Recently I heard the song “A Little Respect” by Erasure (play it while you read…) and I started thinking about this blog post:
“I try to discover
A little something to make me sweeter
Oh baby refrain from breaking my heart
Soul, I hear you calling
Oh baby please give a little respect to me”
Annually, from September 16-23, GLAAD (Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) recognizes the bisexual+ community for Bisexual Awareness Week, culminating in Celebrate Bisexuality+ Day on September 23.
“Co-founded by GLAAD, Bisexual+ Awareness Week seeks to accelerate acceptance of the bi+ (pansexual, fluid, no label, queer, etc.) community. #BiWeek draws attention to the experiences, while also celebrating the resiliency of, the bisexual+ community. Throughout #BiWeek, allies and bi+ people learn about the history, culture, community, and current policy priorities of bi+ communities. On September 23, GLAAD, the Bisexual Resource Center, and Still Bisexual invite you to participate in Celebrate Bisexuality+ Day, an event promoting bi+ visibility” (GLAAD 2018).
By the time this blog post is published, this celebration will have passed, but I bring it to your attention now because this week is very important to me personally. I am a white cisgender queer-bisexual woman, married to a man, and the mother of two children. In the 15 years that I have been an educator, I have been in the closet. (You can read this blog post I wrote for an EduPrideAlliance, an educator equity group I co-founded.) For most of my life, I have hidden (safely) behind my heterosexual presentation. However, in the last few years, as I have become more involved in my educator and librarian professional organizations, I have seen the importance of coming out professionally and to students. EduPrideAlliance is doing an online book study of One Teacher in Ten in the New Millennium: LBGT Educators Speak Out About What’s Gotten Better and What Hasn’t. In the book, one of the teachers, Andrea Fazel, talks about when she came out to her students.
The walls didn’t come tumbling down. Nothing happened. Except everything happened. I remember feeling instantly lighter and younger. More free. I didn’t talk much at school about being gay, but when it was relevant, I did. More than anything, I stopped feeling like I needed to constantly look over my shoulder. And for the first time I felt comfortable letting my authentic personality come through in interactions with my students. For the first time I was able to just let go and focus on teaching. (Jennings 2015, 49)
I am coming out to bring visibility to other queer school librarians, but also to help school librarians create inclusive environments for LGBTQ students. Because I present as heterosexual, when I do come out, I am often faced with heterosexual misconceptions about bisexuality. Some of those have been:
- I didn’t know bisexual people can be married.
- Since you’re married to a man, do you have a female partner too?
- Do you just like (want to be with, are attracted to) everyone?
- Are you a man?
- Do you have sex with people all the time?
I can say that all of these statements are erroneous. I will also say that just because I am queer, doesn’t mean that I know everything there is to know about the LGBTQ community. Every person and their identity is unique to them. Many school librarians have misconceptions or a general lack of knowledge about gender identity, gender expression, and sexual orientation because our society, education in particular, is cisgendered and heteronormative. Whether we recognize it or not, these misconceptions and lack of knowledge are the biggest barriers to inclusive school libraries. Many of our students (and fellow educators) need visible and real efforts toward inclusivity to feel safe and welcome.
Please give a little respect to me
It’s 2019, as the kids say, and as educators, in schools, we need to understand some basics about the ways in which students can and do identify. Knowing basic information about gender identity, gender expression, and sexual orientation will help us in the following ways:
- Being aware of student pronouns and how students express themselves makes all students feel more comfortable.
- Asking a student their name and pronouns takes the pressure off them to correct you or avoid the library because it makes them uncomfortable.
- Many LGBTQ students are uncomfortable talking about a range of issues unless the teacher or librarian address them in a neutral way first.
- Making heteronormative statements or using gendered terms like “boys” and “girls” on your displays and in directions is not inclusive. Example: “Boys and girls, line up at the door. Ask your mom or dad to help you.” There are many different types of families and gender identities and expressions, and assuming heteronormativity is not inclusive.
- Having a safe and inclusive space means we don’t brush off slurs or jokes about LGBTQ students or colleagues. We need to absolutely not allow students or colleagues to use hate speech or demeaning language in our spaces.
LGBTQ students and colleagues don’t need tokenism; we need allies. Ally is a verb and allies show support for LGBTQ people and promote equality through action. A focus is being placed on the social-emotional needs of our students. As school librarians and educators, it is our job to have a basic knowledge of the identities of the students that walk into our libraries every day. In the slides below, you can explore some of the LGBTQ terms you may not be familiar with. You can also follow teacher Joe Tong on Twitter and Instagram for some amazing GIFs as part of his #The100DayProject. It is up to each of us to educate ourselves about LGBTQ terms and determine what misconceptions we need to correct. Don’t let misconceptions or lack of knowledge about LGBTQ terms be what is keeping us from creating LGBTQ inclusive collections and programming.
