Teacher's Voice | October 6, 2020

Queering Your Classroom with the Understanding LGTBQ+ Identity Toolkit

"For me, there still is more flexibility in the 'queer' mold, more room to maneuver." Gloria Anzaldúa, Chicana scholar, activist and poet

Anzaldúa, Gloria. “To(o) Queer the Writer—Loca, escritora y chicana.” The Gloria Anzaldua Reader, edited by AnaLouise Keating. Duke University Press, 2009, pp.163-175.

October is LGBTQ+ History Month, a time to celebrate the accomplishments, culture and history of the LGBTQ+ community. LGBTQ+ History Month was founded in 1994 in response to the need for LGBTQ+ curricula that elevate these often-marginalized voices. What does it mean to queer your classroom, to find “more room to maneuver,” to allow, as Anzaldúa writes, the river of identity to flow freely? To queer the classroom means that we approach instruction with a nod to the imaginative and make space to work against the heteronormative pressures of standardization and accountability. Understanding LGBTQ+ Identity: A Toolkit for Educators is a fantastic resource to help you begin the free-flowing journey of queering your classroom.

“All Oppression is Connected:” Exploring Intersectionality
In my 8th grade English class, I teach a project and inquiry based unit on discrimination. I begin the unit with a class viewing of the video All Oppression is Connected featuring poet and activist Staceyann Chin. The video allows students to situate complex discussions around equity alongside those that acknowledge the intersecting identities of LGBTQ+ people. After the viewing, I adapt the support materials to deepen our understanding of how LGBTQ+ rights are connected to the struggles around race, gender, reproductive rights, wealth inequality and immigration. Although our students may have experience discussing the aforementioned topics, they may not perceive the interconnected nature of these relations. As Chin reminds us at the close of the interview, “we cannot remove our struggle from the person next to us.”

Finding the Right Words: Terms to Know Glossary
We may look towards language to bring voice to the LGBTQ+ experience. Anzaldúa writes of her search to find the right words: “I struggle with naming without fragmenting, without excluding.” The Terms to Know glossary in the LGBTQ+ Identity Teacher’s Guide is an expansive resource that allows students to access new or recognizable terms about LGBTQ+ identity. Instead of lecturing the class on key concepts, vocabulary and ideas around LGBTQ+ history, I encourage the students to play with language and research self-selected phrases for their projects. Using vocabulary in context allows students to understand terms featured in the glossary such as gender-expansive or biphobia. I then encourage the students to think about creative ways to collaborate with their classmates and share the new words they have learned through their inquiry-based research.

One student group closed their discrimination research project with a “define your pride” activity. The group created LGBTQ+ and trans flags with printer paper and a popsicle stick. They then asked their classmates to select one new word from the glossary, define it and compose a creative sentence or visual interpretation using the chosen phrase. Students recorded their compositions on the back of the flag using colorful markers; the workshop culminated with a class share out and collective wave of their newly decorated flags. By inviting students to engage with the Terms to Know glossary in a creative way, words and concepts become more tangible and applicable to their own lives.

“More Room to Maneuver:” Professional Development
I’ve also used the Understanding LGBTQ+ Identity toolkit to facilitate professional development with pre and in service educators. What I find educators appreciate most about these resources is that they encourage discussion around how to create a safe learning environment for LGBTQ+ students, staff and school community members. By viewing the PBS videos, sharing our responses, and engaging in creative responses, we are able to stimulate much needed conversations around the creation of authentic educational experiences and environments that are supportive of all gender identities and sexual orientations.

An engaging approach to concluding professional development is to guide participants through an art-based workshop using collage materials. I ask participants to envision an LGBTQ+ supportive classroom that accepts and celebrates all students. The results are often colorful and energetic expressions of unity. Artistic mediums are essential tools to imagine what these identify affirming spaces can look like in our school communities.

Conclusion – “Identity is a River”
The Understanding LGBTQ+ Identity Educator Toolkit is an accessible resource to support educators, students and school community members in the journey to creating LBGTQ+ safe schools. By adapting these materials to fit the needs of you and your students, you can help make every month a celebration of the accomplishments, culture and history of the LGBTQ+ community. As Anzaldúa explains, “Identity is a river – a process. Contained within the river is its identity, and it needs to flow, to change to stay a river.” Queering our classrooms is an exercise in radical imagination that calls us to acknowledge and celebrate the complexities of our students. Let’s traverse this beautiful, sometimes fragmented river together.

Natalie Nuzzo is a NYC public school English educator, PhD student in English Education at Teachers College, Columbia University, and Adjunct Lecturer in the departments of Secondary English Education and English at Brooklyn College. She has received teaching awards and grants from The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The National Endowment for the Humanities, The Kids in Need Foundation, and Students Stand with Malala. Her doctoral research focuses on the impact of meditation, creativity and poetics on literacy and teacher education.