Conversations for Change: A Queer Endeavor: Inclusive K-12 Education With Dr. Bethy Leonardi and Dr. Sara Staley

Want to learn about creating cultures that are affirming of gender and sexual diversity? These workshops bring attention to policy, climate, and social and cultural norms and practices. While our focus is on gender and sexual diversity, our commitments extend to issues of equity more broadly. Working toward liberation requires always looking through an intersectional lens and questioning how our practices reinforce harmful norms along lines of race, class, language, and other identifiers and their intersections. This session focuses on the K-12 space and will also touch on ways curriculum can be made more inclusive.

Originally aired on May 18, 2022


JOHN KELLY: Hello, everyone! Welcome, or welcome back, to the 2022 NCWIT Virtual Summit on Women & IT, which continues to be the world’s largest annual convening of change leaders focused on significantly improving diversity and equity in computing. My name is John Kelly, and I am a senior regional affiliate manager for NCWIT for our Aspirations in Computing program, which supports a quickly-growing tech community of over 22,000 women, genderqueer, and non-binary technologists all the way throughout their tech journey; from high school, into college, and into the workforce. It is my esteemed pleasure to welcome you to this series, which highlights speakers with a diverse range of perspectives, and hopefully, provocative ideas and worldviews.

We wouldn’t be here today without our sponsors. So, we would like to thank them for making this event possible. And I’d also like to thank you, the viewing audience, in advance for your patience should we experience any bandwidth or technical issues. 

This will be an interactive session today. so please feel free to post your thoughts, your questions, your perspectives into the chat throughout the session. Please also feel free to use the Q&A feature if you have any technical issues throughout this process. You may also have the opportunity to ask your questions live, but please remember to keep your microphone off unless you are speaking. 

Today, I have the sacred honor of introducing some of my professional and personal heroes, Dr. Bethy Leonardi and Dr. Sara Staley, co-founders of A Queer Endeavor, which aims toward creating schools that are safer and more affirming of LGBTQ+ and gender-expansive youth. A Queer Endeavor seeks partnerships with educators and school communities to make unworkable the silence that historically has surrounded topics of gender and sexuality diversity in education. A Queer Endeavour seeks to grow the knowledgebase on gender- and sexual diversity-affirming policies and practices in education, inform research, and engage in broad-based coalition building with a variety of community-based stakeholders. 

Dr. Bethy Leonardi: Bethy, was born and raised in New Orleans, and she has a hard time not talking about it. She loves to dance with her 3-year-old, hike, laugh, and eat delicious food. Mostly though, she loves to feed people. Over the past few years, she has worked to refine her skills on the Big Green Egg, and she also makes purple kimchi that’s pretty darn good. She calls it “Prince.” 

Bethy identifies, first and foremost, as a teacher. Before earning her PhD, Bethy spent 16 years as a secondary English and math teacher in Louisiana, California, and Colorado. Not a day goes by that she does not miss that job. 

Bethy is a co-founder and co-director of A Queer Endeavor, and an assistant professor in Educational Foundations, Policy, and Practice. Bethy’s work explores how public schools, as compulsory institutions, affirm, include, or deny, or silence queer identities. Specifically, she is interested in how educators enact promising practices that disrupt and heal these heteronormative school ecologies to create schools that are ready and not merely reactive to queer youth. 

A way to understanding school ecologies is through a focus on the relationship between both policy and practice, and at the level of implementation. Specifically, Bethy is interested in policies that challenge the status quo; that is, what counts as normal in public schools. She works to understand how those policies might land in local ecologies, and how educators might till the soil so that they land safely and have positive impacts. 

Dr. Sara Staley: Sara is an assistant professor in the Teacher Learning, Research & Practice in the School of Education, and also a co-founder and co-director of A Queer Endeavor. After earning her undergraduate degree and teacher licensure from the University of Kansas, Sara spent six years as a language arts teacher, primarily in Southern California. Her classroom teaching experience fueled curiosity about why teaching is such a difficult profession to learn, and in 2008, she moved to Boulder, Colo., in pursuit of a PhD. 

Her research and community-based work are animated by deep commitments to justice-oriented teacher education and creating safer, more humanizing school cultures for LGBTQ+ youth, families, and staff. Currently, she studies how educators learn and enact queer-inclusive and anti-oppressive practices. Things that make Sara happy include compassion, when national leaders act with integrity and humanity, the rolling plains of Kansas, deep belly laughs, and her 3-year-old. So, with great pride, I welcome both Sara and Bethy to the stage. 

SARA: Thank you. 

BETHY: Thanks. I guess I should start with saying that the afterparty will be me answering questions about the Big Green Egg. So, if anybody wants to stick around for that, I am happy to share my knowledge and expertise. 

Welcome! Thank you for being here. 

SARA: Yeah. We’ll just remind you one more time. If you haven’t yet accepted the panelist invite, please do so. Because as John said, this will be an interactive session, and we would really appreciate being able to see and discuss with you. So, accept that invite. 

Okay. Bethy is going to share her screen with the slides. Then, when we engage in that discussion piece, we’ll stop sharing so that we can see your faces, hopefully. Again, I’m Sara Staley; my pronouns are she/her/hers.

BETHY: And I’m Bethy Leonardi, and my pronouns are she/her/hers. 

SARA: We are teacher educators and researchers in the School of Education at the University of Colorado – Boulder. We started A Queer Endeavour in 2014. We are an organization that works in partnership with districts and school communities to support educator learning around gender, sexual, and family diversity. Really, our goal is to work together to create learning environments in which LGBTQ+ youth, families, and staff can thrive. 

Before starting that work at the university level, Bethy and I were both classroom teachers. We share 25 years of middle and high school teaching experience between the two of us. We like to say that, because we do identify – first and foremost – as teachers, and we have just a tremendous amount of respect for what y’all do, day in and day out, to show up for young people.

BETHY: All right. So, we want to begin by following the lead of this amazing scholar who we draw on quite a bit: Kevin Kumashiro. When he speaks, he often starts with a practice that he calls “naming the moment.” 

It feels important to name that, as we gather this afternoon in this remote learning space, that COVID-19 continues to impact our daily lives in pretty significant ways – especially those of us in education. There are so many emotions tangled up in that; emotions that you might be feeling right now: pandemic fatigue, anxiety, mental and emotional stress. We know the toll that this pandemic has taken on educators. We just want to name that. 

We also want to acknowledge the community in Buffalo, N.Y., and the impact of yet another heinous act of racist violence that, somehow, comes as not a surprise. It’s not. It’s not a surprise. We just want to acknowledge that there are lots of communities hurting right now. 

Along with that, one third of US states have taken action to restrict teaching LGBTQ+ topics, Anti-critical race theory initiatives are pervasive, and under the guise of parental rights. Rights of trans youth are actually under attack right now. You know, mirroring those national trends, here in Colorado we are seeing local communities and schools faced with similar challenges around toxic contexts in the form of school board meetings, and community disagreements about the goals of public schools. 

So, there is a lot in naming this moment. With all that in mind, especially those of you who have been in education and are feeling a lot of this, we just want to invite you to be generous with wherever you are this afternoon, and how you are showing up. As Sara said, we are going to ask you to turn your cameras on, and let us see your faces. This is a conversation that we like to think is one that requires connection, and you know we’d just love to see you! 

SARA: All right. So, we just had another session before this one. A few of you, I think, joined us in that one. So, we’re going to start in the same kind of way, going down the same path, but then, we’re going to take a different turn. 

