Academic journal article American Journal of Health Education

"Rewind and Replay:" Changing Teachers' Heterosexist Language to Create an Inclusive Classroom Environment

Academic journal article American Journal of Health Education

"Rewind and Replay:" Changing Teachers' Heterosexist Language to Create an Inclusive Classroom Environment

Article excerpt


Objectives: By completing the "Rewind and Replay" activity, participants will: (1) identify heterosexist language in common classroom interactions, (2) discuss underlying heterosexist assumptions embedded in common teacher statements, (3) brainstorm inclusive terms and expressions for use in place of heterosexist language, and (4) verbally practice alternatives to common heterosexist expressions. Target Audience: Pre-K through high school teachers and teacher candidates.


The American Association of Health Education, (1) American School Health Association (2) and the National Association of School Nurses (3) specifically commit to protecting students of all sexual orientations. In 2007, however, a majority of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered and questioning (LGBTQ) students between the ages of 13-18 reported feeling unsafe in school. (4) Eighty-six percent reported being harassed verbally, 73.6% frequently heard derogatory language such as "faggot" or "dyke," and almost half (44%) claimed they had been physically harassed. Although most of the harassment came from other students, more than one-fifth of students reported experiencing what they considered"offensive" LGBTQ language from teachers and staff.

While the school climate for LGBTQ students appears grim, most teachers do not intentionally condone homophobia in the classroom. For example, when asked, 73% of teachers reported that they believe creating a safe environment for all students is a teacher's obligation. (5) Unfortunately, when teachers use heterosexist language in the classroom, they unwittingly contribute to an unsafe learning community. (6,7)

Heterosexism is typically defined as the process by which an individual assumes that everyone is, or should be, heterosexual. (8) Heterosexism can occur both intentionally and unintentionally. Intentional heterosexism in schools occurs when policies or practices limit the rights of LGBTQ students. Some examples include when school personnel: (1) ignore violence against LGBTQ students; (2) prevent LGBTQ students' groups on school campus; (3) allow only heterosexual dates for school-sponsored events; and/or (4) prohibit students from wearing clothing with non-lewd, pro-gay messages. School personnel are warned against such overt instances of heterosexism, and legal case decisions usually have been sided against the school. (9)

Unintentional heterosexism can occur when school personnel use non-inclusive language and, therefore, promote traditional notions of heterosexuality. Most individuals do not realize that emphasizing traditional gender roles is related to heterosexism, yet when gender is defined as a strict dichotomy, the false notion of "opposite sex" is established. Although many educators intuitively realize that boys and girls do not strictly follow stereotypical roles, (i.e., females are emotional and males are rational), they may unintentionally emphasize a false dichotomy of "opposites" to children.

Although it may be tempting for teachers to ignore heterosexism in the classroom, thinking that it only affects a small minority of students, the truth is that heterosexism affects all children. Any time teachers enforce false dichotomies that exist in society, whether based on race, gender, religion and/or sexual orientation, they unwittingly create a "normative" group and an "other" group. Teachers, then, may organize classrooms around the norm (e.g., Whites, men, Christians and heterosexuals). This practice typically teaches children that the norm is valued and that the "others" are, at best, special or, at worst, harmful.

An unsafe environment is serious for LGBTQ students because it can affect those students' educational attainment as well as their emotional and physical well-being. LGBTQ students who report more physical harassment have lower GPAs. The lower GPAs may be due to the fact that 32.8 percent of LGBTQ students reported missing one or more days of school in the past month because they felt unsafe or uncomfortable. …

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