Pride flag

How to make an inclusive classroom for 2SLGBTQI+ learners

Until recently, many traditional classroom resources and curriculum failed to include contributions of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer/questioning communities. This survey – which focused on K-12 – showed that only one in three students were taught positive representations of LGBTQ people, history or events (e.g. “inclusive curriculum”). In addition, only just over half of LGBTQ students said their school administration was at least a little supportive of 2SLGBTQI+ students.

In Canada, it’s much the same. According to a 2021 study from Egale, homophobia, biphobia and transphobia remain rampant in Canadian schools. The study, which surveyed more than 4,000 students in grades eight through 12, found that:

  • 64 per cent of all participants reported hearing homophobic comments daily or weekly at school
  • 30 per cent of 2SLGBTQI+ respondents had been the victims of cyberbullying, compared to eight per cent of cisgender heterosexual respondents
  • 57 per cent of trans respondents had been targets of mean rumours or lies

While research is limited for the adult education field, it’s clear that there is still much work to be done in advancing inclusivity for 2SLGBTQI+ people. Here’s how to make your classroom inclusive for this learner group.

Include inclusive classroom materials

To help increase your knowledge about the 2SLGBTQI+ community, do some research of your own. Attend professional development opportunities related to 2SLGBTQI+ experiences and take the necessary steps to create an inclusive space for everyone.

Then, start by creating classroom-based supports, including respectful and supportive classroom policies. Find ways to expose learners to the lives and experiences of diverse 2SLGBTQI+ people, such as including readings written by 2SLGBTQI+ authors and providing education about important figures in the community’s history. Aim to normalize queer experiences as part of human experiences.

Use the right communication

Everyone deserves to be treated with respect. Your communication with adult learners should always be accurate, respectful and inclusive. Avoid gendered and CisHet-normative language. CisHet refers to the combination of heteronormative and cisnormative values – the assumption that heterosexuality and cisgender are the norm and therefore privileging these more than any other form of sexual orientation or gender identity.

At the start of each of your intake sessions, hold an open discussion about the ground rules for learner interaction. Ask your learners to collaborate on rules of respect and communication to get even more buy-in.

Even if you don’t know of any 2SLGBTQI+ participants in your group, remember there’s no way to “tell” unless someone discloses it to you. Assume there are out or “closeted” (not disclosing one’s sexual orientation or gender identity) members in your group, and ensure you’re creating an environment that makes everyone feel welcome and safe to disclose their identity and experiences.

In some cases, a lack of queer people may indicate that learners do not find your organization a safe climate to be themselves.

Create a safe learning environment

If one of your learners confides in you about their identity, listen actively to them and thank them for trusting you. Demonstrate a willingness to learn by asking them what support looks like for them, then do your best to act in a way that complements that.

Ask the learner how they would like you to handle the information they’ve told you. Should you keep it to yourself? Can you share it with colleagues or the class? If discussing the learner with other practitioners at your organization, uphold their confidentiality about their identity if asked.

Aim to bring inclusivity beyond your classroom and make it a focus for your whole organization. Problem-solve, strategize with other practitioners and share helpful resources.

Network to find other non-profits that have experienced success in achieving inclusivity in their classrooms. Discover what strategies worked best for them.

To learn more about inclusivity for 2SLGBTQI+ individuals, check out Egale, Canada’s leading organization for 2SLGBTQI+ people and issues.

Find helpful resources for teaching adult learners on our programs and initiatives page.