We always like to start just by kind of naming and describing how we use the word “queer,” because we call ourselves A Queer Endeavor. We know that the word has a hard history, and sometimes, it offends people. So, we just like to explain how we use it, because we use it pretty deliberately. So, we like to break “queer” down for folks, in two different ways. 

So, the first way is that you can think about queer as both an adjective and as a noun. This is probably the more familiar use of the term. When you’re using queer in this way, you are referring to people. That’s really important to remember, as Bethy just said, in this moment where you know there’s so much pushback around queer-inclusive curriculum and talking about gender and sexual diversity in classrooms and education spaces. Oftentimes, the conversation around LGBTQ+ topics gets framed as a controversial issue, and we like to push back on that and say, “No, this conversation is about people and families. People and families are not controversial.” 

When you’re using queer in this way, you are signifying a particular person’s identity or the whole range of identities and expressions that fall under the LGBTQ+ umbrella; so, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning identities. Sometimes, queer is used as shorthand to capture the ever-growing acronym. 

Something that we say a lot is that it’s important to let people name and identify themselves. So, while not everyone in the LGBTQ+ community calls themselves queer, we do. Calling ourselves “A Queer Endeavor” is one way to honor that.

When used as verb, queer means something pretty different. It actually comes from queer theory, and it means to question what counts as normal, or common sense, in a particular context – like a school or a district. Thinking about the schools we teach and work in, what counts as normal there? How do those stories, or versions, of normal come to be? How do we learn who and what counts as normal? How do we learn who and what counts as different? How do those norms work? Who do they work well for and privilege? Who do they marginalize, silence, and exclude? 

So, in the context of our work in A Queer Endeavor, we are really working hard to question what counts as normal, and even “appropriate to talk about,” in school spaces. We try to question and push on assumptions surrounding what families and relationships look like, what’s possible in terms of how young people identify, and who they might become. In terms of classroom practice or teaching practice, bringing a queer approach to what we do means that were not just talking about LGBTQ+ people. Of course, that’s really important. Inclusion matters, but in addition to inclusion, we’re also questioning what counts as normal. 

Of course, you know we center gender and sexuality in our work because there’s been such a pervasive silence around it in educational contexts forever. But it’s really important, also, to interrogate norms that surround race, language, ability, body type. We’re constantly thinking about: What does it look like to disrupt those norms that, again, work really well for some folks, but marginalize, silence, and exclude so many others?

BETHY: Okay. Before we dive in – and as we’ve mentioned a couple of times, we are going to talk to one another today: I want to just say that we don’t think of this as training. Again, we’re more a facilitation. 

There’s a tremendous amount of expertise in this space. We bring a specific kind, but really, you all bring a lot of what you know about your contexts; the day-in and day-out of what and who you’re around in the contexts that you’re in. So, we’re excited to learn with you. Hopefully, you’ll join us in conversation. 

With that being said, we want to acknowledge that we’re all coming to this conversation from different places. We like to think that we come together; that when we come together to talk about equity, and justice, and identity, it’s easy. It looks like – I mean, the pictures always kind of crack me up a little bit when you look up DEI work, and then you get a picture of this multi-racial, multi-diverse group of people being really happy about being together and talking. What we know in the work that we do is: Actually, it looks a little bit more like this when we try to talk to each other sometimes. So, we like to name that. 

What we’ve learned in doing this work is that it can be emotional. It’s personal, and it’s vulnerable. Part of what makes this work hard is that we all come to it differently. We want to acknowledge that – that some folks in this room might be newer to conversations about equity, justice, gender, and sexuality diversity. 

Sometimes, even the language itself is hard to wrap our heads around, so we just don’t say anything. There’s an awkwardness. We don’t want to say the wrong thing. So, if you’re there, we invite you to lean into what we call a soft space of accountability. We’ll try to create that with all of you for us to land in. 

Others of us have been here quite a bit because we embody identities that are typically central to conversations about diversity. We are your queer colleagues; your colleagues of color; your colleagues who have disabilities, both seen and unseen. There is power in having those lived experiences. There’s an embodied knowledge there, but there’s also a lot of vulnerability. So, we want to name that too – that conversations about equity and diversity identity land on different bodies in different ways. We like to just name that our positioning in this conversation matters to how we experience it. 

Last, some of you are immersed in this work. You might be flying around with your rainbow cape at school, or in your district. You know, looking for hot spots. If you’re there, we invite you to show up like that: Somebody who’s got some experience, and willing to share your knowledge and expertise. Then, of course, always finding places where you can continue to grow. 

SARA: Okay, so I’m just checking the chat. The captions. Is that something we do on our end? Or, is that an invitation for folks in the audience to turn on the captions? 

SPEAKER: I don’t think that’s anything you have to do. We’ll take care of that. 

SARA: Perfect. 

BETHY: Okay. Thank you. 

SARA: Great. Thank you. All right. 

So, given the different ways that, as Bethy just said, we’re situated in conversations about diversity, equity, identity given who we are, and given the fact that these conversations are often vulnerable and emotional, we always start our facilitations by asking folks to reflect. To start by centering ourselves, and turning inward before jumping into action. 

You know, we have learned. We’ve facilitated conversations like this one with 10,000 educators at this point. Sometimes, we find that folks are very eager to jump to the action step. So, “Just give me the binder of resources and best practices that I can implement tomorrow to make my practices more affirming.” 

Taking action is important. We will share some things that you can do, but we firmly believe that the first step toward any positive social change involves starting with ourselves; turning inward to confront the assumptions, biases, vulnerabilities, and the strengths that we bring to conversations like this one. Then also, creating space for us to listen to what other folks are also bringing, because we do this work in community. 

We love this quote from Gloria Anzaldúa, because she captures the importance of doing that internal work so beautifully. She says, “The struggle is inner… The struggle has always been inner, and is played out in outer terrains. Awareness of our situation must come before inner changes, which in turn come before changes in society. Nothing happens in the real world unless it first happens in the images in our heads.”

As Bethy said and our slides have kind of shown, conversations about identity, equity, and diversity are not always easy. We know that sometimes, the tendency is to avoid participating in those conversations because of our fears of being vulnerable. Often, in conversations around gender and sexual diversity, that shows up as fears of saying the wrong thing. We just want to name that. 

We want to invite you, as you prepare to prepare to engage in today’s important, and maybe uncomfortable conversation. We just want to give you an opportunity to ground, first, in how you’re showing up, what’s coming up for you. So, I’m going to read aloud a few questions that I just want you to silently reflect on in taking stock of what you’re noticing in this moment. Maybe, close your eyes. 

The first question I have for you is: What will today’s conversation about gender, sexual, and family diversity, and LGBTQ+ people, and the learning that you still have to do, what might that potentially bring up for you? Take a moment to check in with what’s going on in your body right now. What’s this conversation bringing up for you personally? 

Now, think about a vulnerability you might be holding – something that could limit your willingness to participate whole-heartedly in this conversation. 

Now, think about a strength you are bringing this afternoon that will help you to engage openly and honestly. 

Finally, take a moment to think about the vulnerabilities and strengths that other folks in this Zoom room might be bringing. Okay. 

BETHY: Okay, I’m going to invite you to turn your cameras on, if you want to, so we can see all your lovely faces. What we’re going to do here in the chat, because we can’t do breakout rooms, is just share some vulnerabilities and strengths. So, if you have a vulnerability that you want to share, just label it “V,” strength “S,” and share out in the chat. What are you bringing to this conversation?

