A Syllabus for Educators Working with LGBTQIA Youth (Download as PDF)
Queerology starts at home, in your community and continues upon entrance to your school
Queerology is a resource for educators developed in collaboration by LGBTQIA youth in the southeast. Queerology explores ideas to inspire and sustain a safer dimension (not just a safe zone) for all students in your school community. This is not a “one-size fits all” guide, but rather an adaptable blueprint for considering issues of identity that go far beyond gender, sex or the politics of safety and victimization. Queerology is a time and place to recognize current forms of oppression such as homophobia, transphobia, and bullying, and to develop creative responses using the frameworks of equity, art, and social justice. This is not a pass or fail course. There are no grades, only opportunities to experiment, persist and try again. Welcome to Queerology.
A Snapshot of LGBTQIA School Culture
For LGBTQIA-identifying youth, the hallway is a battlefield, using the bathroom can be a traumatic experience, and the classroom a constant barrage of subtle harassment that continues at home, and on the streets daily. These conditions have worsened for LGBTQIA-identifying youth, their friends, family and extended community. The rates of bullying, mental illness, and teen suicide continues to worsen. Over the past 10 years, The Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN)’s National National School Climate Survey has mapped these challenges around the country, measuring the frequency of physical and verbal harassment, homophobia, cyberbullying and ways in which teachers and other school staff become complicit in these acts. The results of the survey paint a bleak picture of America’s schools. Almost all LGTBQIA-identifying youth experience some form of harassment during their time at school and in most cases these transgressions go unreported. The US Department of Health (2003) studies indicate that “youth who regularly experience verbal or physical harassment suffer from emotional turmoil, low self-esteem, loneliness, depression, poor academic achievement and high rates of absenteeism.”
In North Carolina the rates of incidence are higher than the national average. Almost all students included in GLSEN’s 2011 survey heard “gay” used in a negative way (e.g., “that’s so gay”) and 9 in 10 heard other homophobic remarks (e.g., “fag” or “dyke”) regularly at school. Eighty percent regularly heard other students in their school make negative remarks about how someone expressed their gender, such as comments about someone not acting “feminine” or “masculine” enough. And students also heard biased language from school staff. GLSEN also reported that over 30% regularly heard school staff make negative remarks about someone’s gender expression and 24% regularly heard staff make homophobic remarks. Nearly forty percent of students were physically harassed with 10% injured or assaulted and over 70% of students sexually harassed. The study also concluded that most schools in North Carolina (only 7%) do not have an effective anti-bullying program or staff equipped to address these issues.
GLSEN. (2013). School Climate in North Carolina (State Snapshot). New York: GLSEN.
Widmeyer Communications for the Health, Resources and Services Administration of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Bullying Prevention Campaign Formative Research Report (2003); Doris Rhea Coy, Bullying, ERIC Digest (2001); and Tonja R.
A Personal Note: Being a teacher is always a hard job. Make sure to conduct a self-assessment throughout your journey into Queerology. Make sure you are personally healthy. Your well-being is of utmost importance and is necessary for you to be a successful LGBTQIA advocate.
START HERE: Developing a Queer Mindset
Queer is a term with many meanings. Historically, queer has been used as a slur to marginalize gay, lesbian and trans communities. More recently, the idea of “queer studies” has sought to reclaim the word in a positive and critical way. Identifying as queer now means many things to many different people but seeks an understanding of gender and sexual identity as complex and fluid, providing an umbrella term for LGBTQIA-identifying communities. To identify as queer is to reject a heteronormative culture that considers gender and sex as static or fixed. As a Queerology teacher it’s important to have conversations about this history, and make sure the term “queer” is used appropriately.
Developing a “queer mindset” requires a heavy dose of critical thinking that considers the multiple contexts of place, people and history amongst others. Queer thinking is about decentering our beliefs, thinking carefully about whose story is being told, from what perspective and for what purpose. A training session or professional development workshop does not ensure a complete understanding. The idea of adopting a queer mindset is always ongoing, and changes according to the conditions of circumstance. To get started, consider some of the following ideas:
a. Understanding the Politics of Language
- Language is powerful: Language is one of the most powerful tools we have at our disposal. Some of the most prolific and destructive ideas stem from our manipulation of words and symbols, especially for LGBTQIA-identifying youth. As a Queerology advocate, take time to familiarize yourself with the ways language defines your school culture.
