Setting the Stage

Inclusion of LGBTQ themes in class discussion and activities is an important piece of an equitable and inclusive education. That being said, there are some important factors to consider when bringing up these themes in the classroom, particularly when doing so for the first time.

Read the document below or view and download a .pdf version by clicking here.

Safer Space is a Process

The concept of “safer space,” is different from “safe space,” and is based around the understanding that no space can be 100% safe for LGBTQ youth all of the time. Whether intentionally or not, there is potential for harmful words or actions within any space, and so in calling a space “safer” we acknowledge the work that needs to be done in any space to help create and maintain an environment which is more safe than the default. This work is an ongoing process, and cannot simply be completed with posters or one-time sensitivity training. LGBTQ safer space requires involving everyone in being attentive to one another’s feelings and actions on an ongoing basis while also monitoring their own.  

Lay the Foundation

Discussion of LGBTQ themes often lead to personal discussion and even revelation.  Creating a safer space for this discussion is important so as to minimize the potential for having a negative impact on participants.  

Here are some things to consider before beginning any discussion or activity: 

a.    Lay out ground rules

Lay out some basic ground rules in terms of respectful discussion or interaction. Write these out and post in a visible space.  Here are some suggestions:

i) Accept absolutely no oppressive language or statements eg. swearing, slurs, personal attacks

ii) Share opinions and feelings in “I” statements, as opposed to generalizations or facts. eg. “I feel like…”, “I experience homophobia when…”,

iii) Respect individuals’ boundaries eg. no interruptions or heckling, everyone has the right to "pass” or not contribute to part of the conversation without being insulted or made fun of

b.    Keep an eye outChances are this is not the first time these youth will be discussing these issues, although it may be the first time in class.  Watch and listen for particular dynamics between students, or notable actions or inactions during the discussion.  Is one student completely silent?  Is another extremely engaged?  Can you see networks of support in action, or networks of bullying?  Observations made here may be helpful in gauging the less obvious element of school safety and inclusiveness, as well as monitoring individual development and challenges. Continue to be aware of student interactions and dynamics after the discussion or activity is finished.

c.    Explain the importance of personal boundariesWhile the goal of this work is to create safer space, it does not always follow that everyone will feel safe in these spaces.  At the same time, it is important to explain to students that what is said in a safer space is not guaranteed to remain there (i.e. it’s very possible that people will talk about what was said at a later point, in other places, with other people).  Encourage students to consider their own personal boundaries and to keep them in mind as they choose what to say and share throughout classroom discussions and activities.  Remind students that if they are unsure about with whom to share personal revelations, they are welcome to speak with you or another safer space facilitator one-on-one.

d.    Make time for follow-upDiscussion of LGBTQ themes can sometimes act as a catalyst inside the classroom, especially if such discussions are happening in school for the first time.  With this in mind, make some time for one-on-one follow-up conversations with any youth who come forward.  Be sure to announce that this is a possibility.e.g. “For anyone who has any questions or wants to discuss these ideas more, you’re welcome to come to office hours during 9am – 10am.”


Learn the Language

The power of language cannot be underestimated. Many individuals within the LGBTQ community can recount the wonder they experienced at learning there was a word that described some previously unnamed aspect of their sexual orientation or gender identity. The existence of a common vocabulary can act as proof that they are not alone. Understanding the language of LGBTQ inclusion is a key element in the work of creating safer and more inclusive school communities. This entails going beyond the basic understanding of what words are offensive and unacceptable, and includes learning the appropriate terminology to refer to different sexual orientations, gender identities, and the language of equity and inclusive education. With this in mind, read over the glossary document found below, and familiarize yourself with the language of LGBTQ inclusion and equity. Once you have a clear understanding of the language, consider sharing this information with your students. Try This Today activity #1 Understanding the Language of the LGBTQ Community offers an activity useful for introducing students to this language as preparation for further lessons in LGBTQ inclusion and equity.

You are not Alone; Utilize and Share your Supports

As an educator, you are not alone in discussing LGBTQ themes in the classroom. Support can come from all levels: Federal and Provincial human rights legislation, provincial Ministries of Education, school boards/districts, community groups and members, students, and other educators. Before discussing these issues in the classroom, take stock of the resources available to you, and consider those that might be suitable to pass on to your students. For instance, is there a GSA or another safe space group in the school? Are there allied teachers who youth can turn to with questions? Are there community youth groups in the city or neighbourhood? Are there regional telephone lines or online communities you could share? Check’s Resource section to find your local support network. Then share that information with your students!

Don’t Stop Now!

It is important to allot time for dedicated and focussed classroom discussion of LGBTQ themes, but once that has happened they can also be addressed in any number of ways. Ask youth to keep ideas of inclusion and safer space with them wherever they go. Consider the opportunities you have to weave LGBTQ narratives into future lessons, discussions and projects, whether that be through media (film, television, print) or through other means, like diversifying examples of families, relationships, and gender categories.