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Supporting LGBTQ+ Students in ELA

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Happy Ally Week! This week is a great reminder for us to turn our attention to creating safe spaces for our LGBTQ+ students, and finding ways to show them our support in class. But of course, it shouldn’t be the only time we do this. In this post, I want to share four ways you can support your LGBTQ+ students all year long. 
It’s not very hard. It won’t take much time. But it just might change someone’s life, to feel your acceptance and support in a world that’s still making it hard for them to be who they are. 
Show your Support on your Walls


Find a little corner of your room to display posters, signs, or stickers that show your students you accept them. I love these posters, free from The SuperHERO teacher, who often shares ideas and resources for teachers on LGBTQ+ issues on her beautiful Instagram feed.  But there are lots more options out there. You can print the GLSEN safe space sticker set here or just do a quick Google search to find more safe space posters and signs to choose from. 

Show your Support on Yourself


This week is a great time to pick up a shirt that shows your support to wear throughout the year. I got this one from Hear our Voice. I also like the ones over at Human Rights Campaign. Or maybe you could spearhead a project at your school to design one people can order during Ally Week.

Show your Support on your Shelves

As English teachers, I think this is one of our most important jobs. Students need to be able to see themselves on your shelves. Their stories. Their dreams. Their pain. I read two books this year that would be powerful LGBTQ+ themed additions to your shelf.

The first, Birthday, is an #ownvoices story by a transgender woman about two best friends. Told in alternating perspectives, it shows the journey of a transgender teen as she struggles with who she really is in a highly conservative, rural football town. The story doesn’t shy away from intense pain along the way, but finishes with a beautifully happy ending. It’s gritty and real but also, in the end, so hopeful. As I often do with fiction, I found it expanded my ability to imagine a totally different experience of life.

The second, The 57 Bus, is an exploration of a series of events in the life of a teenager who identifies as neither male or female. Sasha loves to invent games and languages and spend time with their best friends. They understand who they are and they are accepted in their school and home. Then one day a young man touches a lighter to their skirt on the bus and sets them on fire. The book explores the lives of Sasha and the young man responsible for Sasha’s terrible pain, discussing a huge range of important modern issues in the process. This is a great book for your independent reading shelves or for a whole class read. 


Of course, there are many more books exploring LGBTQ+ issues worth including on your shelves or in your curriculum. Always remember The Danger of a Single Story. While their website design leaves something to be desired, the Rainbow Book Lists are a great source for finding strong titles. Each year they select the best of the best books including LGBTQ+ themes or characters. Queer Books for Teens is also a good place to look.

Show your Support with your Words 

Another important way to support your LGBTQ+ students is to find out what pronouns and names they prefer to be called, and whether those pronouns and names are the ones they want to be referred by when you talk to their families, who may not accept their evolving identities yet.

A simple survey will tell you their answers, and give you the chance to honor who they really are every day in class. If your students prefer “they/them” as their pronouns, you may struggle at first. But don’t let fear of making a mistake stop you from trying. It is much better to try and mess up than not to acknowledge this important part of your students’ identities.

Merriam-Webster has officially recognized the nonbinary “they” now too, so don’t let grammar hang-ups stop you.

For me, sometimes just using a student’s name at first makes it easier for me to avoid using the wrong pronoun while I’m making the transition to “they.” For example, “Look at Sasha’s incredible first paragraph” instead of “Look at their incredible first paragraph,” if you’re afraid you might accidentally say “Look at her incredible first paragraph” when you’re scattered mid-class. Make it easy for yourself to honor your students’ preferences as your language adjusts to the way things are now.

I hope you can easily incorporate some or all of these strategies into your classroom. It’ll make a big difference to some of your students, whether or not they ever feel ready to tell you.

Selected Further Resources:
Ally Week for Educators
LGBTQ+ Student Resources and Support
6 Ways Teacher can Support Trans Students

Did you know you can learn about all your wish list ELA strategies on your daily commute or walk with The Spark Creativity Teacher Podcast? Explore one-pagers, escape rooms, sketchnotes, creative annotation options, research projects, poetry workshops, and much more through over a hundred quick episodes waiting for you on your favorite podcast player!



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I'm Betsy

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  • Thanks for this post! Another powerful thing we teachers can do is to highlight LGBTQ authors/poets/historians/etc. Simply noting that someone famous was also LGBTQ is an eye opener for all students.

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