In order to honour LGBTQ+ History month I thought I would write a blog on how we can make small changes which can make a positive difference for LGBTQ+ students. As a consequence of the lockdown, many students stayed at home with their families. Due to this there will likely be LGBTQ+ students who are currently living with less than welcoming families, and have also lost the ease of connecting with their friends and allies. This will inevitably heighten their feeling of isolation which is already being felt by many students both at home and in their student accommodation. For many LGBTQ+ freshers university is a chance to express their true selves in the diverse and accepting city of Bristol, without the constrains of their local towns, schools, and peer group.
As such, here are my list of the most essential tips that make a significant difference to LGBTQ+ students.
- Support highlighted through observation
When teaching in-person it is much easier to assess whether a student is engaged and feeling ok; in a virtual environment this is more difficult. A partial solution to this is to schedule occasional pastoral catch-ups with students to try to gain an insight and offer appropriate support. To students who have experienced trauma and rejection this may be the beacon of light they need to maintain engagement in their studies.
- Teach Inclusively
Without delving deeper into decolonisation, this includes things such as using non-stereotypical examples and materials that include diverse representation. In informal conversation we usually communicate heteronormative and gender-normative bias and these signal to students that there is ‘normal’ and if you don’t fit these descriptors, you are ‘abnormal’.
It also includes using resources that have positive representations of LGBTQ+ people. A recent example of negative portrayals in higher education resources is this textbook for Nursing, published in 2014, includes stereotypical examples of different ethnic groups’ response to pain. Publisher apologises for ‘racist’ text in medical book – bbc.co.uk
There are still textbooks that describe people as ‘suffering’ from homosexuality and continue to describe it as a ‘common psychosexual disorder’ although it hasn’t been medically described as such since the early 1990s.
Chinese activist loses legal battle over homophobic textbooks – hongkongfp.com
- Names and pronouns
Of course, there is significant comfort and re-assurance that comes with using a students’ preferred name and pronouns. However, it is important to ask all students what their preferred pronouns and name are. It may seem inclusive and well intentioned to ask students who don’t appear to dress according to binary gender social norms what their pronouns are (and is better than not!) it is also singling them out as someone who appears different.
- Inclusive Spaces
Interrupt and challenge homophobia and transphobia. Approximately 1 in 4 LGBTQ+ students in the UK have experienced harassment or discrimination at least once – usually by other students under the guise of ‘banter’. You can challenge this behaviour by expressing your own discomfort, and asking other students to respond in a collegiate manner.
For a more academic look at this, I would highly recommend Dr Eleanor Formby’s (Sheffield Institute of Education) article entitled “How should we ‘care’ for LGBT+ students within higher education?” which covers Curriculum, Discrimination, and Facilities/Services on Campus.