This post was written by National Geographic Certified Educator, Ace Schwarz.
I came out as trans/non-binary in 2019, my fifth year of teaching. After 25 years of feeling not quite at home in my own identity, I finally felt this epic confidence that comes with truly understanding yourself. I never had any queer role models in school, so it has always been super important that I am authentically me with my students.
We tend to box folks into two genders: male and female. This is what’s known as the gender binary. Trans and non-binary identities are not new; in fact, they’ve existed for hundreds of years. Many countries and cultures have more than two genders, including Muxes (Mexico), Waria (Indonesia), and Two Spirit (Indigenous Peoples of Turtle Island), just to name a few. The terms “transgender” and “non-binary” are both fairly new in the US context, but again, these identities have always existed. It’s super important to remember that we can’t know someone’s gender or pronouns by their physical appearance or name.
I never assume students’ names and pronouns, and on the first day of school, I give them a Get to Know You sheet that asks for this information privately. Outside of school, I use social media to educate teachers, administrators, and caregivers on LGBTQ+ inclusive practices. Since people knew that I asked for names and pronouns, they asked me to show how I do this. I took a picture of the sheet and shared it on Instagram. It was a simple, plain, half-sheet of paper that I created on Google Docs.
Asking for someone’s name and pronouns may seem so simple, but it is an important step to being more inclusive. When we ask, we tell students that we aren’t making assumptions about who they are or how they want to be referred to in class. It also gives students who may be figuring out their identities a comfortable and private way to share. This would have made a massive difference for me in school, and I think I would have figured out some things about myself much sooner.
While hearing from adults who want to build more inclusive classrooms is awesome, I think the best response has come from my students. I think we often underestimate the power of visibility. I had quite a few students come out to me at my school and via messages on Instagram, which is such a beautiful gift to receive. Non-binary students also said they’d never known “a non-binary adult,” and they weren’t sure they could picture themselves in the future. If that isn’t a call to be more inclusive and make space for all of our students, I don’t know what is.
If creating LGBTQ+ inclusive classrooms is new to you, it can feel very overwhelming, especially if you are not part of the community. Here are a few incredible educators and resources that can help: