Podcast Transcripts

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Pilot Series: Episode 1

Making our schools truly LGBTQ-inclusive takes time--and requires real systemic change. But creating LGBTQ-inclusive learning environments doesn’t always require major policy shifts. 

Meet Dr. Steven LaBounty-McNair, an expert in K-12 education, who reminds us of the everyday opportunities teachers have to create a more inclusive environment for all students. 

 

Deb Fowler: Hello, and welcome to UnErasing LGBTQ History and Identities — A Podcast for Teachers. I'm Deb Fowler, executive director of History UnErased. 

Terms like diversity, inclusion, and equity are on the lips of more people than ever these days. But translating that awareness into systemic change can be difficult and takes time. That’s certainly the case when we try to make our schools truly LGBTQ-inclusive. 

But meaningful change doesn’t always require major policy shifts. There are plenty of everyday opportunities for teachers to create a more inclusive environment.

To explore this issue I am speaking with Dr. Steven LaBounty-McNair, an expert in K-12 education. Steve has experience as a classroom teacher, instructional coach, state-level policy specialist, and director of curriculum and instruction. 

Hi Steve.

Steven LaBounty-McNair: Hi Deb. 

DF: Steve, let me first ask, what does an LGBTQ-inclusive school mean to you? What does this school do or provide to make it inclusive?

SL: Great question. As a leader of a school community, the first thing I'd want to think about is, is this learning environment or work environment truly safe for everyone to feel like they belong? I really go back to starting with language. For instance, in elementary school we hear all the time, “Boys and girls, boys and girls,” and that's how we address our students. And I know that's changing in a lot of places, but even just that sort of gender-binary approach to how we talk about young children, it does sort of ingrain these ideas about gender and expectations from an early age, and so language can be a starting point.

Am I, and this team, clear on what LGBTQ means? Understanding that LGBTQ encapsulates both gender and sexual orientation identities, which are not the same. Have we had conversations about identities, specifically about sexual orientation and gender identities, with our staff, with our students, with our community members? And that might come through in conversations about, um, library resources. What are the books we're using within our classrooms, in our school community, in our larger community that expands on identities? Have we even started that conversation? 

DF: That is such a thoughtful place to start. And beyond building that awareness, what are some steps schools can take to be LGBTQ-inclusive?

SL: Another piece might be a Gay-Straight Alliance, which in many ways has evolved to now be a Gender-Sexuality Alliance, as a space, a safe space, where staff and students come together to talk about social issues, um, and expand on the curriculum outside of school hours.

It also might come through in an anti-bullying policy work that districts are doing. And then I think the most impactful, in my opinion, is thinking about LGBTQ-inclusive curriculum. And when we say curriculum, it's the instructional materials we're using in our classrooms, it's the pedagogical moves we're making as teachers to bring content to our students to have conversations and explicitly bringing identity in.

DF: Now, these conversations will be different depending on the setting, depending on what subject the teacher is teaching.

SL: Yeah, I think it largely becomes the responsibility of your humanities teachers—so your English teachers, your language arts teachers, and your social studies teachers—to be, um, the leaders and advocates for bringing in identities, because it seems like the most, uh, comfortable place to bring in conversations of characters and lived experience.

Um, when I was a teacher, I was teaching English and social studies in middle school, and I found that by expanding my own understanding of history, and knowing where my own identities lived in history that I never learned about, that there were students bringing questions that I would never have been comfortable bringing—such as, when we were studying the American Revolution, I'll never forget one of my female students saying, “Where were the women during the Revolution?”

And I thought that was so poignant because there was an obvious overemphasis of white males throughout history. And that started a journey for me of, so what, how are we talking about gender in history class? And then, even beyond that, the heteronormative man and, you know, woman relationships, the love stories, how do we start to disrupt that through real lived stories? And then go further to talk about, um, intersecting identities with race, class, gender, and sexuality. 

So there are opportunities that are in our curriculum that sometimes we miss as places where we can have conversations about gender identity or sexual orientation. Um, I live in Massachusetts and when I was teaching history in middle school, um, not far from where I was teaching, there's a statue of Deborah Sampson, who was a figure of the American Revolution who, um, is known for having worn men's so—soldiers’ clothing to fight in the Revolution, and in doing so, pretended to be a man so that she could fight, um, alongside the soldiers. And nobody really knew until a lot later. And, and this was a figure that our town celebrated, but even in teaching her story, we never had an explicit conversation about gender identity, but there it was right in front of us. 