- Know your terms: Start with an understanding of the LGBTQIA word rainbow: Lesbian; Gay; Bisexual; Transexual; Queer or Questioning; Intersex; Asexual or Androgynous (see glossary at the end)
- Know your slurs: Next, pay close attention to the use of slurs or negative co-optation of words used in the queer community. And don’t assume that just because you’re in the know, that you can freely use words like “dyke” or “fag” in a playful or joking manner. Be aware that many terms are always shifting/changing and new ones pop-up all the time. This is closely linked to issues of racism and sexism (ie. the use of bitch/slut/cunt/whore).
queer (both a slur and a term people to reclaim/use), faggot, dyke, lessie, rainbow, fairy
lesbo, sissy, butch, femme, trannie, he/she, man-lady, girly-boy, ‘that’s so gay
Address slurs: When you hear something, say something and address it right away. This should be done publically when appropriate, or brought to someone’s attention in private, or both. When you’re addressing this individual and they’re using slurs please make sure to educate them on what these words mean, and how they impact the physical, psychological and emotional well-being of the entire school community.
b. Cultivating Community
- Learning requires dialogue: One of the primary objectives of Queerology is to cultivate opportunities for authentic community and dialogue. This requires developing ways for teachers to understand and learn from student experience, and for students to understand an educator’s perspectives. Start by creating a classroom and school culture with and for students and extended community. This may involve the principles of democratic education used historically by John Dewey, Paulo Freire, Augusto Boal and others. A set of school guidelines for respect and dialogue must be co-constructed with all those involved if you truly hope for these ideals to be realized.
- Challenge assumptions: Investigate and avoid assumptions at all costs. Host a collaborative classroom forum with students to explore common misconceptions about gay and trans culture – the difference between sex and gender etc. In classroom settings for instance, don’t assume boys and girls should be in separate groups because of behavioral expectations. Do not ignore diverse histories; white men are not always the winners of the game.
- Community is complex: Since a community is more than just shared interests, activities and experience; sports and conventional club activities may not be enough for a majority of your school community. The school should be a platform and incubator for neighborhood, family and student involvement in real and interesting ways, which requires actual contact and time spent with each other beyond PTA meetings, dances or bake sales. Work with youth to create alternative spaces, and autonomous projects that bring diverse groups of people together over time and with purpose.
The Parent Zone
The family is a crucial aspect of school culture and community. Often times parents want to be supportive but don’t know how to deal with issues of gender/sexual identity, if or when their child comes “out”, or has questions. As a teacher you may encounter instances of internalized homophobia, but remember most parents want their kids to have a good life and be safe. Your first step as a Queerology advocate is to provide an open and safe space for parents and students to talk about these issues.
For parents that are reluctant or resistant to do this work, you can still provide a vital resource for students. In the rare case that a parent directly confronts you as a teacher who has been supportive of their GLBTQIA child, you’ll have to reflect carefully on the situation and how best to negotiate it. Seek out resources from PFLAG, GLSEN, and other GLBTQIA organizations as well as support from colleagues and your school administration. Familiarize yourself with the policies that exist at your school, such as the anti-discrimination clause, and use these policies to support your actions in creating a school environment that is supposed to be safe place for all students and teachers. A Queerology advocate must be courageous in these situations. This may entail active listening, providing a visible space for students to tell their stories and discuss their needs (such as a rainbow sticker or a chair next to your desk), or in some cases being an advocate for the student even if a parent is reluctant to do so.
c. Beyond the Safe Zone
- Queer issues are everyone’s issues: Issues of homophobia, transphobia and bullying should not assume victimization or increased policing. Your goal as a Queerology educator is to go far beyond the idea of a “safe zone” with discrete boundaries. Do not assume that safety is the only or primary goal. Everyone is impacted by oppression (ie. sexism, homophobia, racism, etc.).
- Don’t pathologize queerness: Not all queer people are on the edge of suicide and depression. Many queer students are amazing individuals who are fulfilled and happy just the way they are and do not need psychological support about their queer identities. Psychological and emotional well-being is a spectrum, and is always changing. There are plenty students who are functional but still have needs.
- Reclaiming queered spaces: Spaces like locker rooms, hallways and bathrooms are often ignored in the campaign for safe zones. Please be cognizant of bathroom politics, and respond with integrity to requests for gender neutral bathrooms with doors that can lock. Do not assume students will abuse these spaces if maintained properly.
The Politics of Bullying
Bullying happens in many different ways that can range from subtle aggression to emotional and physical violence online and in the real world. Some of the most common issues in the classroom like name-calling or inappropriate remarks should not be ignored. Address it immediately without humiliating or embarrassing either party – no one should be singled out in a public way. If appropriate, use this instance as a “teachable moment”, open up a collaborative forum for dialogue about what was said. Co-develop classroom guidelines that recognize the power of language. The more open communication with issues of bullying will avoid future instances that often continue at home and online.
