Increasing LGBTQIA+ representation, visibility, and sense of belonging in my language classroom

One year not too long ago, I decided to take a hard look at my curriculum and increase LGBTQ+ representation, visibility, and sense of belonging. There was LGBTQ+ erasure going on at my school and I decided my classroom would be a safe space for my LGBTQ+ students to feel seen in a school that did not see them, and also for my straight and cis students to engage or just listen in. Obviously, you don’t just declare a classroom “safe”, your curriculum must reflect your intent.


In level 1, when my students and I co-created characters, I got into the habit of asking “What kind of family does s/he have?” How many fathers?” “How many mothers?”, and this is how Pixar the lamp was created. He is an adorable little lamp with two fathers.

6/23/2021 update: In a very useful and powerful thread, Adrienne Brandenburg cautions us when doing this kind of storytelling: 1) if we are cishet teachers, we need to have done some questioning of our own heteronormative biases 2) we need to be ready to have difficult conversations and for potential pushback from students/parents.

The INTERRUPT – QUESTION – EDUCATE – ECHO model by Learning for Justice helps teachers respond to everyday bias. From personal experience, it is very hard to respond adequately and eloquently in the moment when your heart is racing a thousand miles a minute but I have also found that the more I practice responding, the easier it gets. Never ignoring, always responding is the key, even if it is clumsy at first. That particular school year at the school that was erasing LGBTQ+ students, one of my students approached me to say she always felt safe in my class. It is not about how eloquent we are, but about how consistent we are.


In level 2, we talk about francophone families using a beautiful info-graphic from Quebec with all kinds of families represented to compare and contrast Quebec families with US families.


With all my levels, we talked about Bilal Hassani, a young queer singer, who represented France at the Eurovision music contest last year. We read about the homophobia directed toward him and how he chose to embrace his identity. My students absolutely adored his song “Roi” and we followed his journey through the contest. Here is the Lesson Plan.


Last year, we did not have any LGBTQ language readers but thanks to three independent authors, we will now be able to also provide more choice during Sustained Silent Reading time. Please note, none of these books are #OwnVoices:

La Lettre, by Terri Marrama (LLLAB review)

Julio, by Adrian Ramirez

Les Trois Amis, by Jennifer Degenhardt

There is also the fabulous book “Drama” by Raina Telgemeier, available in Spanish and French:

11/9/2020 update: USE OF PRONOUNS

This school year, we are using the gender neutral pronoun “iel” with my Novice learners via the creation of class characters. This came about naturally when my students created a tiny purple cow called Pablo, and kept asking: “but is it a male or a female?” I simply told them we did not have to choose and Pablo could be “iel”:


As I continue to grow, I have been reading/following a few blogs which have supported the creation of several resources for my students. I highly recommend your read/follow them:
“Thématiques LGBTQIA+ et féministes depuis la perspective d’une personne trans non-binaire bi.”“Divergenres est un organisme qui effectue de l’éducation et de la démystification au sujet de la pluralité des genres et plus particulièrement au sujet des personnes transgenres, non-binaires, queers, intersexes et non conformes de genre. Divergenres offre aussi de l’accompagnement pour les personnes en questionnement.”“Toward trans-affirming language pedagogies.”

In my book Camille, the main protagonist uses inclusive language when she posts on social media. This reflects my own growth in trying to change the way I write in order to be more inclusive. At the time, Divergenres was really helpful for me to create a short text in inclusive language.

Specifically for the classroom, I created thanks to La vie en queer a quick reference sheet for my students. Feel free to use/adapt.

This lesson on personality features celebrities who identify as male, female, and non-binary. This allowed my students to see how these adjectives are used in French. My students had already seen “iel” several times in stories. As a CI teacher, I don’t delve into grammar, especially with Novice students, but the timing felt right for a deeper look at how language works. It was so rewarding to see how engaged they were. Feel free to use/adapt. Note: the lesson was created for a virtual classroom.

As a French woman, it is striking how sexist my mother tongue is and I have been working for years to increase my usage of women-friendly terms in my own language by using terms like doctoresse (a word my grandmother used to use and that always stuck with me), professeure, auteure, etc. and pointing out to my students sexist grammar rules like male gender agreement for a group including only one male, or using “ma femme” (literally “my woman”) to say “my wife”, etc. So why would I not want to continue this journey by using terms that include EVERYONE? is helping me better choose my words when I speak French. There is definitely a lot of unlearning going on and there is some resistance by colleagues who are also native speakers but I am personally really glad for the journey. Using “une personne” instead of “une femme” or “un homme” or paraphrasing is actually not that hard, especially for a language teacher. The more we do it, the easier it gets.

There are so many more ways to increase LGBTQIA+ representation, visibility, and sense of belonging; my personal work is far from being done. If you have resources you use in your classrooms, please do share in the comments, as I want to keep growing in this area and keep adding to my curriculum. Thanks in advance!


  1. Hi Cecile!
    Thank you for sharing this post!
    What age group are you teaching?
    And are you doing any Story Listening on this topic? If so, what stories have you used?
    I think about this topic sometimes when I’m telling a story, especially an old fairy tale, and there is always a mother and a father (if both parents are still alive!). Or when I draw a “girl” and put a dress on her and give her long hair, so they understand what I mean.
    We actually had a student in 3rd grade transition (not physically, of course) this year, and I want to be sensitive to her. If you have any further suggestions, I’m all ears!
    Merci! & Danke!

    • Kate, Megan and I have been doing a lot of thinking on Story Listening lately. When you tell fairy tales, legends, and old folk tales, they tend to be very hetero-normative. I am compiling a list of #LGBTQ+ and gender neutral stories for Story Listening. I am not done yet but I will share when I am finished. This is why I did not put it in yet. I already have a small list of stories for Elem, which I would be happy to share with you.

  2. I purposely will use the gender neutral names and adjectives in Spanish. I am curious if these exist in French and what they are. I know that in Spanish there are a couple of options. I have used -x because that is what I mostly see in the media.

    • Thanks Maris! I wish it was as easy as adding an -x or -@ in French. I have been reading about neutral language in French, and while I have been using it as much as possible when I write “loaded” terms (E.g. un.e ami.e), it is difficult orally. So, I resort to saying “un ou une ami.e”.

Leave a Reply to marishawkinsCancel reply