Part of why we do this is because this is the way we norm the space. A lot of times in conversations like this, we’ll have some rules, like: attribute the best intentions, be respectful – you know, things that we should humanly just kind of know. Sometimes, that doesn’t happen. So, we like to say, “Who is in this space? What are we bringing? Let’s pay attention,” as a way to set norms for the space. Let’s spend a few minutes in the chat taking in what your colleagues are bringing, and what you are bringing. 

SARA: That’s nice. 

BETHY: Mhm. Yeah. Thank you for these. 

Yeah. Awesome. Thanks, everybody. 

Just take in what folks are saying. This is who’s here. We are here to do some good work together and hold each other accountable while holding each other tenderly. Right? It’s hard work, and slow work, which is often somewhat frustrating. So, okay! 

SARA: Alright. So, we want to pause here to unpack some language that is really important to conversations around gender and sexual diversity. We know, more broadly, that language matters. Right? It’s through language that we name and identify ourselves, that we make sense of the world around us, that we connect with one another through dialogue and discourse. Because we all land in this conversation differently given our different experiences and embodied experiences and histories with gender and sexual diversity, it’s important that we build a common language so we can all participate in the conversation. 

You know, we could spend 90 minutes on just terminology. We are not going to do that. We always invite folks to spend some time on Google. Do your own – take responsibility for your own – education; your own learning. 

But just to kind of create a baseline of shared understanding, we’re going to show you a two-minute video on terminology that we created to support a district’s implementation of a districtwide policy on supporting transgender and gender non-conforming youth. This video will not go over everything you might want to know about the LGBTQ+ lexicon, but it will go over some basic concepts and terms, and their definitions. 

One thing we hear from young people a lot is that they want the adults and educators in their lives to understand the differences between gender and sexuality. So, the video does distinguish between those, so pay attention to that. We’ll take a quick couple minutes after the video to see if there are lingering questions that we need to address before moving forward. 

[Video starts]

”As guidelines for supporting transgender and non-binary youth suggest, there are some important terms to learn that are essential to understanding the policy itself, as well as your role in enacting it. Keep in mind that these terms and their definitions are constantly evolving. Currently, here is how we understand them. 

When babies are born, they are typically assigned a sex at birth: male, female, or in some cases intersex. These designations are largely based on physical attributes, including external genitalia and sex chromosomes. They can become challenging for youth who develop a sense of themselves that does not correspond to the designation that they were assigned at birth.

Which brings us to gender identity: Gender identity is the deeply felt sense of who we are and how we identify in terms of gender. It’s how we see and identify ourselves. Everyone has a gender identity. Some people identify as male, others as female, and some people as a combination of genders, as neither male nor female, or as no gender at all. A good rule of thumb is to let people identify themselves and to create spaces that affirm a range of gender identities beyond male or female. 

Gender expression refers to how we express our gender identity; for example: through names, pronouns, what we wear, how we style our hair, and what we like to do. 

Transgender is an umbrella term for people whose gender identity differs from the sex they were assigned at birth. There are many ways to identify as transgender, and not all folks who identify as trans seek medical interventions, such as hormone replacement therapy and/or surgeries. 

Gender non-conforming and gender expansive are terms used by people who do not conform to norms typically associated with traditional expectations of binary gender, masculinity, and feminity. Not all people who are gender non-conforming identify as transgender. 

Sexual orientation describes an individual’s physical, romantic, and/or emotional attraction to another person. L, G, B and T are often lumped together as if they are the same when, in fact, they aren’t. L, G, B refer to the ways people identify in terms of sexual orientation, and T indicates a person’s gender identity. Gender identity and sexual orientation are not the same.”

[Video ends]

SARA: Okay. Because of time, we’re just going to do this as a large group, and invite you. If something that you’re really like, “I need to know what that means”, or ”I have a burning question that I feel like has to be resolved before we move forward with the session,” please unmute. Let us know what it is. Or, use the chat. What questions, burning questions, do we need to address as a group about terminology?

BETHY: Got the gifted group. All right. We’re going to roll on. If there is anything that comes up throughout the course of this time, just stop us. We will figure it out with you all. 

All right. So, we’re going to turn now to our gender expert, Riley. In these facilitations, we really want to move beyond an anti-bullying discourse that is typically used in conversations about LGBTQ+ youth. As Sara mentioned, we like to push on taken-for-granted norms and assumptions about what counts as normal or even appropriate, especially in the context of schools. One of the ways that we plug in is really thinking about this construct of gender. Because it’s what kids, very early on, start to sort of police each other around. So, we are going to take a listen to Riley. 

Thanks for your patience in this; all this sharing. I’m not quite used to sharing all the screens. Okay. All right. Here we go.

[Video starts]

RILEY: It wouldn’t be fair for all the girls to buy princesses and all the boys to buy superheroes!

PARENT: Well, why? 

RILEY: Because the girls want superheroes and the boys want superheroes – and the girls want pink stuff, and the boys don’t want pink stuff. Yeah.

PARENT: Well, boys want both, but why do you think they do that?

RILEY: Because the companies who make these try to trick the girls into buying the pink stuff instead of stuff that boys want to buy, right?

PARENT: Right, but you can buy either, right? And boys can buy either? If boys want to buy pink, they can buy pink, right?? 

RILEY: Yes! So then why do all the girls have to buy princesses?! Some girls like superheroes, some girls like princesses! Some boys will like superheroes, some boys will like princesses!”

PARENT: Absolutely. You’re absolutely right.

RILEY: Then, why do all the girls have to buy pink stuff, and all the boys have to buy different colored stuff? 

PARENT: That’s a good question, Riley. 

[Video ends]

BETHY: All right. So, that’s all we have for you today. No, I’m just kidding! 

Here, we have Riley, who’s getting at this very entrenched gender binary that really starts to affect us very early on in our lives. 

We start with gender, again, because that’s what kids start noticing and policing each other around. Sometimes, teachers and adults in the space do the policing too. Right? These are the pink and blue rules that Riley is getting at, and they really have to do with masculinity and femininity. They say, “If you are a boy, if you were born and identified as a boy, then you have to do masculine things; and if you’re a girl, you have to do feminine things – and if you don’t, we’re going to notice, and we’re going to call it out.” 

So, in elementary school, the rules of the gender binary are strongly in place. Kids who break those rules, again, are noticed in ways that are often, you know, maybe unkind. What we know is that for students whose bodies or whose gender identities or expressions challenge or defy those norms, school can be a pretty un-affirming and dangerous place to be. 

As the gender rules start to make their ways to middle schools and high schools, this is when the stakes become a bit higher. This is when gender and sexual orientation are sort of understood as the same thing. So, while you know boys can’t like pink in elementary school, boys who like pink or express femininity in some way in middle school or high school are often teased for being gay. Right? 

What we know is that, around bullying with regards to LGBTQ+ students, it’s not that students are coming to school necessarily and coming out as gay, or lesbian, or queer, but they are performing gender outside of the gender binary. That’s what’s making them a target. Right? There’s this big misunderstanding that gender is a proxy for sexual orientation, which is not the case. 

So, what we want you all to do – I will share my screen again – is to think about these questions that we have for you. Thinking about your work contexts, and this isn’t just with kids. I think it’s important that in the last session, I don’t even know how many people were in spaces like youth-serving adults. There were probably people that are with adults all the time. I think sometimes it is easier for us to be like, “Oh, yeah. Kids!” But, let’s think about how these rules impact us, and in our work environments as well.

So, in the chat, take a few minutes. Or, you can unmute and share out. What does gender look like at your school or at your workplace? 

How do you see masculinity and femininity functioning through norms, student and adult behavior, language, curriculum?

How are gender norms complicated even further when you put them into conversation with race and culture? 

