Keep Teaching: Fostering LGBTQ+ inclusion and well-being in the virtual classroom

Published: March 25, 2020 Author: Dr. Jan Huebenthal

As an instructor, what can I do to create LGBTQ-inclusive learning environments?

At Ohio University, we celebrate and uplift each other’s differences because we know that a sense of belonging is a key predictor of success, academically and professionally. Only when everyone feels that they belong, that their identities are welcomed and recognized, can we truly succeed as a diverse University community. Today and always, we are #StrongerTogether.

As we transition to alternative instruction technologies during this challenging time, it is important to recall how we can each do our part to foster learning formats that are inclusive and affirming for LGBTQ+ learners. Now is the time to be a strong ally to all of our students!

Here are some suggestions for practicing LGBTQ inclusivity within and beyond your virtual classroom:

  • Embrace gender-inclusive pronouns!

When referring to people whose gender identity you do not know, including your students, consider using the singular “they” instead of “he” or “she.”  (You’d be following Merriam-Webster’s recent choice to crown “they” as the Word of the Year 2019!)

  • Substitute gender-inclusive nouns!

In lieu of “ladies and gentlemen” when addressing a group, you may say “everyone” or “folks” after “good morning” or “good afternoon.” Model inclusive language use by avoiding unnecessarily gendered language:

    • Policeman/policewoman -- Police officer
    • Alumnus/Alumna -- Graduate
    • Brother/sister -- Sibling
    • Fireman -- Firefighter
    • Wife/husband/girlfriend/boyfriend -- Partner
  • Seize opportunities to highlight LGBTQ+ representation!

Did you know that Sally Ride, the first American woman to travel to space in 1978, was a lesbian? Have you heard about Danica Roem, who is currently serving as the first openly transgender representative in the Virginia House of Delegates? And how about Bayard Rustin, a close confidant of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and organizer of the 1963 March on Washington, who served jail time in 1953 for having sex with a man?

    • If you come across facts like this, be sure to share them in our lectures, class assignments, etc.  
    • Seeing examples and listening to stories are core learning tools. If we can see ourselves represented and included in history, science, literature, research or politics, we are empowered to strive for what we know is achievable.
    • Visibility matters!
  • Beyond your virtual classroom: Check in with all your students about their well-being and offer resources.

LGBTQ+ students and students of color may be having an especially hard time right now.