And so sometimes we just have to look for opportunities to add an explicit conversation about something that's right there in a way that's accepted and could be celebrated, especially in such a local way.

DF: That is such a great example. And that history and those opportunities are, honestly, we're, we're swimming in that. It's everywhere.

SL: Yup. So I had brought that initial student's question about where are the women in the Revolution to the team and said, “Hey, have we really talked about this?” And in doing so, gender identity opened a door for us to look at the characters and, um, historical figures we taught. And when she came up, we said, wait a second, there's an opportunity here to really unpack what Deborah Sampson was doing in history in that context of that time period. What did it mean to be a woman who dressed in men's clothing for, um, either an economic purpose or a social purpose? 

And in this case, the exercise was not in bringing today's labels of identity back into the 1700s by saying that Deborah Sampson was either transgender or gender nonconforming, but to say: these disruptions of gender expectations existed, and what did they look like then? And what might they look like today in your lived experience? And, and students are great with that.

DF: I love that, and I think that’s a very responsible way of contextualizing those histories. Steve, do you have any other examples of how teachers can foster LGBTQ-inclusive conversations in the classroom?

SL: Absolutely. I think, um, there's an opportunity to realize that you can take some small steps that will help you in the long range get to a more inclusive learning space. And that might be something as simple as, um, asking students to replace one character's identity with another: what would have happened in this social context if this character were identified this way? Um, what if they were gay? What if they were a lesbian? What if they were trans? And, and find ways to see how that opens a door to invite students to contextualize identity within the social studies or the topics that you're studying, and, and let the teacher experience what it sounds like, feels like, um, in the moment.

DF: That’s great advice.

SL: Yeah, I think we are in a place now where there are so many more resources for teachers to work with their students who also know so much more than students did five, 10 years ago in school and are comfortable talking about. So I would encourage anyone who wants to engage in work around LGBTQ inclusivity in their curriculum, in their classrooms, is, it can change a life. It truly can impact one or more children in a way that can really help them be seen, be heard, and be valued, um, in a way that could really remind us of the power of this work, and that starting small, taking actionable, measurable steps, can really help do that work on a larger scale over time.

DF: Steve, thank you so very much. Thank you. 

SL: Thank you so much for inviting me. This was a real pleasure. 

DF: Steven LaBounty-McNair is an expert in K-12 education with experience as a classroom teacher, instructional coach, state-level policy specialist, and director of curriculum and instruction. 

Thank you for joining us for UnErasing LGBTQ History and Identities — A Podcast for Teachers. This History UnErased podcast series is funded by the New York City Council Committee on Education. It was developed in partnership with Making Gay History and produced by Inge De Taeye, Nahanni Rous, and Eric Marcus. The music you heard is “1986” by BrothaD via Tribe of Noise.  

I’m Deb Fowler. Thank you for listening.

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Pilot Series: Episode 2

Creating a supportive and mindful learning environment where all students can be their true selves is vital--but today's gender-expansive identities and language can often seem overwhelming for teachers. 

Meet Amber Joseph, a New York City middle school teacher, who will provide you with real-world advice and reasonable, actionable steps to honor and include all of the identities your students bring into the classroom. 

 

Deb Fowler: Hello, and welcome to UnErasing LGBTQ History and Identities — A Podcast for Teachers. I’m Deb Fowler, executive director of History UnErased. 

Our collective awareness of gender and sexual diversity has grown dramatically in the past decade. But honoring the lived experience of individuals whose gender identity doesn't match the sex they were assigned at birth is an ongoing learning process. It means reassessing our language, assumptions, and unconscious biases. 

How do we, as teachers, navigate the spectrum of gender identification in schools? And regardless of what subject we teach, how can we create a supportive and mindful classroom space where all students can be fully themselves? 

To address this issue, I am speaking with Amber Joseph, who has more than 10 years’ experience as a New York City middle school teacher. Welcome, Amber. 

Amber Joseph: Hi Deb. Thank you so much for having me on today. 

DF: Oh, we're so excited to have you. Uh, Amber, before we dive in, let's perhaps define a couple of terms that are bound to come up in this context. What, for instance, does cisgender mean?

AJ: So cisgender is a gender identity where a person identifies male or female, um, and that gender identity matches the sex they were assigned at birth. Uh, I personally identify as a cisgender woman. 

DF: And when we talk about non-cisgender identities, we might be talking about transgender people and people who identify as nonbinary. Now, most people will be familiar with the term trans, but what does nonbinary mean…?

