Inclusive Education for Diversity, Anti-Oppression, Critical Pedagogy

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This module focuses on inclusive education for diversity, equity, and anti-oppression, including courses that focus on inclusive equity practices, anti-oppressive education, social justice, human rights and diversity, contested or controversial issues in education, affirming education, and social and cultural contexts in schools. The material contained in this module is not exhaustive, and there is a great deal of content that may be delivered throughout teacher education programs; it is worth reviewing other modules to see where and how additional material addressing 2SLGBTQ+-expansive education is located.

Note: We recognize that inclusive education courses often focus on exceptional learners or “special needs” learners, including topics such as physical and sensory disabilities, neurodiversity, affective and behavioural differences, etc. 2SLGBTQ+-expansive content can be included in these courses as well, as 2SLGBTQ+ students can certainly have diverse needs in their abilities, learning styles, and in their classroom experiences. We have included some of this content here alongside content that focuses more on anti-oppression and social justice approaches.

What does it mean to queer inclusive education courses for diversity and anti-oppression?

  • Including accurate content regarding 2SLGBTQ+ identities that seeks to expand teacher candidates’ understandings of sexuality and gender, and to more deeply understand how heteronormativity and cisnormativity affect all people. 
  • Re-orienting teacher candidates’ understandings of inclusive practices toward more expansive queering and anti-oppressive pedagogies. Challenge teacher candidates to move beyond simplistic notions of inclusion and diversity to counter oppression and realize the transformative potential of education to change how 2SLGBTQ+ people participate in schools and society. Inclusion and diversity are important, but they are just the beginning of meaningfully challenging social oppression. Shifting from “inclusive” approaches to “expansive” ones that more proactively and comprehensively address social oppressions can be useful in this regard.
  • Understanding inequity and normativity regarding 2SLGBTQ+ people and the relationship between the two. Inclusive education ultimately requires a thorough examination of the processes of normativity by which, for example, cisgender identities have become naturalized as superior to transgender ones, white to Black, heterosexuality to homosexuality, etc., with attendant rights, priorities, and privileges in our schools, societies, and psyches. Normativity functions to “make normal” certain ways of being while marginalizing others, and thereby “others” individuals and confers certain privileges and perpetuates inequity within schools and society. This process can often be seen operating within the gender binary, compulsory heterosexuality, colonization, white supremacy, etc.
  • Including 2SLGBTQ+ content in intersectional approaches, and particularly highlighting 2S and Indigenous LGBTQ+ identities and Indigenous knowledges, ways of knowing, and approaches to education. Content should go beyond merely addressing homophobia, heterosexism, and genderism/sexism, and also seek to counter the impact of colonialism, racism, and other forms of social oppression 2SLGBTQ+ people face, such as ableism, classism, ageism, etc. Indigenous worldviews, knowledges, and languages offer approaches and understandings that can shift the paradigm from inclusion to more expansive, relational worldviews (e.g., Wilson & Laing, 2019). 
  • Seeing content that focuses on 2SLGBTQ+ identities and gender/sexuality content as inherently valuable in teaching approaches and educational practices. Anti-oppressive education seeks to challenge dominant ideologies, and for 2SLGBTQ+ content this involves challenging heteronormativity and cisgender normativity, and ensuring that pedagogical practices include 2SLGBTQ+ identities in their approach (e.g., using inclusive language, queering pedagogies, etc.). Sometimes the best that can be done is finding ways to include 2SLGBTQ+ content (as these modules are doing)—and even this has benefits for students—but there are opportunities to go beyond mere inclusion to actively transforming teaching and learning (see Guidelines for queering approaches for more on this).
  • Identifying how queer, trans-affirming, and Indigiqueering pedagogies can be useful for classroom teaching, curricular development, and professional practice. It is useful to acknowledge that teachers are expected to do a lot, and addressing equity and diversity can feel like adding another item to an overcrowded curriculum. Demonstrating concrete and practical ways that 2SLGBTQ+ content and queer/trans-affirming and Indigenous pedagogies are relevant, both in developing curriculum and providing strategies for addressing resistant students, colleagues, and community members.

Why do we need to do this?

