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Creating Inclusive Classrooms by Curating LGBTQ-Friendly Libraries

By Cody Miller
 | May 03, 2017
LGBTQ-Friendly LibrariesAs we prepare to convene for the ILA 2017 Conference & Exhibits in Orlando, FL, this July, we must not ignore the horror that the city faced over a year ago at Pulse nightclub, when LGBTQ individuals celebrating at Latin Night were massacred by an armed man. The tragedy, which took the lives of 49 people, will be written in American history as one of hatred and horror.

We cannot pretend that the oppression LGBTQ individuals face, especially LGBTQ individuals of color, is unique to the past. Our society and our schools frequently replicate homophobia and transphobia through policies, curriculum, and instruction. If we are to honor the lives of those lost at the Pulse nightclub shooting, then we must do better by our LGBTQ students. 

We are educators, and to ignore the power we hold to shape inclusive and supportive environments for LGBTQ students would be to relinquish professional responsibility. The attack on LGBTQ individuals isn’t relegated to the Pulse nightclub. The Trump Administration's efforts to curtail protections for transgender students represents state-sanctioned discrimination. But oppression doesn’t come just in the forms of a presidential pen stroke and a loaded gun; the silencing of LGBTQ voices within our classrooms and curricula is another, more implicit, form of oppression. 

As literacy educators, our classrooms must honor the rich panoply of voices and experiences within the LGBTQ community. Like all human beings, LGBTQ individuals live in the spaces intersecting multiple identities that include race, religion, socioeconomic status, gender identity, sex, and other identities.

Overwhelmingly, the victims of the Pulse massacre were Latinx LGBTQ individuals. The field of young adult literature is increasingly reflecting this intersectional reality with texts that center on lesbian Muslim protagonists like If You Could Be Mine (Algonquin) and Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel (Algonquin) by Sara Farizan; narratives focusing on Latinx LGBTQ experiences like Adam Silvera’s More Happy Than Not (Soho), Benjamin Alire Sáenz’s Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe (Simon & Schuster), Gabby Rivera’s Juliet Takes a Breath (Riverdale Avenue), and Charles Rice-Gonzalez’s Chulito (Magnus); LGBTQ African American stories like Jacqueline Woodson’s After Tupac and D Foster (Speak) and The House You Pass on the Way (Puffin); and LGBTQ immigration stories like Paul Yee’s Money Boy (Groundwood). 

These are just some texts that honor the multiple identities and experiences LGBTQ individuals live. Yet our classrooms have not caught up. To relegate LGBTQ content to one or two texts during the span of a curriculum is to send the message that LGBTQ voices only matter minimally and only at a certain time in the year. To exclude LGBTQ texts is to send the message that LGBTQ voices do not matter at all. 

Let us not forget the names and stories of those whose lives were tragically cut short on June 12, 2016. Let us honor them every day by centering these marginalized voices.

Cody Miller HeadshotCody Miller is the ninth-grade English language arts teacher at P.K. Yonge Developmental Research School, the K–12 laboratory school affiliated with the University of Florida’s College of Education. In addition to teaching, Miller is a Ph.D. student studying English education at the University of Florida. His teaching and research focus on the various ways students construct their identities in ELA classrooms, with a specific emphasis on how young adult literature influences students’ worldviews and meaning-making capacities.

Cody Miller, along with Kathleen Colantonio-Yurko, Danling Fu, and Jungyoung Park, will be presenting a panel discussion titled “Check Your Pulse: Creating LGBTQ-inclusive Classrooms Through Literature Studies” at the ILA 2017 Conference & Exhibits, held in Orlando, FL, July 15–17. For more information, download the ILA 2017 Conference & Exhibits app or visit ilaconference.org/app.

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