a girl making a valentine, try asking “Who are you making that for?” instead of “What is your boyfriend’s name?”
- Include books with LGBTQIA characters in your school or classroom library.
- If you are an elementary school teacher, read books to the class about different types of families. If you are a middle or high school teacher, you can include Young Adult (YA) novels with LGBTQIA characters in your classroom library, as well as including LGBTQIA texts in the syllabus. Also, you can include “queer readings” of texts that may be interpreted as “straight.” For example, Mercutio is sometimes interpreted as gay in depictions of Romeo and Juliet. To find books with LGBTQIA characters, check the GLBTQ booklist from Multnomah Library (Portland, Oregon) or the Stonewall Book Awards, by the American Library Association. For books specifically for elementary-aged students and younger, check this list from the San Francisco Public library, and this blog written by a librarian, which includes books in languages other than English.
- When kids say “that’s so gay” or other derogatory words or phrases, don’t let it slide.
- Correct them just as you would for saying any kind of slur. For example, you could say “Did you know that gay is not an insult or a bad word, but it is a part of some peoples’ identity? Using ‘gay’ as a bad word can be hurtful. Instead, use a word that describes what you’re actually feeling.” This lets LGBTQ kids know that they have an ally in you. Studies have shown that students do not feel safe when teachers let this behavior go unchecked. You may also wish to share commercials from the Think Before You Speak campaign, or display posters that give alternative words for “that’s so gay.”
- If a student discusses their sexual orientation or gender identity with you, ask if their parents know about it.
- Outing a student to their parents can be problematic and potentially dangerous. If a student asks for privacy, respect it.
- To facilitate a discussion about gender roles, write “men” and “women” on the board, and ask the class to tell you what our society expects of each group.
- Phrasing it this way allows students to say what they’ve heard, and not have to confess what they believe, making this activity a safe space to share all ideas. Students may say things for men such as “breadwinner” and “physically strong” and “homemaker” and “emotional” for women. Once you’ve written a list under each category, ask everyone to stand up. Designate one side of the room as “man” and the other side as “woman.” Tell students that if they fit everything under man or woman they should go stand by the correct wall, but if they don’t, they should stand somewhere in the middle. It may take some questioning and prodding, but everyone ends up somewhere in the middle. This quickly illustrates to students that these categories are fluid, and not everyone “fits” rigid definitions.
- Teach students how to intervene when they witness bullying.
- While we of course do not want to encourage students to enter a fight, they can verbally support their classmates by telling the bully to “Stop”, walking away with the victim, and telling a teacher or another school staff person.
Remember, if a student confides in you that s/he was bullied or saw bullying, action must be taken or the student(s) will feel that telling someone is useless and will be less likely to report it in the future. For more ideas, check out our lesson plans section.
Transgender, gender fluid, and gender-nonconforming students
- Use students’ preferred gender pronouns.
- A way to figure this out without singling out particular students is to call roll using only last names. Tell the class that you want to know their preferred first name. This will take care of both kids who go by nicknames, and those whose legal name may not match their gender identity. For example, a student whose legal sex is male and legal name is John may tell you her name is Jessica. If you are not sure what pronouns to use after this, you can follow up with individual students in private conversations.
- Don’t separate kids by boys and girls.
- Instead, try shoe color, hair length, cheese or pepperoni pizza, anything that doesn’t rely on gender. This can even work for bathroom lines too: have students line up in two lines based on something silly, and then they can go into the bathrooms that fit with their gender identity. This way, it may not be as obvious if someone who is perceived as male goes into the female restroom. If students ask questions about a classmate going into a certain restroom, you can say something like “You cannot judge someone based on their looks, and X student feels best going in X bathroom” or by asking the questioner why they choose their bathroom, and engaging in a brief dialogue. To read about a teacher who used this method in her classroom, check out this article from Rethinking Schools.
- Allow students to use the bathroom and locker rooms that fit their gender identity.
- If there is resistance from administration or parents, see our ideas for school policy change. If students question another student’s right to be in a certain bathroom or locker room, you can use a similar script to the one described above, and purposely engage students in discussions about gender roles and standards.
- Say things like “male, female, and intersex”, instead of just male and female, as much as possible, to acknowledge intersex people’s existence, which makes it easier for intersex individuals to come out.
- If you feel students won’t understand what you’re talking about when you say this, you can use the Brief Guidelines for Intersex Allies as an educational tool.
Children with LGBTQIA parents
- Assume that some of your students will have parents who are not straight.
- Make them feel welcome in your classroom by giving them a copy of your classroom and/or school’s anti-discrimination policy, having books on display for parent night that include LGBTQ families, and treating same-sex parents as you would any parent or guardian. Displaying a safe space sticker can be a sign to parents as well as students that you are supportive and welcoming of everyone.
- When talking about students’ families, ask “who do you live with?” or “tell me about your family” rather than “tell me about your mom and dad.”
- This will also be inclusive to kids who live with grandparents, aunts and uncles, single parents, foster parents, etc.
If discussing or making cards for Mother’s or Father’s day, give all students the option to make a card for someone they care about.
Address parent letters to “parents and guardians” rather than “moms and dads.” Similarly, when talking to your class use the words “parents and guardians” instead of “moms and dads.”
- Next: Lesson plans