Anti-LGBTQIA+ Legislation: Impacting How We Teach and Learn About Inclusion and Diversity in Schools – Part 2
“It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.” – Audre Lorde
We’re often sold the myth about diversity, “don’t focus on our differences.” At first glance, it seems nice: “I see us as two humans who exist and deserve a good quality of life.” Because our society teaches us that differences create conflict, we tend to think that ignoring differences is good. When we dig deeper, we realize the meaning behind refusing to recognize differences. It teaches us, “When we are the same, it makes it easier for me because I don’t have to learn about and honor your differences. I don’t have to unpack my own prior knowledge and bias. If we’re the same, then my experience is your experience, and my experience has been a good one. I don’t have to look at recent history and current events because discrimination and our differences don’t exist. I’m not a bad person. I don’t even see differences.”
Now, let’s go back to the Audre Lorde quote, “It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.” Being different from others is not the issue. If we cannot simply arrive at a place of recognition that we are different, we will never heal the divide. If we cannot go a few steps further and accept the fact that we’re different, be it race, gender, sexuality, religion, languages, educational backgrounds, incomes, or anything else, we will never reach a space of celebration. We will continue to teach each generation that it’s okay to discriminate against those who are different, it’s okay to continue to unknowingly use microaggressions, and that it’s okay to look the other way.
If you haven’t read Part 1: It’s Not Rainbows at All, here it is. In part one, we discuss the reality facing LGBTQIA+ youth and why supportive adults matter. I highlight recent examples of Anti-LGBTQIA+ legislation that affect youth and schools along with resources for Montessorians who want to further their anti-bias work.
Part 2: Anti-LGBTQIA+ Legislation: Impacting How We Teach and Learn About Inclusion and Diversity in Schools examines the direct effects of discrimination and discriminatory laws on learning and teaching. I will lay out the dangers of common actions such as overt discrimination, microaggressions, and looking the other way. For all students, these actions are directly harmful. For those who are cisgender and heterosexual, these actions further multiple messages that narrow the reality of the world and teach implicit bias.
Anti-LGBTQIA+ Legislation’s Impact on How We Teach
Legislation directly affects the social climate over time. When our representatives pass laws like those in Kentucky that prohibit teachers from discussing any classroom topics "that incorporate designated concepts related to race, sex, and religion” we enforce societal standards that say that differences aren’t up for discussion, which furthers ignorance and inequity. Anti-LGBTQIA+ legislation directly affects how teachers are able to exist, monitor their classrooms, and create welcoming spaces for all enrolled students.
From my own teaching experience, middle schoolers say inappropriate phrases that they pick up from the media, society, family, or older peers. Sometimes they don’t know that these phrases are harmful, derogatory, slurs, or microaggressions. Obviously each setting where a student says a hurtful comment lends for a different teaching moment—the hallway will require a quick correction and a follow-up conversation, whereas a comment said during whole-group instruction will require pausing the class and compassionately explaining why we don’t use slurs and why we continually educate ourselves.
However, when teachers are bound by legislation that could result in a fine or a firing, teachers who were on the fence about fostering discussions about diversity and equity are less likely to engage students in real-world conversations about recognizing, accepting, and then celebrating our differences. Which is exactly the point of the legislation.
Anti-LGBTQIA+ legislation furthers inequities because harmful actions become normalized, such as:
Not Discussing Diversity
Ignoring diversity is harmful in that it perpetuates effects similar to experiencing the silent treatment. Kipling Williams, a scientist who has examined the effects of the silent treatment for over 36 years, explains that, “People use the silent treatment because they can get away with it without looking abusive to others. . . it’s highly effective in making the targeted individual feel bad.” Staying silent about important issues such as treating LGBTQIA+ youth with equity is a way to perpetuate harm without appearing harmful.
Those who are against LGBTQIA+ representation say that it’s being pushed on kids or that kids are being indoctrinated. However, the opposite is true. Society views straight as the norm, as seen in almost every children’s movie where families or couples exist. It’s common for teachers in straight relationships to discuss their spouse (or ex-spouse) and children, yet the same privilege isn’t granted to those in LGBTQIA+ marriages or families. Not being able to discuss diversity limits how children view the complexities of the world. Outside of the public education bubble exists a world in which students will have to interact with diversity. When teachers aren’t allowed to mention gender or sexuality in literature, history, science, or physical education, it deepens the stigma around LGBTQIA+ existence and inclusion. It models what is deemed “socially acceptable” as students enter the world and the workforce.
