3 Adjustments you can make to increase LGBTQ+ Inclusivity in the Classroom

When I am not teaching, I volunteer as the co-chair for GLSEN Phoenix. GLSEN Phoenix is a local chapter of GLSEN,-a national organization committed to creating safer schools for LGBTQ+ K-12 Students and their peers. Here are three practices I use in my classroom to increase inclusivity:

1. Names Matter

Calling our students by the name they want to be called is an important step in creating an inclusive environment. This includes not only trans and gender non-conforming students, but ALL students. Using the correct name with the correct pronunciation is vital for creating space for our students in the classroom.

When taking attendance on the first day of class, use surnames instead of first names and have students respond with the name they would like for you to use to refer to them. This is a one way to possibly avoid using a name for a student that could be inaccurate, painful, or incorrect.

I have my students write their names on index cards as they appear on the roster and the name they want to be called underneath. Then, I avoid using the wrong names all together.

I let my students know that if I struggle to pronounce their name it is because I am the problem NOT their name. I ask students to correct me if I mispronounce their name because their name is important.

2. Normalize Pronouns

My friend , Wallace Hudson, is a Training Specialist for One-N-Ten and Cadre Leader for GLSEN Phoenix. Whenever they are presenting a training about pronouns they make sure to include a statement along the lines of, “Names and pronouns are the only pieces of a person’s identity that impact you. Asking or using someone’s pronouns is a way of honoring their identity without needing to know exactly what that identity is.”

At the start of the semester, when doing the obligatory get-to-know-you activities, ask students to include their pronouns (if they feel comfortable). This doesn’t just mean your trans, gender-queer, gender non-conforming, or non-binary students, but ALL students.

You may want to include a brief explanation of what pronouns are because most cis-gendered folks don’t often think about their own. In fact, according to GLSEN, a national LGBTQ education organization, “Including pronouns is a first step toward respecting people’s gender identity, working against cisnormativity, and creating a more welcoming space for people of all genders.” No one should be forced to share their pronouns, but by having ALL students do so, we begin to normalize the use of correct pronouns.

Additionally, you can add your pronouns to your email signature as an additional step towards normalizing pronouns.

3. Use Gender-Neutral Language

So often as humans we have a desire to place things into binary terms-things are either good or bad, black or white, male of female. This can be especially true in classroom settings.

One way to increase our inclusivity is to remove gendered language when possible. Being cis-gender, masculine or feminine, male or female, or are not inherently bad or wrong, but language related to this can be exclusionary to folks who fall opposite of what they were assigned at birth or somewhere in between or beyond.

Typically, we are most apt to use gendered language when addressing our classroom. I still struggle to use inclusive, gender-neutral language in my classroom. I say things like, “Alright, ladies and gentlemen” or “Okay guys” ALL the time!

Here are some gender-neutral terms you can use to be more inclusive: friends, students, folks, all, or y’all.


8 thoughts on “3 Adjustments you can make to increase LGBTQ+ Inclusivity in the Classroom”

  1. Caryn,

    Wow- great advice about using last names to call roll on the first day. I am a former elementary school teacher and did years as a substitute teacher too. I LOVE Key and Peele video. Mr Garvey has been my hero for a lotta years now. I can SO relate to butchering names no matter how hard I tried.

    Thanks for your insight of adding pronouns.

  2. I hadn’t thought to only call surnames on Day 1, but it’s a great idea. Appreciate your efforts to continue to raise awareness and increase inclusivity – you rock!

  3. We have been discussing how to allow students with different names or pronouns to let us know without putting them on the spot. I wish there was a way we can make notes on our roster in Canvas? I think students can change their name but I don’t think we can go in there and add something that would be like a virtual index card. Thank you for writing this, lots of great ideas.

    1. You can, Michelle! Hop into the Gradebook and in the View menu, toggle on the checkmark next to Notes. You’ll get a “Notes” column next to the student names. Click into the row for a student and you can add their pronoun preference. Students cannot see the content of the Notes column, only Instructors. Here is the link to the Canvas guide for using the Notes column.


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