Education and Gender Identity


It’s not hard to see that the LGBTQ Community is a minority, and that struggles come along with being part of it. These challenges can especially be seen in the classroom and on college campuses. Even though people may be assumed as “open minded” or “totally accepting,” it can still be hard to embrace a heteronormative school setting when you identify within the LGBTQ Community.  Here are some problems that can arise and some advice on how to handle them, whether you’re a student or an educator.

1. Being Misgendered

I work in a retail store that caters, in our gendered clothing world, to women. Oftentimes when individuals come in, my coworkers will say things like, “Hey ladies.” My question is, what if that person identifies as nonbinary or transgender?  We can also see this in the use of ma’am and sir, assuming what someone uses by how they look.

A third way people can be misgendered is using pronouns. In our binary society, most individuals identify as she, her, hers or he, him, his. Just between those two, mixing those up is automatically misgendering someone. When asked how people decide what pronouns to use, most people go by appearance and this is a huge problem. Additionally, not everyone uses binary pronouns. There is a whole list of pronouns such as they, them, theirs or ze, zem, zirs for those who may not identify with the binary genders of man and woman.

So what do you do?

If you are misgendered, I advise you to correct the person who did so. This gives the chance for great educational moments as well as the freedom to express your gender identity. However, I am not suggesting you correct retail store workers when they say “hey ladies” because I’ve learned that in the retail world, gender is all too often assumed. I think it is just something that will have to be accepted until clothing and products become more gender inclusive. Hopefully that day comes soon. For pronouns though, I totally suggest correcting people. If they use the wrong pronouns, simply say, “actually my pronouns are [insert your pronouns].” Another way to stop this from happening would be to start introducing yourself with your pronouns. This can be hard and I admit I don’t practice what I preach, but I think it’s something we should all work on.

If you’re an educator reading this, first of all, you’re rad! To avoid misgendering your students, if you do anything, have them introduce themselves with their pronouns on the first day of classes. Also, if possible, get in touch before the first day to make sure the name on the roster is the name they go by.

2. Promoting Inclusivity

Being a student member of or an ally of the LGBTQ community can really make you notice when conversations are not inclusive of gender identities, sexual orientations, racial identities, and disabilities. This can be seen in classes like film, maybe only watching films that bring visibility to certain communities. Human sexuality and health classes might also present this when not talking about same-sex sexual experiences and protection. It is a great skill to recognize these instances and definitely a chance for educational moments. But how, you ask?

What can you do?

As a student, if you recognize this inclusivity, try thinking a little bit more about the situation. Is there a way the curriculum can be changed and have the subject matter be taught more inclusively? Do you have any ideas? Are you passionate or interested in the course? How well do you know the teacher or professor? If you have ideas and are comfortable and confident discussing your ideas, you should definitely go for it. Try and meet with the professor or teacher after class or in their office hours and see what they say. At the very least they may change the course for next year or semester. If you’re an educator reading this, try and implement different identities into your coursework. Can you assign an LGBTQ-related novel for your literature class? Can you watch And the Band Played On or Before Stonewall in your history and/or film course? Can you have students write a paper about their identities in an English class? Can you focus on healthy sexuality for the LGBTQ community in a health class? Inclusive education really goes a long way and can set a great standard for other classes.

3. Discrimination

Identifying within the LGBTQ community can oftentimes make one seem different. Let’s remember that queer can also be defined as “out of the ordinary.” Since we live in a society where most people just want to be normal, this identity can sometimes lead one to be discriminated against. This can be seen in choosing friends, leaving one behind after they come out, or just unfair treatment.

So what can you do?

If you’re blatantly discriminated against, you totally have the right to question it, especially in a classroom setting. Why do you always misgender me? Why do you never pick on me in class? How come my LGBTQ topics never get approved? How come you don’t stop the other students from bullying me? Unfortunately we do not live in a world where all classrooms are inclusive and where all educators are educated on the LGBTQ community. However, you have the right to be treated fairly and you should definitely bring it up to school professionals if you do not feel safe in class or feel that your identity is stopping you from being treated equally.

In regards to friends discriminating you, sometimes we have to face the fact that not everyone is accepting of the LGBTQ community. If they can’t respect you for who you are, you are better off without them in your life.

The mistreatment of LGBTQ individuals is a serious, but commonplace occurrence. While this is not acceptable anywhere, it certainly should not happen in educational settings. Hopefully this gives you some ideas as members or allies of the community in order to help stop this and move forward in the LGBTQ movement, especially as 2016 starts.

Jessica Mahmoud is a Journalism major with a Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer Studies minor. Her pronouns are she, her, hers, herself. As an aspiring activist, she hopes to use writing as an outlet to educate others.


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