As June is Pride Month, we wanted to take the opportunity to share some tips and tricks for making your classroom more welcoming and supportive of queer students. Research shows that LGBTQ+ professionals in STEM are 30% more likely to experience workplace harassment, compared with non-LGBTQ+ colleagues. Queer people are also less likely to pursue STEM careers—for example, men who identify as gay or bisexual are 12% less likely to complete a bachelor’s degree in a STEM field, in comparison to heterosexual men. To change these perceptions and inequalities, we must start in the classroom. If we make sure that today’s queer students feel like pursuing STEM careers is an option for them, the future is sure to look different.
So how do you support your queer students? Here are some ways to make your classroom more LGBTQ+-friendly.
- Make sure everyone feels represented
Your queer students might not feel like they can pursue STEM careers because they haven’t ever seen any LGBTQ+ scientists. Making sure to include resources featuring, or resources by, LGBTQ+ scientists can make a huge difference. Perhaps you can even get some queer STEM professionals to come in for a talk!
- Be aware of gender stereotypes
Don’t assume that girls will be better at softer and more creative tasks and don’t automatically give boys the more practical, hands-on tasks. Instead, assign tasks as randomly as possible and let your students do what they are drawn to. Similarly, when referring to STEM professionals like doctors or engineers, be aware of whether you always default to doctors being men, and so on.
- Use inclusive language
Instead of addressing your students as “boys and girls,” try saying saying “class” or simply “students” in order to make your nonbinary students feel included. Similarly, don’t assume that every student has a mother and a father—instead, you can speak of parents or guardians. You also want to opt for gender-neutral job titles, e.g. “firefighter” instead of “fireman” and “meteorologist” instead of “weatherman.”
- Signal that your classroom is a safe space
There are subtle ways to make queer kids feel welcome. For example, you can hang “safe space” or “all students welcome” stickers and rainbow flags in your classroom. This might seem like a small gesture, but the kids who need it are likely to notice and will feel safe and supported.
- Have resources available
During their school years, kids go through a lot of change and are likely to figure out things about themselves. In the scenario that a student might approach you with concerns about their gender identity or sexuality, it’s a good idea to have resources available for them to look at. This could be pamphlets, websites, or even suggestions for LGBTQ+ student groups.
- Honor students’ names and pronouns
Even if a student might be “Alexandra” on paper, they might ask you to call them “Alex” and that should be honored. Similarly, if a student would approach you asking to be called a different pronoun from what you had originally assumed, make sure to honor their request without any discussion.
- Have clear anti-bullying policies
Of course, being aware of any bullying or name-calling and putting a stop to this is an important part of any teacher’s job. But make sure to also pay attention to small remarks such as “that’s so gay” or any insensitive questioning about, for example, students having gay parents.
We hope that you’ll find these tips useful. If you’ve got your own suggestions, we’d love for you to share them in our Twig Teachers Facebook Group.