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Making Learning Environments Equitable, Safe, and Inclusive 4 All

Guest post by Dr. Sagirah Wheeler


Equity, safety, and inclusive curriculum have been a challenge among the LGBTQ community within educational institutions for decades.

Before exploring this debate among the LGBTQ community, we must first define what the term means. According to Mayo (2016), LGBTQ stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (Mayo, 2016, p.132). Snapp et al. (2015) defined LGBTQ as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and questioning (Snapp et al., 2015, p.249). A Lesbian individual is a woman who is physically, romantically, or emotionally attracted to other women (Lesbian & Gay Community Services Center, Inc. [LGCSC], 2018). A Bisexual individual is a person who is physically, emotionally, or romantically attracted to individuals of the same gender or individuals of another gender (LGCSC, 2018). A Gay individual is an adjective to describe an individual who is physically, emotionally, or romantically attracted to individuals of the same sex (LGCSC, 2018). Transgender is an umbrella term used to describe individuals whose gender identity or expression differs from the sex they were assigned at birth (LGCSC, 2018). Queer is an adjective to define individuals whose sexual orientation is not exclusively heterosexual (LGCSC, 2018). This term is used when individuals feel that lesbian, gay, or bisexual labels are too limiting with cultural connotations. Lastly, the term questioning describes an individual questioning their sexual orientation or gender identity (LGCSC, 2018).



The first issue that members of the LGBTQ Community face regarding educational institutions is equity. The LGBTQ community does not have fair equity when it comes to resources within academic institutions. When it comes to school policies, educational institutions must battle their own beliefs and the beliefs of parents and the surrounding community. Suppose it is seen as equitable and inclusive for LGBTQ students to reflect their chosen identity. In that case, some individuals and groups do not want that displayed in school. For example, in 2014, parents in Vancouver, British Columbia, fought the school in allowing transgender youth to use bathroom facilities that reflected their chosen identity (Mayo, 2016, p.134).


Parents of this school community felt this type of access violated children's right to privacy and parental rights to raise their children in the gender they saw fit (Mayo, 2016, p.134). And although these reasoning's stand true, this also means that LGBTQ students are not being provided the same equity to be raised by the gender they see fit. LGBTQ students are also being discriminated against and not being supported by their schools. While parents and the school community debate which bathrooms LGBTQ students can use, these students are not granted the same access and environment to learn and grow. LGBTQ parents and allies feel their voice will jeopardize their students or careers since their stance is different from the majority (Mayo, 2016, p.135). Overall, students, parents, and allies of the LGBTQ community are not provided the same equity or fairness in support, resources, and voicing their opinions as to their counterparts.


The issue of equity leads to the next challenge of safety. It is a true statement that students have the right to learn in an environment with a safe climate and free of harm. Therefore, it also stands true that LGBTQ students also have that right to a learning environment free of damage and harassment (Snapp et al., 2015, p.250).


Many have worked together to resist oppressive school practices to ensure this climate is achieved for all students, including LGBTQ students. Researchers in the field have identified school-level strategies that would provide all students, inclusively, the safe learning environment they deserve. These strategies include (1) inclusive anti-harassment policies, (2) teacher support, (3) supportive extracurricular options including clubs, (4) access to information and support related to sexual orientation and gender identity, and (5) LGBTQ-inclusive curriculum (Snapp et al., 2015, p. 250). Educational institutions have incorporated these strategies by making students feel comfortable in the classroom, addressing bullying and harassment, and how school staff is supporting students. A Massachusetts school implemented a policy that evaluated all gender-based policies, rules, and practices to maintain policies with a clear and sound pedagogical purpose (USDOE, 2018, p.10). In a Maryland school, teachers sort students based on birthdays or colors vs. gender (USDOE, 2018, p.10). An NYS school challenges bullying by stressing the importance of protecting students from harassment because high rates of bullying correspond to adverse health and educational consequences on students (USDOE, 2018, p.11). Lastly, school staff can support students by creating inclusive policies, programs, and practices that prevent bullying and harassment. Additionally, staff can promote school environments that are safe, healthy, and supportive places for students to express themselves (USDOE, 2018, p.11).