  • Inclusive education courses are a natural home for 2SLGBTQ+-expansive content. There is a real need for teacher candidates to understand why it is important to include 2SLGBTQ+ identities and topics in the classroom and to find ways to do so in meaningful ways that incorporate anti-homo/bi/transphobia, anti-racist, and decolonizing approaches. Inclusion is a good starting place for these discussions, and school systems are working to establish these approaches in formal institutional settings across Canada, but anti-oppressive education that addresses 2SLGBTQ+ content goes beyond mere inclusion to transformative queer and trans-affirming pedagogies. 
  • 2SLGBTQ+ people are present throughout the population, including queer and trans students of various racialized identities and ethnicities, abilities (e.g., different perceptual abilities, affective disorders, autism spectrum), cultures, languages, and backgrounds. Too often, inclusive educational approaches neglect the need for intersectional and anti-oppressive approaches that address social inequity for all learners.
    • Just because a student isn’t out or hasn’t identified as 2SLGBTQ+ doesn’t mean that they aren’t present in the classroom; often a student will assess whether it’s safe to disclose and be visible before they do so. This may be particularly relevant for those with intersectional identities as, for instance, people with affective disorders or those who have difficulty communicating or understanding social situations may be presumed to be heterosexual or cisgender (i.e., compulsory heterosexuality presumes all people are heterosexual unless they “come out” or disclose otherwise; the gender binary operates on a dichotomous system, rather than recognizing gender identity/expression as a spectrum or constellation), and they may face additional barriers in disclosing as a result.
  • Affirming the relevance and practical uses of 2SLGBTQ+-expansive education. While discussions of education’s relevance are dominated by discussions of best practices and performance-based outcomes, innovative and alternative pedagogies are often neglected or considered “distractions” from academic attainment. Showing how 2SLGBTQ+ expansive education, particularly queer, Indigenous, and trans-affirming pedagogies, is a useful pedagogical and practical approach that can transform a teacher’s practice.

How do we do it?

