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Why We Need to Talk about Gender in Our Teaching

 

“English language arts classrooms can be significant sites for combating homophobia and heterosexism in schools, and reading LGBT-themed literature is one of the best ways to do this work.”

Yesterday NCTE posted a new NCTE Guideline, Diverse Gender Expression and Gender Non-Conformity Curriculum in English Grades 7-12, developed by the members of the Gender and Literacy Assembly of NCTE (formerly known as the Women in Literacy and Life Assembly (WILLA) of NCTE).

In keeping with the NCTE Resolution on Strengthening Teacher Knowledge of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Issues, the new document suggests that in our classrooms we focus on texts representing a diverse range of people including those who are LGBTQ and/or gender non-conforming. The guideline advocates that by doing this we’ll meet all students’ needs and help all students develop complex ways of understanding gender through an “equitable focus on issues honoring a range of diverse expressions related to gender and gender non-conformity.”

Caroline T. Clark and Mollie V. Blackburn note in their English Journal article “Reading LGBT-Themed Literature with Young People: What’s Possible?” that while scholars urge us to teach LGBT literature, doing so is not as easy selecting a text with a gay protagonist for a class read. They suggest that  heterosexism and homophobia are already part of the classroom, so we’ll need to use a variety of strategies to counter these beliefs as we introduce LGBTQ texts:

  • Position your students as LGBT people or their straight allies. They are likely being positioned as straight and/or homophobic in most other parts of their lives (e.g., the English teacher who describes to her students the male protagonist in a story as “every girl’s dream,” or the football coach who refers to his players as “a bunch of girls”).
  • When students position themselves as homophobic, introduce them to other possible positionings by reading LGBT-themed literature with them.
  • Read LGBT-themed literature with students across the school year in association with a variety of topics and units.
  • Include a wide range of literature that works to serve as mirrors and windows for diverse students.
  • Choose literature that does not just make homosexuality visible, but also shows queer people in queer communities; young people need to know that being gay does not mean being alone.
  • Choose high-quality, pleasurable YA literature, and involve students in making those choices.
  • Invite a wide range of ways to respond to this literature.
  • Work with like-minded colleagues to recognize and challenge each other’s biases and to support one another to use LGBTQ literature.
  • Engage in the perpetual process of making educational contexts more LGBTQ-friendly every day.