AJ: These are people who do not identify either as a man or a woman, or they may identify as being both, or neither, or somewhere in between. So that identity really, I think, encompasses the idea that gender is a spectrum.

DF: Yeah, and it seems that a lot of young people today are kind of resisting the labels, and, and referring to themselves as having nonbinary identities relating to gender as well as sexual orientation. So, Amber, as many educators share with us their uncertainty about approaching topics related to trans and nonbinary identities with students, what would you say to those teachers?

AJ: First, I, I would say to them that you are not alone in navigating these different identities that students are bringing into the space. Uncertainty or, like, discomfort around what these identities mean I also think is very common. Uh, I think as teachers we are always trying to get things right or create a safe space or do a good job, um, and so I think in exploring gender identities with students, I think it's really natural to worry about saying or doing the wrong thing, especially for teachers who come from generations and cultural identities where maybe discussion around gender as anything other than a binary is not familiar to them. 

So what I've learned over the years, um, is that popular understandings of gender, um, it's rapidly evolving. Um, and I'm not that old and yet I feel often like I really need to ask students what they're talking about. Um, whether it's things they're seeing on TikTok or memes they're sharing, or just, you know, different lingo they’re dropping in a chat on Zoom. So I, I want to acknowledge that this is rapidly changing. 

Uh, you really have to be kind to yourself. Habits don't change overnight. So even with the best of intentions, if a student has been in your world, in your classroom, and that student has been he/him, um, with, you know, a typically masculine name, and that change is happening, and the student says, you know, “I am now she/her, and this is a new name I have,” it, it doesn't necessarily change overnight, um, that you will address that student with, with, with the correct pronouns. So, you know, it's just really a learning experience. Um, you know, as the student is exploring their gender identity, you also, as the teacher, are exploring your own, um, understanding of gender.

And so I would really emphasize, you need to be ready to learn. Um, and, and part of the learning is, is listening to your students. Um, asking them questions about what feels comfortable to them. Um, as a, as a Black woman, I'm very aware of what it feels like to have the burden of, um, educating other people about race. And so I would never want to duplicate that experience for my students. So I think seeking out information for yourself is important. 

DF: That is such terrific advice, Amber. And how can teachers convey to all of their students that their classroom is a safe space to allow them to express themselves, and be respectful and mindful of each other?

AJ: I think it's really easy to start simply. Teachers with experience pride themselves on, you know, the first couple of weeks of school as being the real place to set norms and routines. You know, this is where the pencil sharpener is, like, you raise your hand when you talk, ... And so introducing, um, gender identity in, in your classroom space could definitely be something that you can introduce fairly easily at the beginning. So a concrete way to do this is just, like, introducing pronouns and making that a norm.

So at the beginning of, you know, school, I say, “My name is Amber, and I use she/her pronouns.” And then that simple announcement opens up space then that, like, you know, if I have pronouns I identify with, I'm assuming you also have pronouns that you identify with. And I would like to know what those are.

So on my student information sheets, at the beginning of the year, I ask students to write their full name as it appears on their schedule. And then the next line is, “How do you want to be called in this class?” And then the line after that is, “What are your pronouns?” And because it's just, like, you know, I'm asking you to identify these things for me, and then I'm asking you what your favorite subject in school is, I'm asking you how many siblings you have, and I'm asking you where you live, it's not like we're spotlighting the gender pronouns as the thing. It's part of the getting-to-know-you process. 

DF: Part of the package!

AJ: Yeah, exactly. And, and also, if you have a school that you feel is affirming, it's really nice to just have different images on your walls to encompass a wide range of identity, right? So there's a rainbow flag, but there's also a Black Lives Matter sign, you know, my posters have different ethnicities in them, ... So I think that's also a simple thing to do.

DF: That's huge. Environment is so important. And those visual reminders that are in the periphery always can be really impactful and empowering for all students. Now, Amber, what are some things that teachers should be mindful of if, if one of their students is transitioning or comes out as nonbinary within that classroom setting?

AJ: Yeah. Um, so because I teach middle school, the last thing that middle school age people want is to be singled out, or to feel singled out in any way, in any capacity, you know. Like, you don't want to come on a Monday morning and say, “Hey, so-and-so, I heard you have this name now.” Um, even though your intention might be to affirm, um, that's extremely, you know, in your face for, for most middle school students. So this is where I really rely on my team. If the student is not in my homeroom or, or, or, you know, other, other adults have a relationship with the student and they find out, um, we have a pretty strong communication network to say, “Hey, these are the, the pronouns the student’s going by, and this is the name they want to be called.” 

