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Learning Library Blog Words Matter — Supporting LGBTQ Colleagues and Students  
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Words Matter — Supporting LGBTQ Colleagues and Students  

By Jorge Valenzuela
July 22, 2021
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As I work through the requirements of my ISTE Certification, I am learning more about using the ISTE Standards for Educators to help me be more inclusive of all the learners in my classroom and the professional development sessions I facilitate. 

During a recent PD training, I learned the importance of putting the Leader standard into action by becoming more mindful of addressing my LGBTQ colleagues with their preferred set of personal pronouns. Leader Standard 2b states: 

Advocate for equitable access to educational technology, digital content and learning opportunities to meet the diverse needs of all students.

After diving further into the topic, I realized I had some learning to do and that there is other essential terminology I needed to learn to better support my LGBTQ colleagues and students. I believe other educators can do the same. 

For example, we can begin by: 

  • Sharing our pronouns with our classes and allowing students to share theirs while making sure students who don’t want to identify themselves to classmates can opt out. 
  • Knowing the general definitions of gender and sexual orientation. 
  • Creating an affirming environment for LGBTQ students and colleagues. 

Drawing inspiration from what I found on the topic and adding some that I felt needed to be included, I compiled the list below to help schools and educators improve their DEI focus.

Our DEI work is not inclusive and does not promote empathy, acceptance or respect for all unless we also include LGBTQ students and colleagues.  

The reality is that society is changing and is becoming more accepting of diverse sexual orientations and genders, regarding them on a spectrum and not binary. More and more young people are questioning and/or choosing for themselves and they shouldn't feel isolated in their own classrooms. 

Inclusivity also means that we as educators should strive to help all students feel pride in themselves and their sexual and gender identities. 

Affirming our LGBTQ student’s existence is the first step and helps them feel more connected to classroom content and their school community at large. Many educators are starting to learn more about nonbinary genders (not exclusive to male or female) and may even have trouble understanding what their students identify with. But regardless, identities we don’t yet understand still deserve respect and inclusion in our classrooms.

The following are essential terms teachers should be familiar with for making this critical inclusivity shift and were adapted from the following sources: American Psychological Association, National Center for Transgender Equality and Emanuella Grinberg of CNN.

LGBTQ: The first four letters of this acronym represent “lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender.” The Q can mean “questioning” for still exploring one’s sexuality or “queer.”

Queer: Queer is an encompassing term for people who are not heterosexual or whose personal identity and gender coincide with their birth sex (cisgender). Be mindful of using this term because to many it's offensive and considered a homophobic slur. However, it's also a self-affirming umbrella term for others who don't want to fall under restrictive labeling.

Homophobic: Both having and showing dislike and prejudice for gay people. 

Sex: Based on both a person's physical and biological characteristics at birth (chromosomes, hormone prevalence and reproductive anatomy), they are assigned either male or female. However, intersex is also considered an option in some states and countries for those who share both male and female biological traits. 

Intersex: A term used for various situations in which a person is born with reproductive or sexual anatomy that doesn't coincide with "female" or "male."

Gender: Refers to either sex (male or female), which typically correlates to socially constructed roles in behaviors and attributes that serve as cultural indicators of individuals' personal and social identity.

Gender identity: Relates to one's personal sense of their gender identity, which can correlate with their assigned sex at birth or differ from it. People who don't identify with male or female use the terms transgender, nonbinary and cisgender.

Preferred/personal gender pronouns: Refer to the set of pronouns that reflect a person's gender identity and how they would like to be referred to by others. You access a nifty gender pronoun chart by Trans Student Educational Resources here.

More resources for supporting LGBTQ students and colleagues

Here are articles and blog posts educators can use to examine their practice and equity lens for becoming better allies to both students and colleagues.

8 LGBTQ+ Resources for Educators: An ISTE blog post listing organizations, curriculum resources and tips for supporting LGBTQ students by Jennifer Snelling.

How Educators Can Better Support LGBTQ Teachers of Color: An Edutopia post on ways that colleagues can support queer teachers from marginalized racial and ethnic groups by Israel Tovar.

How to Support LGBTQ Students During Distance Learning: An Edutopia post offering tips for creating LGBTQ safe virtual spaces by Laura McGuire.

Integrating Queer Voices into the Curriculum: Texts, ground rules and tips for responding myths with facts for teaching Queer history by Learning for Justice.

ISTE Standards for Educators: A road map to helping students become empowered learners. These standards will deepen your practice, promote collaboration with peers, challenge you to rethink traditional approaches and prepare students to drive their own learning.

Expand digital equity in your school! Read ISTE's book Closing the Gap.

Jorge Valenzuela is an education coach, author and advocate. He has years of experience as a classroom and online teacher, a curriculum specialist and as a consultant. His work focuses on improving teacher preparation in project-based learning, computational thinking and computer science integration, STEM education, and equity-based restorative practices. Jorge is an adjunct professor at Old Dominion University and the lead coach at Lifelong Learning Defined. His book Rev Up Robotics: Real-World Computational Thinking in the K–8 Classroom is available from ISTE.