Teaching Tolerance: Resources to Introduce Queer Studies to Your Students

This is an exciting time for educators who want to create more inclusive classrooms. Discussions about queer identities are increasingly encouraged by school districts, but many schools and teachers lack the resources needed to address gender identity and sexual preference in a comprehensive manner. This has led some instructors to get creative, pushing the boundaries of learning and challenging students to consider how they view themselves and their peers. 

If you want to improve your queer studies, regardless of the grade or subject you teach, there are tools available to you. Follow this guide to learn more about your students and how to reach them.

Queer Studies Help Students Form Their Own Identities

As a teacher, you can help your students learn about gender and sexual fluidity. With the right lessons, you can introduce ideas about the LGBTQ+ community that helps today’s youth better understand their emotions and feelings. Consider the term “queer,” which has often been used as a schoolyard slur by bullies of all ages. 

“While there isn’t a singular universal understanding of the term, many still regard it as an offensive term or slur,” writes Juwan J. Holmes at LGBTQNation. “As time has gone on, more and more people…have publicly favored the term queer either as a distinct word or umbrella term for non-cisgender, non-heterosexual people.” 

To highlight the term’s growing popularity with younger people, Holmes cites a study by UCLA that surveyed 1,500 people on their sexuality. While just 2 percent of respondents aged 52-59 identified as queer, 76 percent between the ages of 18-25 did. 

Although the UCLA study is just one snapshot of LGBTQ+ youth, other surveys have reported similar results. An annual survey by The Trevor Project, which advocates for mental health services and suicide prevention for the LGBTQ community found that 22 percent of respondents identified as “other” when asked about their sexual orientation, compared to 45 percent who identified as gay or lesbian and 33 percent who identified as bisexual. 

When asked about their sexual orientation, there were more than 100 different responses, ranging from heteroflexible to biromantic. This may be the value in the term “queer,” as it can be used as a general catch-all at first, and then allow the student to explain how they identify and why.  

“We come to our identities for strong personal reasons,” says Robyn Ochs, a bisexual activist and editor Bi Women Quarterly, “and it’s my belief that if we took the entire LGBTQ+ community and locked us in a room and told us we can’t come out until we reached consensus, we would spend the rest of our lives in that room.” 

Ochs says many terms and identities overlap, and that is okay. Sexualities can overlap comfortably if it helps people form their identities.

Teaching queer issues in the classroom isn’t about sorting gay from straight and then figuring out which part of the LGBTQ+ acronym they fit into. It is about discussing gender and sexuality as a whole, including their differences and nuances, to help students better understand themselves and each other.

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Teaching Tolerance Resources

Across the country, learning about LGBTQ+ identity is becoming a school standard, rather than a radical idea or personal issue best addressed at home. This means educators need resources to guide their lessons and provide meaningful content for students.

“Every student in our public schools should have opportunities to learn about differences in gender and sexuality, just as they should learn about the world’s differing cultural traditions, religious practices, and political systems,” write professors Mollie V. Blackburn and Summer Melody Pennell in Phi Delta Kappan. “Such knowledge about human differences is, we believe, a basic requirement for active citizenship in a diverse, pluralistic, and equitable society.”

Below are a few recommended resources you can turn to in order to make your classroom more inclusive and to lead healthy, responsible discussions about queer identity with students. 

  • The organization Welcoming Schools works to create LGBTQ and gender-inclusive schools with a focus on preventing bullying. This group offers multiple resources for educators, including a checklist for creating an inclusive learning environment and a guide for answering challenging questions of gender and sexuality.  
  • GLSEN (previously the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network) also has a list of resources and activities to discuss queer studies in the classroom. However, this site is more advanced. You can filter lessons by grade level, identity topic, and even events like Ally Week and No Name-Calling Week.
  • For students who are considering coming out, the UC Davis LGBTQIA Resource Center has several guides, graphics, tips and videos. 
  • Mermaids is a UK-based organization that can support transgender and gender-variant students. There are videos and discussions for parents and young people, along with resources for professionals.  

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The Next Step: Building Queer Studies into the Curriculum

Introducing LGBTQ+ identities into the classroom and developing an inclusive learning environment is valuable for students, but so is creating representation.

“When prompted to think about lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer students, most people typically think about bathroom laws and bullying rates,” writes Sabia Prescott, a policy analyst at New America. “In reality, these students’ needs and challenges go far beyond basic safety … students must be able to see themselves represented in the curriculum and respected in the classroom to be fully engaged and validated in school. One of the most salient ways to offer this type of support is through LGBTQ-inclusive instructional materials and teacher professional learning.”

Many LGBTQ+ studies and curricula are relatively new, explains Time Magazine staff writer Olivia B. Waxman. LGBT History Month (October) was started in 1994 and the National Park’s Service only issued its first LGBTQ historic landmarks in 2016 (New York City’s Stonewall Inn is one of 10 listed). However, many educators have found ways to seamlessly blend queer studies into existing lesson plans.

Waxman uses the Lavender Scare as an example, when members of the LGBTQ community were sought out and dismissed from government service. This can easily be taught alongside the Cold War’s Red Scare which sought out communists and anarchists.

Queer studies don’t have to just focus on identity and personal development. All students can benefit from seeing LGBTQ+ representation across the educational field. Some districts are getting the resources they need for this. In 2018, California was the first state to approve textbooks that include LGBT issues and historical figures. 

“Now we can mention Sally Ride was a known lesbian with a partner of 27 years,” says Dominic Le Fort, founder and executive director of Queer Education. “The purpose of this is not just to put this information in front of queer children. It’s to be of benefit campuswide.”

However, until other districts and states catch up with the use of inclusive texts for teachers, many will need to rely on outside sources and internet resources to develop their lesson plans. 

Curriculum Contextualization Resources

If you want to immerse LGBTQ+ culture and contributions into your classroom, there are online tools that can help you. Here are a few resources to start with. 

  • Stonewall UK worked with Pearson to develop a curriculum guide for an LGBTQ-inclusive classroom. Chapters are broken down by subject, ranging from math and science to foreign language learning. This proves that any classroom and subject can include LGTQ representation.
  • Younger students can improve their reading skills with this list of books compiled by Lauren Bercuson at Happily Ever Elephants. While many of these books are introductory, they can also be tied with other lessons in the elementary classroom. 
  • For older learners, Molly Horan at Shondaland shares 11 LGBT+ young adult books with a focus on intersectionality, highlighting the idea that being LGBT+ isn’t the only identity for most people.
  • The Anti-Defamation League developed their “Unheard Voices” project for middle and high school students. This includes a series of interviews and transcripts with LGBTQ individuals and their role in history. This is a good jumping-off point for developing projects and lesson plans for your classroom. 

Students don’t have to be a “certain age” to learn what it means to be queer and LGBTQ+ studies don’t need to be limited to the history classroom or health class. There is room for representation in every classroom. 

Images by: SharonMcCutcheon, belchonock/©123RF.com, 9nong/©123RF.com

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