  • Integrate 2SLGBTQ+ identities and content throughout courses, including introducing conceptualizations of intersectional identities. Avoid treating sexuality and gender as separate or separable topics that are independent of discussions of other forms of oppression based on race/ethnicity, disability, socioeconomic status and class, religion and language, and so forth. For instance, heteronormativity and cisnormativity work in mutually reinforcing systems of oppression interlocking with racism, colonialism, classism, disability, and so forth (e.g., Asher, 2007; Duke, 2011; Kumashiro, 2002; Wilson, 2015). Take an intersectional stance when speaking about 2SLGBTQ+ content. Consider the ways that “social issues” are often presented or discussed as discrete categories of diversity or inclusion, and challenge those ways of thinking to help teacher candidates understand how gender, sexuality, race, disability, class, and language act as intersecting systems of oppression and privilege (e.g., Asher, 2007; Gutmann Kahn & Lindstrom, 2015; Wilson, 2008).
    • Orient course delivery to address the experiences of racialized 2SLGBTQ+ people. Include Two-Spirit and Indigiqueer people (e.g., Robinson, 2014; Wilson, 1996, 2008) and centre conversations using Indigenous knowledges about body sovereignty, self-governance and education, and decolonizing teacher education. Include content that focuses on the experiences of 2SLGBTQ+ Black students and students of colour (e.g., Bartone, 2019; Brockenbrough, 2013; McCready, 2004). 
    • Include content that focuses on 2SLGBTQ+ students with disabilities, and consider how 2SLGBTQ+ identities may be impacted by or influence emotional-behaviour disabilities, physical or perceptual disabilities, learning disabilities, cognitive and affective disabilities, and so forth (Arrieta & Palladino, 2015; Duke, 2011; Goldstein, 2019; Gutmann Kahn & Lindstrom, 2015; Miller & Smith, 2020; Morgan et al., 2011; Pyne, 2020; Thompson, 2008, 2012; Toft & Franklin, 2020a, 2020b).
    • Enable teacher candidates to address their own biases, misconceptions, and privilege regarding 2SLGBTQ+ identities, and encourage them to understand how heteronormativity and cisnormativity operate. Engage students using self-reflection or autoethnography assignments to critically engage with theoretical readings on sexuality, gender, and identity, as well as intersections of race, class, culture, religion, and so forth (e.g., Asher, 2007; Vavrus, 2009). This can be a particularly helpful enactment of praxis to bring theory and pedagogy together, and it can help engage students in transformational education that gives them an opportunity to confront their own biases, misconceptions, or resistance to 2SLGBTQ+-expansive education.
  • Use queer pedagogy/theory to develop understandings of inclusive education that go beyond inclusion to meaningfully challenge normative conceptions of gender and sexuality. Queer pedagogy has been explained as a form of education praxis “implemented deliberately to interfere with, to intervene in the production of ‘normalcy’ in schooled subjects” (Bryson & de Castell, 1993, p. 299; see also, Bellini, 2012; Britzman, 1995). Use queer pedagogy to examine how educational practices systemically reinforce status-quo normativities, such as the gender binary and compulsory heterosexuality, and reinforce the status-quo through performative inclusion practices (e.g., Letts & Sears, 1999; Mayo & Rodriguez, 2019; Martino & Cumming-Potvin, 2019; Pixar, 1998; Rodriguez & PInar, 2007; Vavrus, 2009; Villaverde & Stachowiak, 2019). Demonstrate through course design and classroom activities for teacher candidates ways to meaningfully challenge normative conceptions of learning/teaching (such as developing grading criteria with student input, offering assignment options for credit, etc.).
    • Challenge homonormativities and essentialized conceptions of 2SLGBTQ+ identities that limit the expression of queer or trans identities, including discussions of race/white privilege in narratives of queer/trans people. Consider how the “white-washing” of 2SLGBTQ+ people affects the ability of 2S people, Indigenous LGBTQ+ people, and people of colour to find belonging in queer communities. Also, it is necessary to consider how narratives of safety in schools, which frame 2SLGBTQ+ people as victims or inherently “at-risk,” reinforce marginalization of 2SLGBTQ+ identities. Interrogate the notion that conformity to heteronormative and gender-normative ideals of relationships/behaviours is a necessary condition for inclusion/acceptance of 2SLGBTQ+ people (Bryson & de Castell, 1993; Jennings, 2015; Wilson, 2008). 
    • Consider how asexuality, bisexuality, pansexuality are often erased within discussions of 2SLGBTQ+ identities (Elia, 2014; Lapointe, 2017; Robinson, 2014). Challenge the misconceptions that dismiss bisexuality by assuming it to be “easier” because more traditional notions of heterosexual relationships can be approximated, or by treating it as a “phase” or temporary identity on the path to coming out; interrogate how conventional attitudes/normativities toward sex, monogamy, and relationships work to marginalize bisexual and pansexual identities. Examine the dominant assumptions about sexuality and how sexual attraction and behaviour are influenced by media and societal expectations and how those who identify as asexual are often not believed, are questioned, and marginalized. 
  • Adopt an anti-oppressive approach when addressing 2SLGBTQ+ content and when looking at interrogating and dismantling oppressive power relations and social dynamics. Enact anti-oppressive pedagogies—such as Kumashiro’s (2002) conceptualization of education for the other, education about the other, education that is critical of privileging and othering, and education that changes students and society—to provoke teacher candidates to look at different ways of engaging their students and addressing social inequity and diversity.
    • Interrogate key terms, such as “discrimination,” “inclusion,” or “diversity” and engage teacher candidates in re-thinking these terms to understand the dynamics of social oppression. For example, in their article “How to uphold white supremacy by focusing on diversity and inclusion,” Kẏra (2014) puts forward the argument that when we talk about diversity and inclusion, we necessarily put marginalized identities in the position of needing to assimilate into the dominant culture—rather than naming social oppressions and challenging structures of domination. 
  • Centre discussions of Indigenous knowledge, particularly for Two-Spirit and Indigenous LGBTQ+ people, that not only address historical injustices but also affirm the current vibrancy and ongoing lives, histories, and work of Indigenous peoples. Address the ways that colonization has actively undermined and targeted Indigenous knowledges, experiences, and communities (Wilson, 2015); connect historical actions, such as residential schools, to current realities related to intergenerational trauma, marginalization of Two-Spirit people and colonial conceptions of binary gender and compulsory heterosexuality, and societal/cultural systems of oppression. Re-centre Indigenous ways of knowing about gender and sexuality as ways to both challenge colonial notions of binary gender and sexuality, such as Wilson’s (2015) discussion of “coming in” as a way of discussing Two-Spirit people’s connection to Indigenous culture and ways of knowing about gender and sexuality (as distinct from “coming out”). Indigenous education practices should extend beyond learning “about” Indigenous peoples and seek to “recogniz[e] and validat[e] Indigenous knowledge, knowledge systems, languages, self-determination, and sovereignty” (Wilson & Laing, 2019, pp. 138–139). (Note: Two-Spirit Elders and Indigenous LBGTQ+ people are important guest speakers on 2SLGBTQ+ topics; be sure to observe protocols in inviting them and offer appropriate gifts/honoraria.)
  • Address institutional and societal forms of oppression for 2SLGBTQ+ people and content in schools. Schools have historically silenced conversations about or erased the presence of 2SLGBTQ+ people/content, which has reinforced dominant notions that sexuality and gender diversity is not suitable material in education. Developing understandings of how histories of inequity (e.g., heteronormativity, cisnormativity, colonialism) shape current realities for marginalized people—including 2SLGBTQ+, Indigenous, racialized, and other groups—is necessary in meaningfully addressing equity and diversity in education. Address the silencing/erasure and stigmatization of 2SLGBTQ+ identities and content in education, and discuss the ways that silence is not “neutral” but serves to reinforce historical silencing of 2SLGBTQ+ content as being “unspeakable” in schools and works to marginalize and stigmatize 2SLGBTQ+ content (DePalma & Atkinson, 2006; Ahuja et al., 2015; Jennings, 2015; Macgillivray & Jennings, 2008). Interrupting these marginalizing discourses of silence and stigma can benefit all students in understanding the socially constructed nature of sexuality and gender.
    • Develop critical conversations about the purpose of education, particularly thinking about the vital role of social equity, and consider how funding/resourcing of schools enables or inhibits these goals. For example, social equity is often framed as an issue of safety for 2SLGBTQ+ people in schools that, when addressed, enables 2SLGBTQ+ people equal opportunity to learn and “succeed” in school; the benefit in this narrative is construed in singular terms and is performance oriented for 2SLGBTQ+ students; it presumes education’s main goal is school attainment and students’ academic success (as exemplified by emphasis on best practices and outcomes-based learning, and the goal of creating “productive members of society” in learning relevant vocational skills). However, less attention is given to outcomes related to expanding students’ understandings of social oppression, inequity, and marginalization and to challenging social oppression in proactive ways to transform students’ understandings of sexuality and gender. 
  • Challenge teacher candidates to transform their teaching philosophies using queer and trans-affirming pedagogies. Prompt students to engage in praxis-oriented exercises or reflections on how 2SLGBTQ-expansive principles and theory will affect their practice, and encourage teacher candidates to see how education relates to social transformation beyond academic attainment or employability. It is particularly helpful to have students reflect on their own positions of power and privilege in teaching, as well as seeking to develop broader understandings of intersectional identities within educational settings.