The issue of safety leads to the challenges of an inclusive LGBTQ curriculum. McGarry (2013) stated that LGBTQ inclusive education "…presents lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender identities as possibilities as it addresses fundamental aspects of people's understanding of who they are. It also sets out what students should know and be able to do by the end of grades 2, 5, 8, and 12" (McGarry, 2013, p.29-30). Research has shown that schools with a curriculum that excluded positive information about LGBTQ people compromised school safety, students' learning ability, and denied students access to an equitable education (Snapp et al., 2015, p.251). In contrast, schools whose curriculum was LGBTQ inclusive showed that all students felt safer, experienced less victimization, and experienced greater peer acceptance (Snapp et al., 2015, p.251). Snapp et al. (2015) found that "…LGBTQ-inclusive curriculum has positive implications for a variety of aspects of LGBTQ students' lives, including safety, well-being, learning, achievement, and ability to understand others. One student shares how the lack of personal comfort and a safe school climate can create roadblocks to students' success" (Snapp et al., 2015, p.256). A school's curriculum needs to include health education courses (McGarry, 2013, p.27). Overall, for LGBTQ students, seeing individuals like themselves reflected in the curriculum made them feel hopeful about their futures (Snapp et al., 2015, p.257). To achieve these benefits mentioned, schools will need to change their laws that explicitly prohibit the development and implementation of such curriculum (McGarry, 2013, p.28).

Ultimately, the goal needs to improve education for all students of all sexual orientations and genders. Challenging the issues of equity, safety, and inclusive curriculum will help many educational institutions arrive at this goal.


I would agree with Mayo (2016) that the following steps would help lead to the intent of improved and inclusive education; (1) understanding the complexity of sexuality and gender identity, (2) critical-thinking about how heterosexism and homophobia have structured our understanding of ourselves, others, and society, (3) challenging the implicit and explicit heterosexism, homophobia, and gender conformity in the school curriculum and practices, (4) understanding the intersections regarding gender, race, sexual orientation, class and other aspects of identity, (5) defining your categories of normal and challenging your assumptions regarding sexuality, gender, diversity, and difference, (6) learning about LGBTQ histories and cultures, and lastly, (7) knowing about community resources for LGBTQ communities (individuals, organizations, and allies) (Mayo, 2016, p.145). Addressing these strategies within educational policies and practices would provide a way to make sure learning environments are equitable, safe, and provide inclusive education for all.


For further reading on this topic, please read Supporting Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation Diversity in K-12 Schools (Perspectives on Sexual Orientation and Diversity), edited by Megan C. Lytle and Richard A. Sprott.


References

Lesbian & Gay Community Services Center, Inc. (2018). What is LGBTQ? Retrieved from https://gaycenter.org/about/lgbtq/


Lytle, M.C., & Sprott, R.A. (2020). Supporting general identity and sexual orientation diversity in k-12 schools (perspectives on sexual orientation and diversity) (1st ed.). American Psychological Association.


Mayo, C (2016). Queer Lessons: Sexual and Gender Minorities in Multicultural Education. In J. A. Banks, & C. A. McGee Banks (Eds.), Multicultural Education: Issues and Perspectives (9th ed., pp.132-148). Danvers, Massachusetts: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.


McGarry, R. (2013). Build a curriculum that includes everyone. Phi Delta Kappa International, 94(5). Retrieved from https://www.jstor.org/stable/23611667.

Snapp, S. D., Burdge, H., Licona, A. C., Moody, R. L., & Russell, S. T. (2015). Student’s perspectives on LGBTQ-Inclusive curriculum. Equity & Excellence in Education, 48(2), 249-265. https://doi.org/10.1080/10665684.2015.1025614.


United States Department of Education, Office of Elementary and Secondary Education, Office of Safe and Healthy Students. (2016). Examples of Policies and Emerging Practices for Supporting Transgender Students. Retrieved from www.ed.gov/oese/oshs/emergingpractices.pdf.

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