Let’s think about these questions. Use the chat. Will you put those questions in the chat? We’ll put the questions in the chat. Then, I’m going to stop sharing my screen so we can just see one another for a couple of minutes. 

Yeah, definitely. 

If you are in a school, or in a position, where you are working with youth, can you raise your  Zoom hand, or your regular one? Okay. Thank you. 

All right. I know y’all are just warming up. So, thinking about what this work is all about, a lot of times – and I think necessarily so, in some cases – this work is about supporting individual students. So, you know even policies are aimed to support trans students or to protect LGBTQ students. We want to offer that this work is much more cultural, and encourage you all to think about the ways that gender functions and the actual material impacts that those norms have on students. All of us, really, 

Yeah, the data sets. That’s a big one, right? Even getting students! if you don’t have a data set with more than the binary, getting students to talk about that. Like, “Who are we leaving out here?” You know, “What could we be missing?” So, using an absence to kind of make a presence known. 

Yeah. Yeah, thank you. OK. 

We do want to mention that this work, more and more, we really have to come together as communities who are minoritized – especially in schools – and recognize that students at the intersections of minoritized identities, so LGBTQ youth of color, often experience additional stress and adverse effects to their health and wellbeing as a result of their intersecting identities. We are going to show you a film in a minute that we made. Sara will talk about it. We made it about 10 years ago, and we are working with Denver Public Schools right now to create a new film. 

We just had our event the other night. We had a lot of queer students of color who talked a lot about the tension of being a person of color and a queer person. Even gay-straight alliances are mostly white, and the Black Students Alliance is mostly straight and cis-gender. So, really thinking about how we create spaces for people’s whole beings, and to honor their lived experiences as complex beings is really critical. 

SARA: All right. So, to frame the next part of our time together, we are going to turn to youth voice. We’re going to show you a 21-minute, locally-produced documentary that, as Bethy mentioned, we made about 10 years ago. We learned early in our work that it’s one thing to talk about why this work is important, and to talk about the young people who are implicated in this conversation, but it’s a whole other thing to listen to young people talk about their experiences in schools. So, that’s why we were motivated to create the film. It’s really the centerpiece of every kind of first-level facilitation that we do around gender and sexual diversity. 

So, what you’ll see in the film is a group of middle school, high school, and college-aged youth. Some identify as LGBTQ; others identify as allies. We really just wanted them to have a conversation with each other about school: where they feel the most safe, the least safe; the most seen and unseen. Then, the audience was a large group of pre- and in-service educators from our community. We just wanted those adults to witness the conversation. 

So as you watch, think about the young people you engage with in your lives, and maybe support in schools. What might those young people say if they were having a conversation like this one? And if you support younger learners, what might they say in 10 years about their experiences in schools, and in your community? What do you wish they would say?

We do want to mention that the students in the film bring up suicide in a pretty sensitive way. So, we know that can be triggering for some folks. So, just take care of yourselves as that comes up. 

[Video starts]

ZAC CHASE (EDUCATOR): I would say that your job is to teach every kid who comes into your class, and to accept them as human beings, and to appreciate all facets of who they are.

 ELIZABETH DUTRO (ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR, SCHOOL OF EDUCATION): If we’re about social justice, this needs to be central to what we do, not on the periphery.

SUSAN JUROW (ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR, SCHOOL OF EDUCATION): It is the reality, so you don’t have to agree with it, or do anything in support of it, other than recognizing that it is real, and therefore, it is something that you have to think about when you when you are planning on teaching children how to learn and be in this world. 

MICHAEL (10TH GRADE): Not all teachers are educated on LGBT bullying, LGBT topics, and I think that really is where the base of the problem is. 

JULIEN (8TH GRADE): Some teachers do not have the guts to go up to someone and tell them that that’s not okay, and some teachers may not even care because they don’t even know about this topic. 

MICHAEL: I think there’s also there are probably teachers in the U.S. that generally are homophobic. 

KENJI (8TH GRADE): The safest place for me, I think, is probably in the library where our GSA meets, because it’s the only place where I can go without being made fun of.

[TITLE: Breaking the Silence: Honoring the voices of LGBTQ youth and allies in supporting our teachers]

[TITLE: Narrated by Andrea Gibson]

ANDREA GIBSON: I wish that, when I was in school, I had had teachers who would have talked with me; would have talked with my classmates. Who would have said, “You are here, and you deserve to be.” There needs to be more done to support teachers in becoming the kind of allies we all wish we had had. 

At the University of Colorado at Boulder, I had the privilege of joining 70-plus pre- and in-service teachers for an evening with a group of LGBTQ youth and allies. The idea for this evening came out of the need to better prepare future teachers to support LGBTQ students and to create classrooms and schools that are inclusive and safe for all students to be themselves. 

[TITLE: How do students frame the problem?]

COOPER (8TH GRADE): At most every school, “that’s so gay,” “you’re such a fag,” the “retarded” word, all those words are definitely going to be thrown around, just because that’s the age that people are at. 

DAISY (7TH GRADE): I know that at my school, people definitely use “that’s so gay,” and call people the “F” word, and teachers usually don’t do much about it. They just kind of ignore it, unless there’s an actual, like obvious, bullying situation going on.

KAYLA (11TH GRADE): At my school, we get bullied a lot. Because I’m pretty open about my sexuality, but our teachers don’t do anything about what’s going on. You know, we have a few teachers that have actually been part of our GSA and have helped us, but honestly, we don’t get a whole lot of support from, you know, our community. 

MICHAEL: I think that if the teacher’s not responding, it shows the person who’s being called a name that they don’t care about them as much as they might other students, or that they don’t care about the student population as a whole. I also think that it shows the person who was calling the names that they have the power to do it again. 

DAISY: While you’re creating safe spaces and talking about LGBTQ, make sure to include transgender and gender identities. Because I feel like in school, a lot of times they talk about gay and straight. Well, not a lot – but gender stuff almost never gets mentioned. 

ACE (EDUCATOR): I think about myself, as a trans kid. Like, it would have meant the world to me to have a teacher ask me, “How would you like me to address you? Let’s have a conversation about that.” Not in front of the whole class, because that’s super awkward. 

EM (DIRECTOR OF DIVERSITY FOR CU STUDENT GOVERNMENT): When I reflect on my schooling experience being a queer individual, for me, it’s interesting that when we talk about elementary school, we talk about it as a time that’s like, “Oh, I don’t know how we’re going to talk about gender and sexuality in elementary school.” Because for me, I feel like some of the most vivid memories I have of trauma in school, it was really in elementary school. Especially for gender-variant individuals, elementary school is one of the most challenging times, and I think that it comes down to when we are in elementary school. That’s really when we do a lot of our socializing of gender norms, in those spaces. 

DANA (9TH GRADE): It’s really important to really have these groups of people that are – when you go there, you know you won’t be singled out or judged. Because this is like a really frightening time, and some people are really cruel. That’s a really hard thing to accept for someone who’s going through what’s, probably, a really rough time. 

[TITLE: Teachers often assume that all their students and their students’ parents are heterosexual (Athanases & Larrabee, 2003).]

[TITLE: At school, on a frequent or often basis, 71.4% of LGBT students heard “gay” in a negative way (e.g. “that’s so gay”) and 64.5% heard other homophobic remarks (e.g. ‘dyke’ or ‘faggot’) (GLSEN National Climate Survey, 2013)]

KAYLA: Something that hasn’t been really mentioned yet is: Bullying can get so severe where teenagers and students start thinking about harming themselves, or even suicide, or anthing like that. So, that’s something to look forward to. I’m sorry. It’s really touchy for me. They’re just something you really need to look for signs for. 

