Growing up as a queer kid in a small town, my experience in school wasn’t always very welcoming. Everything felt like it was designed in a way that assumed that I – and everyone – was cis and straight, from the books we read to the forms we took home and the way everyone spoke in class. Because I didn’t fit into the world they were presenting me, it felt like there was something wrong with me.
When I became a teacher, I made a promise to myself that I would do everything I could to avoid doing the things that made me so uncomfortable as a student. I don’t want any of my students to feel like they or their families aren’t seen, valued, and most of all, completely normal.
There are many simple ways that you can make your classroom more welcoming to queer students, families, and colleagues. While this is by no means an exhaustive list, here are some things I would like you to consider for your own practice:
Drop the words “Mother” and “Father” from your communication home. I still see educators doing things like sending home student information forms with a ‘Mother’ field and a ‘Father’ field. This only serves to ‘other’ students whose families don’t fit this image. While you’re at it, why not make sure you have more than two fields for parents/guardians?
Stop playing “boys versus girls” or using gender as a way to split up students in class. Not only does it reinforce archaic notions of some imaginary divide between genders, but it also puts some of your queer students in an awkward and difficult position. You should never be creating a situation where a student has to out themselves or mis-gender themselves just to participate.
Include 2SLGBTQ+ content in your class without always making being queer “the point” of the lesson. While it’s important to openly discuss queer issues and perspectives in your classroom, it’s also important to make sure that you are including queer content without feeling like you need to justify it in some way. Your students need to see themselves in your teaching, but they also need to believe that you see them as a normal part of the world that doesn’t always need to be pointed out, discussed, and defended.
Schitt’s Creek did that very well, if you are familiar with the show. The writers included queer storylines without making them about trauma. They presented the world how it should be, how it can be, and it was beautiful.
Don’t wait until you have a queer student (that you know about) to offer support to your students. My school has a few genderless washrooms and I make sure to point them out to my students in the first week of school so that they know they’re available. I have a “Positive Space” sign up in my classroom at all times. I keep my language inclusive, making sure that I’m not saying things like “your mom and dad” and instead say “your family”. I share information about Youthline the same way that I share info about Kids Help Phone.
Stop assuming kids are “too young” to talk about the 2SLGBTQ+ community. There is no such thing. Kids aren’t too young to learn about cis/het families, so what’s the difference?
Teach gender-neutral language. I teach FSL, and I introduce gender-neutral pronouns alongside “il” and “elle”. It takes no extra effort on my part – I’m already teaching pronouns in Language Arts. You know what’s really cool? When they have the language ahead of time, they often use it openly, without hesitation, and without prejudice.
There are so many other things you can do to create a more welcoming space for your queer students and families, but I’d be here all night if I tried to capture them all. Those are just a few suggestions of small but meaningful changes you can make to help your students feel safe and seen. I hope you give them some thought.