Sometimes students will tell you—and this is I think very brave and it's really important to recognize their courage—a student will ask you to have a private conversation and say, “Hi, my name is now this, can you call me this?” And when that has happened to me, the immediate response to that is, like, “Thank you so much for sharing that with me. And, yes, I will call you by this name,” and then say, “In the event that I call you by the wrong name, can you please correct me?” 

I think it's really important if a student privately tells you this to say, “I'm acknowledging it, I might need some help, can you please help me?” Because then it also makes them feel like if you do something wrong, it's not intentional.

I think at the end of the day, like, any middle school kid, any person, that, that student just wants to be seen by you. And so saying that, like, you're here to guide them and witness it is really helpful. 

DF: That’s so true, Amber. Because teachers really play a crucial role as arbiters of acceptance and affirmation of a student's identity.

AJ: I think it's really important to recognize nonbinary and trans identities as also something to celebrate, um, and embrace because you don't want your students to come into the space thinking that this is something that has to be, quote, unquote, dealt with. Like, oh my gosh, how am I going to deal with a trans student? Or like, how am I going to deal with the student who goes by they/them pronouns. 

For our students who are trans, transitioning, nonbinary, they don't see themselves as a problem. It's the world that, unfortunately, in, in many spaces tells them that they're a problem.

And so I think if your room, if your interactions, can be the space where, like, they don't feel like they are a problem because their identity is just being celebrated, I think that's an amazing thing to aim for. And so affirmation is the way to go, not tolerance. ‘Cause kids will catch on really quickly if you're just tolerating them. And so I think it's the celebration aspect that's really key here.

DF: Thank you so much, Amber. 

AJ: Thank you so much.

DF: Amber Joseph is a New York City middle school history teacher with more than a decade of classroom experience. Thank you for joining us for UnErasing LGBTQ History and Identities — A Podcast for Teachers. This History UnErased podcast series is funded by the New York City Council Committee on Education. It was developed in partnership with Making Gay History and produced by Inge De Taeye, Nahanni Rous, and Eric Marcus. The music you heard is “1986” by BrothaD via Tribe of Noise.  

I’m Deb Fowler. Thank you for listening.

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Pilot Series: Episode 3

How can kindergarten and elementary school teachers help dismantle gender stereotypes and create an inclusive environment for all students?

Meet Chip James, who will answer this question (and more) based on decades of experience as an expert elementary educator and also from his private practice serving LGBTQ-identifying youth and their families.

 

Deb Fowler: Hello, and welcome to UnErasing LGBTQ History and Identities — A Podcast for Teachers. I’m Deb Fowler, executive director of History UnErased. 

Gender expectations are shaped early—in the home, the media, and our culture at large. But gender stereotypes often negatively affect how children understand themselves and relate to others.

This can be especially true for LGBTQ+ children. How can kindergarten and elementary school teachers help dismantle some of these gender stereotypes and create an inclusive environment for all students? To address this issue, I am speaking with Chip James, who has decades of experience as an expert elementary educator, and also from his private practice serving LGBTQ-identifying youth and their parents.

Chip, how do you view the teacher’s role and responsibility when it comes to helping young children navigate our society's rigid gender expectations?

Chip James: Excellent question. Gender expectations really affect all of us. Children are very keen on picking up messages by observing all of the role models around them. And it's very important that teachers understand that part of what they're doing in the early childhood classroom is they are trying to make sure that these rigid messages don't get installed. 

Already kids may be, uh, picking up on and regurgitating, uh, some of the rigid messages that they're hearing. A lot of times these messages come up around conflict situations. Even in the kindergarten classroom, kids may start to call each other gay, or call a boy a girl, or call a girl a boy, simply based on what they're discovering about their behavior. And a lot of times the conflicts are seen by everyone in the class. So at that point it's really appropriate for a full class discussion. 

So it is going to be very important for the teacher to be listening for these teachable moments as they arise, and it may be a small intervention, but the timing of the intervention and the gentleness of the intervention work in a very homeopathic way, where smaller is better—smaller and consistent messages. 

DF: Yeah, small and consistent, I think that is something that's very helpful for teachers to hear. And that applies to their responsibility as teachers, but also, more broadly, to their position as role models, I think—how they model a spirit of open-mindedness surrounding gender and gender expression...  