DANA: People say that words can’t really hurt you, but really, they do. It’s really hard to see that now. It can really hurt somebody. 

[TITLE: Fifty-five percent of LGBT students felt unsafe at school because of their sexual orientation, and 37.8% because of their gender expression (GLSEN National Climate Survey, 2013)]

[TITLE: Students and teachers often police those who break or challenge gender norms; this is one of the most powerful ways that schools reinforce heterosexism (Meyers, 2010).]

[TITLE: LGBTQ youth of color overwhelmingly face persistent and frequent harassment and biased-based bullying from peers and school staff, increased policing, relatively greater incidents of discipline, and blame for their own victimization. (GSA Network, 2014).]

[TITLE: What follows is an incomplete list of LGBTQ youth for whom school was not a safe, inclusive space, and who took their own young lives …

Ronin Shimizu, 12; 12-3-2014; Folsom, Calif.

Alexander (AJ) Betts Jr., 16; 07-27-2013; Des Moines, Iowa

Carlos Vigil, 17; 07-16-2013; Las Lunes, N.M.

Jadin Bell, 15; 01-29-2013; La Grande, Ore.

Josh Pacheco, 17; 11-27-2012; Fenton, Mich.

Brandon Joseph Elizares, 16; 6-2-2012; El Paso, Texas

Jay “Corey” Jones; 17; 5-6-2012; Rochester, Minn

Jack Reese, 17; 4-22-2012; Mountain Green, Utah

Kenneth James Weishuhn Jr., 14; 4-15-2012; Paullina, Iowa

Rafael Morelos, 14; 1-20-2012; Cashmere, Wash.

Phillip Parker, 14; 1-19-2012; Gordonsville, Tenn.

Eric James Borges, 19; 1-12-2012; California

Jeffrey Fehr, 18; 1-1-2012; Sacramento, Calif.

Jacob Rogers, 18; 12-7-2011; Ashland City, Tenn.

James (Jamie) Hubley, 15; 10-14-2011; Ottawa, Canada

Brandon Bitner, 14; 11-5-2010; Middleburg, Penn.

Zachary Harrington, 19; 10-5-2010; Norman, Okla.

Aiyisha Hassan, 20; 10-4-2010; Richmond, Calif.

Caleb Nolt, 14; 9-20-2010; Ind.

Raymond Chace, 19; 9-29-2010; R.I.

Chloe Lacey, 18; 9-24-2010; Clovis, Calif.

Asher Brown, 13; 9-23-2010; Texas

Tyler Clementi, 18; 9-22-2010; N.J.

Seth Walsh, 13; 9-19-2010; Tehachapi, Calif.

Cody J. Barker, 17; 9-13-2010; Wis.

Billy Lucas, 15; 9-9-2010; Greenburg, Ind.

Justin Aaburg, 15; 7-9-2010; Anoka, Minn.

July Barrick, 15; 5-4-2010; Champlin, Minn.

Aaron Jurek, 15; 12-3-2009; Blaine, Minn.

Samantha (Sam) Johnson, 13: 11-22-2009; Anoka, Minn.

TJ Haynes, 16; 9-2009; Blaine, Minn.]

COOPER: This isn’t a topic you can shove in the back corner of your closet. People’s lives are at stake. People are dying. If you’re becoming a teacher, you really have to persevere with every issue. If that’s race, sexual identity, girls, boys – everything. You just have to work hard and make sure that everyone is feeling accepted. 

ANDREA: Right now, schools of education are being challenged to do this important work, though this has not proven to be easy. Conversations are often difficult to have. There is confusion, curiosity, and even fear about how this should all look. 

[TITLE: What are teachers afraid of?]

ANDREA: Somehow, there is still this idea of the bravery it will take for teachers to really meet this challenge. 

ALEX (PRESIDENT OF CU’S GSA): I mean, all the little environmental things that we feel when we’re in school, the teachers are feeling too. That can make it difficult for them to stand up, just like it’s hard for us to stand up sometimes. 

DAISY: Well, we got asked why we would think you wouldn’t stand up, but why do you think you wouldn’t stand up?

COOPER: Could I rephrase that differently too? What would you do if you heard those words in the hallway, or in your classroom?

TEACHER: I think I would do something, but I think that the fear would come out of being afraid that I would make the situation worse in not having the right words. 

MEG BURNS (EDUCATOR): I come from a background where I’ve never really had to struggle with anything. Like, that’s the bottom line. You know? And so, it’s hard. I think it’s hard for people like me – and most teachers are white, upper middle-class, straight women like me – to recognize that students, our kids, are struggling with major issues. 

ELLIE ROBERTS (TEACHER CANDIDATE): I think my biggest fear, in terms of creating a safe, inclusive learning environment would be saying the wrong thing.

TEACHER: I’m going into elementary ed, so I’m still trying to discover how to deal with these situations with such young children, and I think the fear of saying things that these kids are going to take – and that’s great, but they’re also going to take it to their parents. It’s the fear of getting fired. I mean, you can be fired. 

TEACHER: All of that aside, the child is always your priority, and you always have to be an advocate for that child. I mean, there’s nothing else. We have to be that advocate. They have to be the priority all the time. 

[TITLE: What about our LGBTQ teachers?]

ELIZABETH: My daughter needed teachers to feel safe being out; safer than they did.

JOHN FOX (ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR OF RESIDENCE LIFE): There really weren’t positive role models, or things I could really look to, that could help me make sense of how I was feeling and who I was becoming. 

TEACHER: When I was teaching … I’m gay, and I was afraid to defend the kids that were getting picked on because I was afraid the kids would say, “Oh, you must be gay, because you’re defending those kids.” And they would have been right. I was scared, because I wasn’t sure if I was out, if I would get fired. It wasn’t until my last year of teaching, at age 55, that I had guts enough to come out to my students. You know, and even my principal silenced me, because she said, “If you tell kids what gay means, you’re talking about sex.” 

TEACHER: As a teacher, you’re judged for so many things. I think that, for some reason, I think less of myself as a gay person than as a non-gay person; so, it’s been overcoming my own homophobia personally, but I think that that’s a big part of it for the queer people in the audience. It’s, you know, really pushing up on our own issues with ourselves.

DAISY: I think it’s really great if the teachers aren’t afraid to come out as LGBTQ because then, the students knew that there was someone that they could go to and they could be sure that that person would be accepting, and would help them out. 

ZACK (9TH GRADE): I am a subscriber to “go big or go home.” So, I think that, depending on the principal and who you are as a person, if you are going to come out to your class, you should do it with some sort of big, musical number. 

[TITLE: What are teachers’ responsibilities?]

BRITTNI (CU STUDENT BODY PRESIDENT): I would tell my teachers that sexuality doesn’t match gender, necessarily. So, I think that a lot of times, family and teachers would, maybe, feel more comfortable making comments if they didn’t think a queer student necessarily was around – but you never necessarily know. Sometimes, students don’t know yet, and that affects their development. 

ACE: The way we define safe spaces in our schools isn’t adequate. I think that oftentimes, we think about safe spaces as a Safe Zone poster on the door. To me, that’s not good enough. We also talk about gay-straight alliances, and I think that those are huge and extremely important. But just because a school has a GSA doesn’t mean that it’s safe for queer kids. Never once did I have a teacher talk about what a safe zone meant. I think a safe zone starts with listening first. 

