When a student says or does something that is offensive, it is important to talk to them about it. We know that this is a difficult task, as so many different situations call for different responses, and there is therefore no coverall. However, calling out students who are being offensive or inconsiderate should not be left to queer students who are unlikely to report queerphobic bullying (Bachman and Gooch, 2018: 10). Instead, we turn to some examples we have found of how teachers have approached de-escalating situations.
APPROACHING QUEERPHOBIA IN CLASS
Mosher suggests that out of all her responses to addressing slurs within the classroom, stopping the class directly as the situation is unfolding was the best preventative of hate speech (Brundin, 2018). She recounts when she heard some students uttering slurs, she ‘stopped everybody,’ and said ‘it is not okay to use someone’s identity as an insult,’ and the slurs stopped after that (ibid.).
However, Lieberman (2017) advises that direct action can sometimes hinder open conversation further down the line. She states that when teaching Gender Studies to straight men, she saw them whispering and laughing when discussing transgender representations, and she chose not to chastise them, as she ‘didn’t want to shut them up,’ but wanted them to ‘speak louder,’ so they could communicate their discomfort and learn from it to produce more inclusive perspectives on gender (ibid.).
Whilst we recognize Lieberman’s worry of shutting down conversation or dissuading students from participating in class, we feel there is a way you can both state that disrespect and phobic language are not tolerated in the class, and also acknowledge that everyone is learning and we can all unintentionally slip up (Stonewall, 2022: 8-10). What you should not do, though, is place your comfort or an ignorant student’s comfort above the comfort of a queer student facing phobia or aggression from classmates. Following this, we advocate for signposting for queer students who need help, whether that’s university wellbeing, mental health hotlines, or queer centred events, and making those readily available for students to use when and if they need to (Bachman and Gooch, 2018: 11).