Teaching Activities

  • Curricular development using queer pedagogy. Have teacher candidates develop a lesson plan or curriculum unit from their grade/subject of choice, working to deliver their material using aspects of queer pedagogy. Prompt students to consider how their lesson/unit addresses 2SLGBTQ+ content and how it utilizes queer pedagogy—and have them include their reasoning in the lesson plan rationale/outcomes. Challenge teacher candidates to not only find ways to include 2SLGBTQ+ content and students, but also to challenge normative practices that contribute to the erasure and stigmatization of 2SLGBTQ+ people in schools. Possible questions or requirements for the lesson plan may include thinking about the rationale for the lesson/unit, which theory or concepts they use, the learning outcomes they hope to achieve, how this lesson fits within the larger grade level or unit objectives, possible limitations in the content, areas where there may be challenging questions or opportunities to go deeper, etc. Teacher candidates may also think about the bigger questions of 2SLGBTQ+-expansive schooling and consider what it means to build queer-friendly schools, classrooms, and curricula. Encourage them to think beyond singular dimensions of identity (e.g., 2SLGBTQ+ students may have a disability and their experience of being 2SLGBTQ+ will be accordingly impacted by being further marginalized, not knowing how to “come out,” or possibly being denied recognition or legitimacy of this identity because of their disability).
    • A variation on this exercise could be to develop a “personal learning plan” or adapted curricular delivery for a 2SLGBTQ+ student (or any student) that ensures anti-oppressive measures are followed (this exercise could also queer an existing student’s learning plan). The idea being that personal learning plans are intended to be responsive to the specific learning or behavioural needs of students, and there may be ways that anti-oppressive approaches—whether queer or trans-affirming pedagogical approaches, decolonizing approaches and centring Indigenous knowledges, or anti-racist approaches—can be more responsive to learner needs (e.g., Arrieta & Pallandino, 2015). Prompt teacher candidates to think about how 2SLGBTQ+-expansive content is relevant for all students and how intersectionality may impact their assumptions about what content is relevant or their approaches to teaching. 
  • Foster teacher candidates’ development of teaching philosophy statements that involve queering, decolonizing, and anti-racist pedagogies. In teacher education, teacher candidates are learning about what their personal and professional philosophy toward teaching/learning is, just as much as they are learning how to “do” it by developing skills and pedagogical understandings. Challenge students to expand their own understandings and values regarding education in their personal teaching philosophies, including questioning how value is often conflated with economizing/monetization of education (e.g., funding for best practices). Encourage students to queer their own perspectives and question normative practices that are often uninterrogated or taken as “given” in education. Centre anti-oppressive approaches—including queering, trans-informed, Indigiqueering, anti-racist, and so on—in discussions about personal philosophies of teaching to prompt students to move beyond normative conceptualizations of education. Self-reflection assignments can be helpful for these objectives, as well as using more involved autoethnographic writing that prompts students to identify/explain theoretical readings from the course and connect it to their teaching philosophy and understandings of education.