SEAN CONNELL (GENDER VIOLENCE PREVENTION AND EDUCATION ASSISTANT): Finding your allies, getting lots of people together, not feeling like you’re on your own; like you’re the only teacher that cares about this. Trying to find other teachers who care about it too, and maybe create some kind of coalition of people together to say, “This is important. It impacts the life of our students, and we should have institutional support for this.”

COOPER: I think everyone can – if they have someone, or multiple teachers, that they can go to and talk to about anything. That makes the school more enjoyable, and a more safe place for students. I think every single teacher has to be committed to the programs to make sure that they work correctly. 

TEACHER: So, as many of you have started to correctly intuit, teachers, in fact, don’t know everything – or even very many things. It’s kind of alarming on a daily basis to discover the incredibly large number of things that you don’t know how to do. But, I guess the commitment that I hope to make to all of you and to all of my students: Even if I didn’t know, I would find out.

SEAN: A huge thanks to Mrs. Johnson, who was the teacher I was talking about that pulled us; that would pull us into rooms and have these lunch-time meetings with all these LGBT kids. She was like the only one at our school who really cared about it. She made a huge positive impact on my life. 

ANDREA: Meanwhile, there are students in our schools who are already doing this work; who are proud to be themselves, who are allies to their LGBTQ peers, who are demanding that there be a cultural shift so that they are recognized and welcomed in their schools. There are also students who are desperate for teachers to be their allies, to affirm who they are, to love them, and to create classrooms that are welcoming and inclusive. 

[TITLE: Recommendations]

TEACHER: Maybe we’re not talking about sex as in sexual acts, but how do we, as educators, acknowledge that what we’re teaching already has a heteronormative context? How do we then queer that context as educators in a way that is age-appropriate? 

DAISY: I think that, really, elementary should be a time where you jump in on it, and incorporate LGBT stuff, and normalize it from the very beginning. Because kids who grow up in accepting environments are going to be more accepting adults, and transgender kids know that they’re transgender from very young ages. So, it’s good to get everyone educated from the very beginning.

ACE: Having an inclusive curriculum is a huge part of creating safe spaces.

JOHN: You know, I don’t remember anything ever coming up related to differences around gender or sexual orientation in the kinds of stories we read, or the kinds of examples that were used in terms of people. To me, I think that is huge, because I think to have those examples makes a huge difference. Because people start to feel like, “I can relate to some of that character, or that particular person,” even if they don’t necessarily say, “I relate to all of it,” or “that’s who I am.” 

ACE: Throughout high school, I never once had a teacher talk about a queer icon in history, in literature, in anything. I certainly didn’t know that they could be happy, or successful, or contribute to our world. So, I just kind of thought I was a freak, and wouldn’t do anything productive in the universe. That’s really problematic – not only for me as a queer person, but also for my straight friends sitting next to me who’s getting those same messages that queer people are not happy, and they don’t do anything productive in the world. They need to hear that Walt Whitman was gay, too. They need to know that this poet that we all read was like me.

SEAN: Approach these topics as like a facet of somebody’s identity and not their entire identity. Because I feel like, a lot of times, what happens is this specialness thing, where it’s like “here’s all the history,” and then, “here’s the gay history.” Then, “here’s all the literature, and then, “here’s the gay literature.”

JESSICA: Incorporating it into everyday usage will, hopefully, make people understand that this is just a normal part of life, that this is not some shut away part of society. This is just: This is people, everywhere.

ZACK: The safest place I know of is not in the high school where I go, but in middle school. The 7th-grade LA teacher, she’s different from other teachers. She’s willing to talk about feeling safe and being yourself – which, she’s like the only teacher I’ve ever really met who does that.

DJ (8TH GRADE): We have a club called BAFWYA; it’s Be Accepted for Who You Are. It’s like home. It’s peaceful, and you could be accepted for who you are, no matter what; band, nerd, whatever. They really accept you for who you are. 

ANDREA: Understanding the complex social realities of gender and sexual diversity is critical in preparing our teachers to support all students in their own classrooms. We, as teacher education programs, as districts, as communities who care about our youth, need to be held accountable, and we need to support our teachers to do this work. 

TEACHER: This is the boat to jump in, really. Because you’re laying the framework, and you’re building the allies of tomorrow. Those are the kids that can go into these middle schools and high schools, and actually really support gender-variant kids, queer kids, and just generally, kids that are being bullied. I think, you know, having community in elementary school – it’s the easiest time to build it. It just gets harder from there. 

MICHAEL WENK (EDUCATOR): We’re sending messages to our students constantly – in what we say and what we don’t say, in what we do and what we don’t do; I mean: they pick up on (it). They notice. So, I would say, first of all, you have to be aware that students are watching you and listening to you. Then, recognize that you have students in your class that are dealing with issues that society makes troubling for them. 

DAISY: Don’t be afraid to ask for help. You have to put yourself out there, even though it’s scary. Then, you’ll find people who support you.

BARB MILLER (LIBRARIAN, GSA ADVOCATE): You might have to educate your principal. You might have to educate your teachers, but be fearless. Because just like you said, these are people’s lives. They’re their lives, and if that’s not why you’re a teacher, then don’t be a teacher. Hell, if you get fired, what a great thing to get fired for!

[TITLE: The End]

[TITLE: … just the beginning.]

[Video ends]

BETHY: All right, y’all. We are going to give you some time. We have a few questions for you to reflect upon. 

SARA: Should we show some?

BETHY: I was just going to put them in the chat. 

So, first of all – and Sara will put the questions in the chat: What did you learn from listening to the voices in the film, from students and from teachers? 

Then, what curiosities or questions are you sitting with? 

Then, how did this conversation land on you, personally, as an educator or youth-serving adult? What feelings are you holding there? 

We are going to just give you a few minutes to reflect on your own, and then open up the space for a conversation. 

SARA: So, like three minutes? 

BETHY: Yeah. We’ll give you three minutes to think about these questions. 

All right. So, let’s talk to each other. If you are so called to turn on your voice, or your camera, or both, those of you who contributed to the chat …

To the “shat,” I almost said. It has been a long day, and it’s 2 (o’clock). 

Yeah. Let’s take a minute to read what is in the chat, and then maybe open it up to talk with each other. 

SPEAKER: Okay. I’m going to hop in and say something, if that is OK. 

BETHY: What! 

PARENT: Yeah. I was getting tired of the silence. I apologize, everyone.

BETHY: Oh, I love it. Yeah. Go!

PARENT: I know some of the people – and I put this in the chat already when that first video played, but I know some of the people have heard this story about my daughter. 

So, I was very mindful, having done this work – or getting involved in this work is what I should say, both in the private sector and now, in K-12 education. The first time I took my daughter to (Tar-jhay), some of you may be more familiar with it – it’s called Target – but, the first time I took her to the toy aisle, she was 5 years old. I walked her up and down the sides of it, because I was being very mindful of gender norms being unintentionally put on young people. I know John has heard this story. 

We all know which toy aisles, from that video, market to girls and which toy aisles market to boys. My daughter has been – you know, I hate to say it – a guinea pig for a lot of equity and diversity work, but she’s a trooper. So, I walked her up and down all the toy aisles, put her in the middle, and then, I allowed her to choose. I allowed her to choose where she wanted to go. I presented all the options to her, allowed her to choose. She went straight for the Legos, went straight for the superheroes – just like how that little girl was talking to. To this day, she’s never owned a doll. 