Be aware that bullying and violence can be explicit and implicit (consider what violence and oppression looks like – it isn’t always physical violence, ie. hypersexualiztion of black women, the idea of hyperfeminine gay male, stereotypes related to trans people) Recognize how oppression is present even in the language we choose to use. Flyers in the hallway or anti-bullying campaigns are a nice first step, but will be insufficient without continued involvement from staff, administration, students and parents. This requires creative ideas – collaborative disciplinary forums that include a panel of students, digital and real-world campaigns, opportunities for anonymous incident reporting and public review of these documents.
When you see an act of bullying happen:
Lastly, be aware of internalized homophobia/transphobia. The bully may be queer, but may not be ready to admit or explore their identity yet.
- Please be aware of your power as a teacher: With this power, you have a responsibility to create and maintain safe spaces through observation, action and creative intervention. Help students to understand that they have privilege and what this means and entails.
d. Sustaining Creative Practices
- Co-Lead a Creative Project: The school can be a platform for creative intervention through projects that involve students, the neighborhood and teachers in co-constructive process. This is a great opportunity to invite a teaching artist, designer or community advocate to assist in developing a project. To start conduct a survey to identify deficits and opportunities. Next, convene a council of students, teachers and parents to imagine ways your project could address issues of bullying, diversity and identity. Get the GSA involved and appoint a council of people to assess progress.
- Support or co-found a GSA: If your schools doesn’t already have a Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA), consider helping someone in your school community start one and provide support. Offer ideas for projects that help expand the group beyond social hangout time.
- Reach out to community partners: Recognize local and regional community support. Invite guest speakers and identify national partners like the ACLU, GLAAD or GLSEN that can assist you in different ways with free materials and guidance.
Attendance and Participation
- Your participation in addressing instances of bullying and harassment is mandatory.
- You should not expect all people in your school community to participate in the dominant school culture (ie. pep rally, dances etc.), these spaces are often uncomfortable for LGBTQIA-identifying youth. Offer alternatives that are student-led and focused.
- The whole school community, including parents, teachers, staff, neighborhood partners should participate in ongoing dialogue about issues of identity, gender, bullying etc. This is not just an issue of “safety.”
- Students, teachers and parents should have a role in shaping school policy.
- A code of conduct duct taped to the hallway wall is not enough to engender participation in the desired school culture. Help co-construct a school mission with students instead of for them.
a. Beyond the Surface: At the beginning of class, pass around a card and ask students to write down their preferred pronoun and name. Address them with the name and pronoun they prefer.
b. GSA Organizing: Help support a GSA in you school. Assist with developing meaningful activities and projects for the GSA.
c. Making Curriculum Connections. Make connections across disciplines that recognize and celebrate queer and civil rights struggles. This should not exclude math or science.
d. Visual and Digital Culture: Explore the potentials of digital storytelling, collaborative blogs, artworks, videos, and mobile media that explore issues of identity.
e. Game Zone: Co-construct ideas for games that explore issues of bullying, identity etc. You can ask students to create school mapping game to identify areas and instances of verbal harassment and acts of resistance.
f. Campaigns for Gender Neutral and Safe bathroom: Help co-lead a campaign to establish lockable individual gender neutral bathrooms and zones in the locker rooms.
g. Schoolbus mobile media documentation brigade: Ask teams of students to practice their research skills and document/report instances of harassment on the bus through ethnography.
h. Community Storycorps: Ask students to interview family and community members about their views on queer rights and identity.
i. Read-In: Start an after or in-school reading group. (See reading list below)
j. Public Art: Create a mural or interactive visual art piece with a local teaching artist and team of students that explores identity politics.
k: Local Project Connect: Partner with a local organization to start a project exploring a local issue. Invite guest speakers and have intergenerational communities interact.
Not to be followed in order necessarily. and required revisions are expected throughout.
Phase One: Understanding the Situation
To begin your Queerology journey make it your business to really understand what’s going on in your school. Talk with fellow teachers, observe public spaces in school, talk with students and reflect personally on instances where gender/sexual identity has been an issue at your school. Develop a personal assessment and share with others who may be interested in joining your effort. Identify areas of focus, start small and develop a long-term plan for addressing issues of bullying, homophobia etc.
Phase Two: Making issues of gender everyone’s issue
After your initial research, begin to implement some of your Queerology plans or recommendations. Start with your own classroom. Host a forum about a particular issue – queer culture, homophobia and transphobia, bullying, local current events etc.
