LGBTQ-Inclusive Teaching: What Colleges Are Doing So Far

Colleges are realizing the importance of LGBTQ-inclusive teaching on their students. What are some actions colleges are taking to promote this?

September 27, 2021

reviewed by Angelique Geehan
LGBTQ-Inclusive Teaching: What Colleges Are Doing So Far

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Inclusive teaching refers to educational approaches that address students with a variety of backgrounds, identities, learning styles, and abilities. By taking this approach, inclusive teaching creates a learning environment where all students can feel equally valued.

Colleges can support lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer (LGBTQ) students through various strategies and support systems. As social justice and equity causes continue to advance, colleges also continue creating and expanding LGBTQ-inclusive teaching and campus environments. Continue reading to learn more about the importance of LGBTQ-inclusive teaching, and what this concept means. We'll also share how schools can create inclusive academic and on-campus environments for LGBTQ students.

The Importance of LGBTQ Inclusivity

LGBTQ people make up a significant, and increasing, share of America's population.

More than 5% of U.S. adults identified as LGBT in a February 2021 Gallup survey. Of that group, 54.6% identified as bisexual, 24.5% identified as gay, and 11.7% identified as lesbian. Just over 11% identified as transgender.

When based on percentages relative to their share of America's adult population, that means 3.1% of Americans identify as bisexual, 1.4% as gay, 0.7% as lesbian, and 0.6% as transgender.

In a 2018 survey by the Association of American Universities (AAU), nearly 19% of undergraduate and graduate students identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, nonbinary, or asexual.

"When it comes to getting beyond that basic need of safety and validity...educators have the biggest role in ensuring that the content is relevant, and respectful, and representative of queer and trans people and identities, making sure that the language used in the classroom is not reinforcing the gender binary, that it's (as) inclusive as possible."

– Sabia Prescott, policy analyst with the Education Policy program at New America

Unfortunately, a 2019 survey by AAU found that two out of three LGBTQ college students experienced sexual harassment at least once. Twenty percent of students who identify as something other than straight feared for their physical safety as a result of their perceived or actual gender identity or sexual orientation. Queer and trans students also face higher risks of harassment, mental health conditions, or intimate partner violence.

That's why when it comes to creating inclusive spaces and experiences in college, safety must be the top priority, according to Sabia Prescott, a policy analyst with the Education Policy program at New America, a nonprofit public policy research institute.

Too often, Prescott said, LGBTQ students do not get this basic need met. And until it is, "It's hard to address all of the other needs that are further down the line if we can't address safety first." Prescott added that establishing a culture of safety starts at the top with school leadership.

After that, "When it comes to getting beyond that basic need of safety and validity...educators have the biggest role in ensuring that the content is relevant, and respectful, and representative of queer and trans people and identities, making sure that the language used in the classroom is not reinforcing the gender binary, that it's (as) inclusive as possible."

The Benefits of Inclusive Classrooms and Campuses

At the K-12 level and in higher education, when most people think of LGBTQ inclusion, the focus shifts to history or language arts "where you're talking about queer civil rights issues or we're talking about reading queer authors," Prescott said. "But every subject can and should be made inclusive."

"At some point, there's going to be an example of something. And there's language there. And anytime there's language, there's an opportunity to make the language inclusive."

– Sabia Prescott, policy analyst with the Education Policy program at New America

Educators can make their lessons more inclusive by considering the types of examples used to illustrate an academic lesson. They can also introduce diverse people and groups into classroom discussions about historical and social movements. Beyond language and liberal arts, Prescott said there are opportunities to bolster LGBTQ-inclusive teaching in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).

Regardless of what a learner is studying, "At some point, there's going to be an example of something," Prescott said. "And there's language there. And anytime there's language, there's an opportunity to make the language inclusive."

According to Cornell University's Center for Teaching Innovation, when developing an inclusive teaching strategy, teachers should consider how their cultural assumptions influence student interactions. They should also ask themselves how students' backgrounds and experiences may influence their motivation and engagement. Finally, teachers should also consider modifying course materials, assignments, or exams to increase accessibility.

Some of the benefits of LGBTQ-inclusive teaching include improved student engagement and connection. Students may also feel more comfortable sharing ideas and questions in a classroom environment.

Ideally, inclusive teaching and learning should take place on an inclusive campus. In short, students benefit when the entire college experience — choosing where and what to study, residential life, learning, and the ability to create a sense of community — should be inclusive.