What’s been really interesting, which I haven’t shared this with those of you from NCWIT who have heard this story – what I haven’t shared is that: That was the easy part. The challenge was working with my mom, and trying to convince my mom that my daughter would never own a doll. She’s 15 now. Never owned a doll, never wanted to own a doll, a dollhouse. If anything, you know we have an Avengers campus in our house. She is all about superheroes, and different things like that. My mom is like, “Why doesn’t she want a dress, or a tea party, or the pink colors, or anything like that?” It’s just trying to make her understand. Obviously, she’s older. 

Just the awareness: The easy part was giving her the choice; the hard part was having everyone accept the choice that she made. I just wanted to share that. Loved that video. Hopefully, we can get access to those videos. Or, at least, those videos sent out to us.

BETHY: Yeah! I mean, I love that you bring that up. Because this is, you know, the problem …

With respect to LGBTQ people, and I think minoritized people in general –  the problem has often been associated with the group of people, right? Like, pathology of gender and sexual diversity, the pathology of race and eugenics. So, I think flipping the conversation to say “why does this bother you?” is very different from engaging in the conversation of “when she went to do this? When is she going to do that?”  

The question is: Why are you uncomfortable? What’s making you uncomfortable? Like, trying not to even engage. Who cares? Right? You care; let’s talk about you instead. Let’s flip this conversation. Yeah. 

What else? I want to talk about the fear question. There is so much fear. I ask: What do we do with the fear? For ourselves, and also, what do we do with that fear when it comes up in other people who we are around? Let’s talk about that for a minute. 

I can’t find the … Who was I talking to? Talk to me. Oh, I see.

SARA: The fear of your own parents, or? 

BETHY: Just fear in general. 

JOHN: I think it might have been someone who is currently an attendee at the moment.

BETHY: Oh, okay.

JOHN: I don’t know if that person wants to join, but yeah, I recently had a conversation with an educator in Florida who teaches at a private Catholic school. We opened up our program to welcome genderqueer and non-binary students. They had to end participation in our program because she was getting pushback from her administration in her school. She said to me, “I’m not going to get fired over it.” 

I didn’t have a great response. I was just worried for her own ability to keep her job, to continue teaching. I know she was a great computer science educator. Yeah, I can see that that fear is really real right now – especially in these states, especially as we’ve seen this unprecedented, coordinated attack on trans, non-binary, and queer youth.

One thing that stuck with me in the video is just – I don’t know, when the teacher was relating to his own experience and the fear that he had. The kid’s response was, “Go big or go home!” Like, “What are you doing? This is a moment to show up.”

Oh, there’s Trúc! Go ahead, but that was a moment that stuck with me, definitely. I don’t know. I related to them here. 

BETHY: Yeah, and I think it’s important to recognize someone. In the vulnerability and strengths, I said you know it’s frustrating; like, it needs to move. We need to go faster. You know this is an emergency! 

I think many of us feel that way. Also, we want teachers in the most toxic environments to want to do this work. If that’s the case, they are not going to be able to do the same things that teachers in progressive districts can do. It might be wearing like, a rainbow button, and that’s it. You know? 

SARA: And, that counts! 

BETHY: It does count. Yeah. 

SARA: You know we work with pre-service teachers in our teacher education programs at CU. We have been watching a video of a conversation we had in the fall over, and over, and over again, because the fear of getting fired that our pre-service teachers are bringing is so present in the conversation. It seems like one of the things that we are trying to disrupt in their understanding is what counts as “the work?” What counts as doing this work? 

It’s not – you know, Bethy said in the conversation –  it’s not like you have to go into your school or your classroom with a firehose and spray equity all around. It is not like these grand gestures. It can be. I mean, it can be “go big or go home.” 

BETHY: If you can spray equity, do it! 

SARA: Do it! We are all about it. But, it can also be these little moments that happen; like, in mundane interactions. The questions you ask: Can you wear a rainbow, or hang a rainbow somewhere in your room? Can you? When can you grab an opportunity to tell a student, “I see you, and I believe you. I see who you are, and I value you.” That counts as “the work.” Those interactions and moments, I think, are just as meaningful. 

BETHY: Yeah. 

TRÚC:  Thank you so much for sharing. I just wanted to come back to, I guess, my statement on fear, and what I picked up from the video. Ke aloha no, my name is Trúc. I’m from the University of Hawaii. It was very early for me earlier today, so I didn’t have my camera on, but I think what I’ll say is: Fear reared its ugly head in a really interesting way here. In that, in our sports teams here at the University, for years, we were called the Rainbow Warriors; our football team, our basketball team, baseball – everyone. Everyone was the Rainbow Warriors. 

One day, it changed to just the warriors. People were so upset, because the whole state of Hawaii, we – well, maybe not every single person, but we all love rainbows! We are pretty much identified with the rainbow. But I guess in the athletics department, a lot of our donors one day said, “The rainbows associate us with the gay community, and it says that we support the gay community. So, that’s why we changed it to just warriors.” So, the rainbow was taken out of all logos, all material. You know? 

The community went crazy. The community said, “But we do! And what is wrong with that?” So now, it’s back. 

BETHY: Wonderful.

TRÚC: It’s wonderful. It’s been back. It came back very quickly. It didn’t linger for very long, but I think it was wonderful that our state happens to be a very progressive state. We have very open conversations, and I think it has a lot to do with the Pacific cultures. But, I also know that we’re a minority-majority state; we have a lot of immigrant groups here. 

So, I think – was it Susie who said that she has given up on asking her mom to use “they” for her oldest kid? You know there is a generational challenge within households and within families. As I work with teachers, I also see a generational challenge in understanding that. 

I think though, there are fears. I also believe that there is a lot of grace to be offered to our older generation as they try to understand and help us. I mean, because honestly, they want us all to succeed, and they want to help us. 

I shared my own little story, while you were talking about your daughter, about my own dad. You know, yeah. It was just my purple … I hate that purple dress! I remember it so vividly, and so clearly. It was a purple dress with pink elements and white ruffles, and he made me wear that to go to the park to play. Even with hose! Nobody wears pantyhose in Hawaii, by the way. So, he put me in hose, and he was so angry at my mother because she didn’t raise me “right,” to be a “proper girl.” For me, you know I think of all of those things. 

But, I did want to share that, in Hawaii, we did have that moment with the rainbow, and how that symbol became so much more for us in terms of embracing diversity and understanding that, at least our educational system, we strive for it to be open to all. 

Fear, I think acknowledging it is the first step; acknowledging that we all have some, a little bit. One thing that one teacher said that really struck me, which was that “I was afraid that I didn’t have the right words, and I would make things worse.” That is common. I hear that a lot with our teachers here. I am wondering if others might have heard that too. 

BETHY: Yeah. We hear that all the time, and I think your point about grace is so important – especially right now, in this very polarized world we are living in. 

I feel that people, I’ll just say on the left, we’re fighting about it. You know the people on the right are like, at the beach! They have a concerted effort. They are all operating in the same playbook. And on the left, we are policing each other’s language; we don’t say that anymore. We are focusing on these things that we are losing. 

SARA: Cancel culture. 

BETHY: Yeah. The cancel culture, and there is not enough grace to be shared. So, it is a good reminder. I want to make sure we get to some little things. 

Oh, yeah. Thank you for sharing that. 

So, what do we do about this? All the things that are happening? First, I think, acknowledging that the things that the students were talking about in the film is situated in the context of these systems of cisnormativity and heteronormativity. Do you want to rephrase? 

SARA: Yeah, just really briefly. You know, if you were in our first session. I think we briefly touched on this at the beginning of the first session. Our favorite, essential question is: What counts as normal? Because it is the first, asking that question of our communities and our contexts, is the first step toward identifying what needs to be disrupted, and how we can make our classrooms and schools more expansive, more affirming, and more humanizing. 