Phase Three: Beyond the Safe Zone
Next, work with your school community to ensure your school goes beyond just a safe “space” and develop comprehensive anti-bullying platforms. Convene a group of students, teachers, parents and local community members to develop a creative and realizable project (see resource list below). A good place to start is by collecting stories. You can host a StoryCorps session in the cafeteria and anyone can tell their story.
Phase Four: GSA Organizing
If your school doesn’t already have one, support the start of a Gay-Straight Alliance. Provide guidance and ideas for projects that help continue your Queerology recommendations.
Phase Five: Reflecting and Re-infusing of Strategy
After implementing some of your strategies, take time to reflect, re-configure and reassess what’s working and what’s not.
- Become GSA Faculty Advisor
- Work with the GSA to have a collaborative community event
- Host a GSA regional conference
- Work with Queer kids not in GSA
- Make sure GSA addresses issues of race, class, power – ableism – complex identity issues
- conduct many self reflections
- use a democratic strategy to organize a school-wide community reflection on issues addressed in the resource. Make a funny suggestion box public.
- make incidence reports public
- have intentional conversations about how to improve school culture
ABLEISM: the belief that only non-disabled people are valuable to society.
CLASSIST/CLASSISM: policies and practices set up to benefit rich people at the expense of poor people.
CONDITIONS: what we are facing that makes our lives either easy or hard, and where people stand in relationship to power and oppression. Includes how we sit in relationship to the economy, the government, access to public services, environmental situations, and systems of oppression such as racism, sexism, and heterosexism.
HETEROSEXISM: the system that gives heterosexuals power and privilege at the expense of LGBTQ people.
INSTITUTIONS: systems of power that regulate and control resources, organize and decide how we structure our lives…who has more and who has less, such as the government, corporations, banks etc.
LGBTQQ/GLBTQQ: stands for lesbian, gay, bi, trans, queer and questioning or, gay, lesbian, bi, trans, queer and questioning.
OPPRESSION: a system of exploitation, and imbalance of power and control, in which one social group benefits over another. Oppressed groups are often made to feel invisible, devalued, disempowered, unimportant, and ‘abnormal’ and are systematically denied legal rights and economic, political, and cultural access. Oppression can occur from institutions AND interpersonally (between people) Different oppressions (class, race,gender) often work together. (EXAMPLE: Institutional: Being harassed or stopped by the cops for the way you look; Folks without $ not being able to get a bank loan; Interpersonal: a teacher underestimating the abilities of a woman of color in school)
PRIVILEGE: special, rights, advantages granted to, or assumed by, certain groups and considered by them as their right; for example in the united states, privilege is given mostly to whites, to heterosexual people, and most of all to white, heterosexual males.
POWER: a person or thing that has or exercises authority or influence.
RESISTANCE: any way of fighting back. It can mean avoiding violence by taking another way home or educating yourself nod the youth in your neighborhood about your legal rights.
RESILIENCE: any way people bounce back or heal (conventional or unconventional) some examples are therapy, aromatherapy, bubble baths or food choices.
SEXISM/PATRIARCHY: the system that gives men (or male bodied folks) power and privilege at the expense of women (or female bodied folks).
SELF DETERMINATION: The ability of a person or community to make choices for themselves about their own lives, bodies, and futures. Often put well in the slogan: “Nothing about us, without us!”
The LGBTQQIA Rainbow
L (Lesbian): A person identifying as a woman attracted to another woman
G (Gay): A person identifying as a man who is attracted to another man
B (Bisexual): A person attracted to more than one gender
T (Transgender): A person who deviates from their assigned gender at birth or the binary gender system
Q (Queer): Used as an umbrella identity term encompassing lesbian, questioning people, gay men, bisexuals, non-labeling people, transgender folks, and anyone else who does not strictly identify as heterosexual
Q (Questioning): Someone who is unsure of their gender/sexual preferences
I (Intersex): “Intersex” is a general term used for a variety of conditions in which a person is born with a reproductive or sexual anatomy that doesn’t seem to fit the typical definitions of female or male (it does not mean hermaphrodite)
A (Androgynous): Someone who expresses sexual/gender ambiguity in their fashion, gender identity, sexual identity or through other means.
A (Ally): Someone with a dominant gender/sexual identity actively involved in ending oppression or gender/sexual discrimination.
Source: Adapted from Young Women’s Empowerment Project, Southerners on New Ground (SONG), Advocates for Youth, Project South, SOUL, National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights and Class Action