CJ: So it's very important that, um, teachers understand that kids are listening to their every word, watching their every behavior, scanning for inclusion, for exclusion, and for confusion.

So that when we talk about protagonists in stories, we are already using gender-neutral language in the kindergarten classroom. So, um, heroes can be hes and shes, and even thems. So it's important to model very inclusive language at all times. 

DF: Chip, you mentioned that as early as kindergarten, kids may use the word “gay” as an insult. What is a developmentally appropriate intervention at that age? What is important for teachers to do, and perhaps not do?

CJ: Sometimes teachers make the mistake of simply shutting down the use of the word “gay.” Um, and unfortunately that can sometimes leave children feeling that gay is a bad thing. So it can be really important to say that “gay” is not a bad word. It's only a bad word when it's being used to harm somebody. Otherwise, it's a word that describes people who live in our community and go to our schools and drive our school buses and cook our lunches… Um, so it's very important to use the word “gay” in appropriate ways, um, uh, and not just shut down the inappropriate ways. 

DF: Can you give an example, Chip, of how you would start such a conversation if you witnessed a student using the term “gay” in a pejorative sense? 

CJ: Well, um, by, uh, stepping in and saying, “Oh, you know, we need to talk about the use of this word ‘gay.’” 

The other rule of thumb is to check in with what their understanding of the words are. Sometimes kids will not understand what they're saying and sometimes they will clearly understand what they're saying. And kids, even in kindergarten, will say, um, “Gay is like a boy who likes a boy or a girl who likes a girl,” and I'll say, “Well, that sounds pretty close to my understanding of that word.” Um, sometimes I'll ask, “How do you feel about that?” And, uh, that gives the kid an opportunity to talk about their comfort level around the word and, uh, so really it's a corrective experience about using the word “gay,” and that it is not allowed to use the word “gay” as a hurtful word, but it is allowable to use the word “gay” when talking about gay people in our community and our world.

And the other way that I will, uh, explain the word, uh, “gay”—and this I will do with third, fourth, and fifth graders—I will ask the kids to define sexual orientation. And they're very good. Third, fourth, and fifth graders, they generally can explain it.

And so for some of the older kids, they may start to giggle, and, and, and I will acknowledge that. And I say, “Yep, I, I hear the giggles and that lets me know that you have some understanding of these words.” 

Some of them, um, may still not, uh, fully understand. And I simply explain it by saying, “This word ‘sexual orientation’ has to do with who somebody ‘like-likes.’ Not just one ‘like,’ we're talking two ‘likes.’ So do we understand the difference between one ‘like’ and two ‘likes’?” 

DF: That’s great. 

CJ: And the kids are really giggling by now and they're looking at each other. They know what “like-liking” is, and they know it's different from friendship. And it's fun to see them blushing and giggling. And I also explain, uh, “I'm fine hearing the giggles. It means that you're processing what we're talking about. And, and, and one of the ways we deal with any kind of anxiety or nervousness, it can be through laughter. So laugh away.” So I try to make all responses, uh, acceptable responses so that we can process them as a classroom community.

DF: It sounds like you're allowing them the space for gentle self-correction. 

CJ: Yes. And I'm also trying to create a comfort level tolerating, um, what feels embarrassing. 

DF: Hmm.

CJ: So, so it's not only the LGBTQ kids or the kids who will identify one day as LGBTQ—it's also grounding for all of the students who will benefit from being able to have these, um, uh, sensitive conversations. And because if you can have them using basic language that the kids are using themselves, and you're finding very common-sense ways to use this language, everyone benefits. Everyone feels more grounded. Everyone feels safer. Everyone feels a sense of fairness. And kids above all else in elementary school, they are eager to drink in fairness. So it's really, uh, uh, a powerful, uh, a powerful elixir to use with these discussions. 

DF: Thank you so much, Chip.  

CJ: You're welcome.

Chip James is a veteran elementary school educator and has a private practice serving LGBTQ-identifying youth and their parents.  

Thank you for joining us for UnErasing LGBTQ History and Identities — A Podcast for Teachers. This History UnErased podcast series is funded by the New York City Council Committee on Education. It was developed in partnership with Making Gay History and produced by Inge De Taeye, Nahanni Rous, and Eric Marcus. The music you heard is “1986” by BrothaD via Tribe of Noise.  

I’m Deb Fowler. Thank you for listening.

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