With respect to gender and sexuality, the normative systems at play, we call them “cis-heteroheteronormativity.” Not just us, but you know it’s a term that’s pretty well-known. 

But if you were to break it down, heteronormativity is a pervasive belief system that kind of presumes that what counts as normal in terms of sexuality is heterosexuality, and anything outside of that norm is weird, different, other. Cisnormativity is a companion belief system that also kind of presumes that cisgender people are what counts as normal. I identify as cisgender; that means I was assigned female at birth, I identify with that category. I have always felt like a woman. Those two things line up for me, and that gives me a lot of privilege in the world. 

As Bethy said in the Riley slide – socially, we have done a pretty good job of conflating gender and sexuality. So, these systems are kind of mutually-informing. They are very hard to disentangle, and that is why they are put together with a hyphen, but they are operating always and everywhere. You can see examples in the slide of what cis-heteronormativity looks like. 

As you leave this session and go back to your families, and your lives, and your classrooms, and your schools, and your communities, start to think about – notice: Where do I see these norms around gender and sexuality operating in my curriculum, in my language, even in the physical structure of the school? 

You know, we used to facilitate professional development in a middle school where the girls’ bathroom was pink, and the boys’ bathroom was blue. So, these norms are deeply embedded in schools. But once you have your antenna up to noticing how they operate, they can be disrupted, in very obvious ways and even in more subversive ways if you are navigating a more restrictive context. 

BETHY: Some things that we always like to leave educator sessions with, action steps that folks can take – and if you are not in the education world, you can practice these as well. 

Looking at the nametags, you know just making sure that students are always given the opportunity to name and identify themselves, and respecting that how they want to be identified might change. So, on the first day of class, always just asking students to introduce themselves. This is college-level, too; not calling roll, but instead, having them give the names that they want to be called. 

There are plenty of ways to get at people’s pronouns, depending on the age of students you work with. You know we always start sessions with saying our pronouns. We want to become the curriculum for students. So it’s, instead of somebody – a kid in the class – who has a pronoun that’s not in the binary, we often say “You never know how somebody identifies until they tell you, and I want you to know that my pronouns are she/her/hers.” Some people don’t know what pronouns are. They’ll get it; just give them some examples. 

The second: How we “do gender,” just getting rid of separating, or acknowledging, people by their genders; so, ladies, gentlemen, boys, girls. Not grouping students by gender, but finding different ways to acknowledge people. This is a hard one. 

You know, we do these sessions all the time, and I always say I don’t identify as a woman. Like, the more I do this, I have no idea, really, what my gender identity is. So, I’ll say, “I don’t,” when we walk up and somebody is like “Hey ladies!” You know I’m always like, “Yeah, that just does not work for me.” It never fails. At the end of the session, when we are leaving, somebody will be like, “Bye ladies!” I’m like, “I just had said that!” 

So, I know that these are really hard to kind of turn the tape back on, but just really trying to watch ourselves with our language and how we address people. 

Making sure that wherever you are, wherever you work, there is access to all-gender restrooms. Even policies that are meant to support trans youth, like in Colorado, they’re still very binary. So, what they say is like, a trans girl can play on the girls’ sports team, or a trans boy can use the boys’ bathroom, but for those students are non-binary, or who don’t identify in even a trans binary, there aren’t many options for going to the bathroom during the day. We hear some heartbreaking stories about students just not going. So, advocating for all-gender restrooms, single-stall restrooms; turning staff bathrooms, if you are in an organization and you have any single-cell bathrooms that are still labeled “men” and “women,” get rid of those; all gender, anybody. Anybody can go. Hang a new sign. 

The “keep calm,” it says : “and read the syllabus.” Keep calm is a good idea, too, but this also says “read the syllabus.” That’s just if you are a teacher just in the beginning of the year, kind of putting out there what your class is going to be about. Or, if you are a school leader. You know, “At the school, we support all students. We acknowledge all students’ identities, and that means that we’re going to have conversations about race, about sexual orientation, and family diversity. So, just getting out in front of it so that when you do read a book about a trans kid, if there is pushback, it doesn’t land on the trans kid who is in the classroom, which we see a lot. 

Having safe zone sites; being an obvious ally. I think someone, earlier, put in the chat, “I want students to know that they can talk to me.” Make your ally status visible; hang signs, but one of the things students say is: if teachers have a sign like this – or if you own an organization, or you work in an organization and you have signs like this, make sure that you mean them. Make sure this sign is a conversation that people who are working with you know what it means, and that you are committed to the action of what this means.

Then last, just making sure you are including LGBTQ people in the curriculum, and making sure that we are including a diverse population of LGBTQ people. So, not all queer people are white, not all gay people want to get married. So, just making sure that the stories that we tell about LGBTQ people are diversified; diversify their actual experiences. 

SARA: All right. So, let’s skip. 

BETHY: Yeah. 

SARAY: We’ll just skip that one. 

We know that having access to at least one supportive adult at school – when queer youth have that, they report greater feelings of safety and belonging. When that number of supportive adults increases to 6 to 11 – sorry, y’all. Graham’s wanting to get in here – things get significantly better for queer youth. 

So, as Bethy just said, something that is important to challenge ourselves to do is to make our supportive adult status visible and explicit. This is especially if you identify as an ally. We recognize this can be more vulnerable and heavy if you are a part of the community. 

So, these are just ways – even the most restrictive context – that you can show your supportive adult status: add your pronouns to your email signatures, to your Zoom name. You can always introduce yourself with your pronouns. Hang rainbows wherever you can. Share your learning with your students. 

BETHY: Spray equity!

SARA: Spray equity. Address your mistakes when you make them. You know June is Pride Month, so go find a LGBTQ event in your community, and show up. 

BETHY: We are actually leaving town. We’re also a couple. It’s a total Queer Endeavor over here, and we’re leaving town tomorrow. So, grandma is here to drop off her dog. 

Thank you for just riding this train with us. It is like Zoom-land has changed all the rules. Anyhow, keep in touch with us: Do something! Play offense, do some little things. Yeah, and reach out! We are around! And I know that John, I think you’re going to? 

JOHN: Yes, I’m just going to thank you so much for just an inspiring, and meaningful, and impactful presentation building on the one from this morning. If you didn’t catch it, you can check it on our NCWIT YouTube channel, which we streamed all of our NCWIT Summit sessions on there. 

Do not forget – this is very important – to order your NCWIT swag box. It comes with some amazing things, including featuring NCWIT’s re:think magazine, and some other great items. Behind me, my cat is on one of them, which is our Sit with Me seat cushion. Sometimes, you need to take a seat in order to take a stand; one of our campaigns that we have here. So, make sure you order that and get some other NCWIT swag items. 

Please join us tomorrow for a celebration with the winner of the 2022 Pioneer in Tech Award: Poppy Northcutt. You can register now at  She will be introduced by one of my favorite people, TJ Alladin. 

Also, remember to save the date for our next Conversation for Change, which is on August 24, 2022, at 11 a.m. MST with Dr. Maya Israel, who will focus on her research strategies for supporting academically diverse learners’ meaningful engagement in CS education. 

Finally, please, please, please take a moment to complete our survey by following the link that will appear on the screen. We really appreciate every single response. We read every single response, and really appreciate you taking the time to provide feedback. This survey link will also be sent out in a follow-up email in case you miss it. 

Thanks, again. We really appreciate everyone’s participation, vulnerability, and joining today’s call. Thank you so much to our speakers, and A Queer Endeavor. Thank you, across this country, for queer youth and educators. 

Scroll to Top