Creating an inclusive campus for LGBTQ people includes offering gender-inclusive housing. Gender-inclusive housing means that students may share a room, suite, apartment, floor, or other living space without regard to the gender or sex of the other occupants.

Non-inclusive alternatives can force students into uncomfortable or even potentially unsafe housing situations, especially if they're required to share living spaces based on their gender assigned at birth.

Outside of the classroom, inclusive housing and gender-inclusive bathrooms matter a lot to LGBTQ students, Prescott said.

Other inclusive steps include simplifying administrative processes where students do not need to use a legal name or gender in university documents or information systems.

"A lot of trans and queer students have a name that is not their legal name that was assigned to them at birth, or even the legal name they still have on many of their legal documents," Prescott said. Seeing that name repeatedly on the school's digital portal, official documents, and/or a school ID can "take a really serious toll on your mental health."

Some of the most inclusive LGBTQ schools allow students to choose the name they want on their ID and official school documents online. "Having something like that in place can be really helpful and a good indicator to potential students that this is a really supportive and safe environment," Prescott said.

What's Driving the Push for Inclusivity?

In some cases, students are the driving force behind the push for more inclusivity. In other cases, schools are proactively changing. Either way, the changes are a sign of the times, Prescott said.

"Inclusive practices are designed to be inclusive to everyone. It's not like something that you could implement to help LGBTQ students would come at the cost of another group. Inclusion by definition I think means that there are all these things that will just benefit a lot of students."

– Sabia Prescott, policy analyst with the Education Policy program at New America

Like everyone else, "LGBTQ students — especially in the last year, and really all students — are just facing so much," Prescott said. "It's such a time of sustained stress and collective trauma and grief."

Inclusive teaching advances when school leaders realize that everyone benefits and no one loses with the implementation of inclusive practices.

"Inclusive practices are designed to be inclusive to everyone," Prescott said. "It's not like something that you could implement to help LGBTQ students would come at the cost of another group. Inclusion by definition I think means that there are all these things that will just benefit a lot of students."

When adding the potential for LGBTQ students to return home to a family or community that might not welcome a person who has recently come out and chosen to live their authentic identity, student stress can rise exponentially.

Best Colleges for LGBTQ Students

Several resources exist to help prospective students find LGBTQ-friendly colleges. They include the Campus Pride Index. Established in 2007, the index is a free, public, and searchable database of nearly 400 higher education institutions with LGBTQ-affirming policies, programs, and campuses. Students factoring in affordability should check out the Affordable Colleges Online guide to most affordable LGBTQ colleges.

Colleges voluntarily self-assess how they stack up against benchmarks set by Campus Pride. Consider these issues that may indicate how a college supports and affirms LGBTQ students:

Resources for LGBTQ+ College Students

HRC works to end discrimination against LGBTQ+ people. The organization provides tools and facilitates connections with other LGBTQ+ student activists fighting for equal rights on and off campus. HRC envisions a world of equality where everyone has full participation in all aspects of society within their community. PFLAG envisions a world where everyone is respected, valued, and affirmed regardless of their sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression. The organization builds its foundation on uniting families, LGBTQ+ people, and their allies. Many local PFLAG chapters support college scholarship programs. The National Center for Transgender Equality advocates for changing policies and society to increase understanding and acceptance of transgender people. In the nation's capital and throughout the country, NCTE works to replace disrespect, discrimination, and violence with empathy, opportunity, and justice. The Point Foundation describes itself as "the nation's largest scholarship-granting organization for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) students of merit." Point supports change through scholarships, mentorships, and community service training. Out in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics is a nonprofit professional association for LGBTQ+ people in the STEM community. The organization strives for a world that celebrates the professional contributions and achievements of LGBTQ+ people in STEM. The group has 100 student chapters at colleges, and professional chapters in the U.S. and internationally. The Trevor Project provides crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to LGBTQ people under age 25. Under the umbrella of The Trevor Project, the organization also supports other initiatives. These initiatives include advocacy, legislative and policymaking, and public education.

Reviewed by:

Angelique Geehan works to support and repair the connections people have with themselves and their families, communities, and cultural practices. A queer, Asian, gender binary-nonconforming parent, Geehan founded Interchange, a consulting group that offers anti-oppression support. She organizes as part of several groups, including the National Perinatal Association's Health Equity Workgroup, the Health and Healing Justice Committee of the National Queer and Trans Asian and Pacific Islander Alliance, QTPOC+ Family Circle, and Batalá Houston.

Angelique Geehan is a paid member of the Red Ventures Education freelance review network.

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