The Power of an Inclusive Curriculum for LGBTQ+ Youth and Families
Maria Belen Flores (Brooklyn Collaborative, Class of 2020)
We sat down with EL Education staff member Cameron Lloyd, Lead Curriculum Designer, K-5 for a Q&A about LGBTQ+ inclusive curriculum.
Why is it important to have LGBTQ+ representation in curricula?
LGBTQ+ representation is important for the same reasons it’s important to have all kinds of representation in curricula. It creates an opportunity for students to see themselves in their learning which helps to build their self-esteem. It also helps to create empathy and understanding for students who don’t identify as LGBTQ+. Both of those points move students from critical understanding to action. From being empathetic to standing up against injustices that can play out in classrooms, on playgrounds, and in the world.
Representation in curricula can also help teachers and school staff in supporting LGBTQ+ students and students with LGBTQ+ parents.
"Having LGBTQ+ identifying characters or stories in curricula gives educators an opportunity to frame the LGBTQ+ experience in a positive light and opens the dialogue to confront bias and create a safe space for all students."
What has been your own experience with curriculum representation?
As a gay person, I didn’t see myself reflected in curricula at any point in my education. The first time I can recall a teacher offering support around my identity was in high school when my English teacher started a Gay Straight Alliance (GSA) at the school. Even then, in a progressive community in New Jersey, there was push back and several school board members disapproved of the program.
The GSA gave me a safe space to gather with other LGBTQ+ folks and allies, but it didn’t solve the issue of representation. It took me until after college to come out and having positive images during my educational career could have changed everything for me. I didn’t date or have some of the milestone moments that are supposed to mark your youth because I didn’t know it was okay to be who I was.
"Having LGBTQ+ representation benefits all students."
Who does it benefit to have LGBTQ+ representation?
Having LGBTQ+ representation benefits all students. Growing into who you are is a multi-year process and not having positive representation is a huge roadblock for both gay and trans youth. There are a lot of people who don’t come out until much later in life because they don’t have positive images to look to. Those people could get years back of their life and help to lower the suicide rates among LGBTQ+ youth by starting with representation.
We all know that middle school and high school can be difficult experiences for people who are deemed “different” or students who go against the status quo. There is a rise in homophobic and transphobic actions and language once students get to middle school and high school. Curriculum can’t solve for that, but it can provide positive representation of gay and trans people which can open the doors to understanding and acceptance.
What are the misconceptions surrounding LGBTQ+ representation?
There are so many misconceptions about LGBTQ+ youth and about inclusive curriculum. One of the biggest that I have heard is that kids don’t know their sexuality at an early age and they are too young to talk about it. If the people making these claims were to actually sit down and talk to gay and trans people, they’d know that they’ve known all along who they were. They just weren’t empowered to express it.
The second misconception that I hear most often is people equating sexual orientation and gender identity with sex. We aren’t sexualizing children by affirming their identity.
A third misconception is that LGBTQ+ representation sits on one side and “families and kids’’ on the other. But children have LGBTQ+ parents (by adoption, surrogacy and IVF, or prior relationships), and they deserve their families to be seen and respected in school. Representation also helps these students be understood.
Are there success stories of LGBTQ+ representation?
There may be success stories out there, but most of them are the story of a single teacher who makes an effort to ensure students have safe spaces and can be themselves. I don’t know of a single elementary curriculum that includes LGBTQ+ representation. So, unfortunately, the success stories we do have are centered around the actions of a courageous teacher instead of systems that create inclusivity. This is a big opportunity.
Cameron Lloyd is Lead Curriculum Designer, K-5 at EL Education, where he focuses on content-based literacy. He has been an elementary teacher and reading specialist in Washington, DC, New York City, and Seattle. He lives in Columbus, OH with his husband, puppy, and (in two months!) his daughter.
*EL Education is proud to host diverse voices and offer a platform for dialogue on topics impacting educators and students. Views of guest bloggers are their own and may differ from the views of EL Education.