Ignoring or Showing Microaggressions
Both knowingly and unknowingly, teachers and school professionals who feel like they need to stay quiet about LGBTQIA+ inclusion can ignore or perpetuate microaggressions. Diana Gueits, Cleveland clinic’s interim executive director, explains that “the standard definition for microaggression is a verbal or nonverbal slight that impacts an individual who might identify as being from a marginalized or nonmainstream community.” (If you would like to gain a foundational understanding of microaggressions to further understand the damaging effects and how to handle them, check out this article from the Cleveland Clinic.)
Microaggressions can take many forms such as asking someone their pre-transition name, ignoring a gay joke in the hallway, calling someone by pronouns that they don’t identify with, or assuming someone’s sexuality based on their appearance. Regardless of the intent, each situation teaches a message. What makes microaggressions more insidious is that they’re everywhere, and it’s not until we educate ourselves on issues that don’t seem to concern us that we realize we’ve been perpetuating microaggressions towards certain groups of people. Normalizing intolerance makes LGBTQIA+ youth feel alone, and it teaches cisgender/heterosexual students that intolerance is acceptable.
Using Overt Discrimination
All of the instances of ignoring diversity and continuing to use microaggressions add up. Looking the other way furthers the platform that being different is wrong and, in serious cases, excuses situations of exclusion, violence, hate crimes, and hate speech. Legislation that creates cultures of ignoring diversity, stripping away healthcare rights, and denying LGBTQIA+ youth affirming spaces is overt discrimination, and it tries to excuse individual circumstances of overt discrimination that follows as a result.
The Trevor Project, a national research and resource center for LGBTQIA+ youth and allies, published that, “LGBTQ youth who found their school to be LGBTQ-affirming reported lower rates of attempting suicide.” Unfortunately, they also reported that 45% of LGBTQIA+ students feel like school is not affirming, and 49% of transgender and nonbinary students feel like school is not affirming. If public school is to promise an accessible education for all students, there’s a lot of work to do. (I’ll cover actionable steps towards equity and inclusion in Part 3!)
Anti-LGBTQIA+ Legislation’s Impact on How Students Learn
LGBTQIA+ students are directly impacted by legislation that is written and passed about them, their access to affirming education, and their healthcare. Dr. Johnah DeChants (he/him), a research scientist with The Trevor Project, says, “Recent political attacks aimed at transgender and nonbinary youth have not only threatened their access to health care, support systems, and affirming spaces at school, they’ve also negatively impacted their mental health.” As well-known research such as Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and the developmental effects of trauma suggest, we cannot learn if we are emotionally activated, experiencing, or reliving trauma. When school becomes a traumatic place for LGBTQIA+ students, it severely impacts the joy, curiosity, and fun in learning.
A publication from Child Welfare Information Gateway explains how important it is for adults to mitigate the lasting impacts of trauma in older children:
“Positive experiences during this pivotal phase [adolescence] can strengthen healthy neural connections and promote learning. Child welfare staff, and others working with young people, can create opportunities to engage in trauma-informed practice and provide supports that may help reverse the harmful impacts of prior trauma.” According to the Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative (2011), they can do this in the following ways:
- Develop an understanding of trauma and its impact on child and youth development
- Recognize that youth can be traumatized by systems and services designed to help them
- Create safe and welcome spaces for young people
- Share information about trauma, complex trauma, ambiguous loss, neuroplasticity, and resilience to increase their understanding of the developmental needs of older youth
A critical step they share is, “recognizing that youth can be traumatized by systems and services designed to help them.” We need to recognize that this directly relates to Anti-LGBTQIA+ legislation and its impact on teaching and learning. Just like microaggressions add up, so do positive actions. Little by little we can rewrite the narrative and take actionable steps toward equity for LGBTQIA+ youth.
Stay tuned for Part 3, Anti-LGBTQIA+ Legislation: How to Become a Better Ally, Advocate, and Adult Support. (Because there is hope to create a welcoming, equitable, and inclusive world for all of us.)
About the Author
Kat St.Pierre (she/her) is a former 8th grade English teacher turned freelance content/copywriter. Passionate about being kind to others, the planet, and herself, she loves using her voice to amplify important conversations and educate with empathy. Contact her at email@example.com or www.katstpierre.com.