Don’t you tell me no
In the first few pages of The 57 Bus by Dashka Slater, the author describes what is about to take place on a public transportation bus. Sixteen-year-old Richard is flicking a lighter near Sasha, a teenager who identifies as agender and who is wearing a gauzy white skirt.
In a moment, Sasha will wake inside a ball of flame and begin to scream. In a moment, everything will be set in motion. Taken by ambulance to a San Francisco burn unit, Sasha will spend the next three and a half weeks undergoing multiple surgeries to treat second- and third-degree burns running from calf to thigh.
Arrested at school the following day, Richard will be charged with two felonies, each with a hate-crime clause that will add time to his sentence if he is convicted. Citing the severity of the crime, the district attorney will charge him as an adult, stripping him of the protections normally given to juveniles. Before the week is out he will be facing the possibility of life imprisonment.
But none of this has happened, yet. For now, both teenagers are just taking the bus home from school.
Surely it’s not too late to stop things from going wrong. There must be some way to wake Sasha. Divert Richard. Get the driver to stop the bus.
There must be something you can do (Slater 2017, 16-17).
Start by reading the books in your own collection. Do an LGBTQ audit of your collection. Do you have books with characters of the full LGBTQ spectrum? Do you have books that are representative of gender nonconforming and gender queer folx*? If not, seek those out. Karen Jensen of Teen Librarian Toolbox has many resources for a diversity audit in this post. *(Folx is an alternative spelling of the word folks, and is a gender neutral collective noun used to address a group of people. Although the term “folks” is already gender-neutral, the ending “-x” on “folx” specifically and explicitly includes and highlights LGBTQ, gender non-conforming, and non-binary people.)
Seek out current and accurate LGBTQ nonfiction so when a student who can’t take “that book” home, sits in the library every day devouring it, they have access to the information that will allow them to come into and accept who they are. Use AASL’s “Defending Intellectual Freedom LGBTQ+ Materials in School Libraries” resource guide if you have concerns or questions about adding LGBTQ books and resources to your school library. Report any challenges to the ALA Office of Intellectual Freedom. My esteemed colleague Sabia Prescott recently wrote a powerful piece for The Advocate describing how “we need to go beyond making schools simply safe for queer and trans kids, and start working to transform them into learning spaces that validate and engage them, personally and intellectually” (2019). LGBTQ students and educators need you to stand up for them and provide a library space where all are represented and respected. For LGBTQ equality we need everyone to extend it and demand it.
From One Teacher in Ten, Ryan Ambuter stated why each of us wants to be seen:
A series of contradictions make me visible in the classroom every day, and that visibility matters. Through my teaching, my activism, I try to show that there are many ways to do gender, many ways to identify as anything, and no one is more legitimate or worthy than another. I chose to be authentic and unapologetic in the classroom, and I hope that makes it a little easier for my students to be themselves too (Jennings 2015, 22).
Erasure’s song reminds us that even if we haven’t been as intentional about LGBTQ inclusiveness as we can, it is time to open up our spaces to everyone.
“And if I should falter
Would you open your arms out to me
We can make love not war
And live at peace with our hearts”
I would like to give a special thanks to my students who spoke to me about what’s important to them and gave me feedback on this post. I see you. I’m here for you.
Resources for LGBTQ Books
- Book Riot LGBTQ Books: https://bookriot.com/?s=LGBTQ
- Stonewall Book Award: http://www.ala.org/rt/glbtrt/award/stonewall
- ALA Rainbow Book List: https://glbtrt.ala.org/rainbowbooks/rainbow-books-lists
- I’m Queer I’m Here, What the Hell Do I Read: https://www.leewind.org/
- School Library Journal LGBTQ Resources: https://www.slj.com/?global_search=LGBTQ
- Social Justice LGBTQ Books: https://socialjusticebooks.org/booklists/lgbtq/
- Queer Book for Teens: http://queerbooksforteens.com/resources/
GLAAD. 2018. “#BiWeek 2019: Celebrate Bisexuality+.” https://www.glaad.org/biweek2019 (accessed Sept. 20, 2019).
Human Rights Campaign. 2019. “Glossary of Terms.” https://www.hrc.org/resources/glossary-of-terms (accessed Sept. 29, 2019).
AASL. 2019. “Defending Intellectual Freedom: LGBTQ+ Materials in School Libraries.” https://standards.aasl.org/project/lgbtq/ (accessed Sept. 30, 2019).
EduPrideAlliance. 2019. Edupridealliance.org. https://www.edupridealliance.org/home (accessed Sept. 30, 2019).
Erasure. 2010. “A Little Respect (Official Video).” YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RiKVjS3gR88 (accessed Sept. 30, 2019).
“Folx (term).” 2019. En.wikipedia.org. Retrieved 30 September 2019, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Folx_(term) (accessed Sept. 30, 2019)
Human Rights Campaign. 2019. “The Equality Act.” https://www.hrc.org/resources/the-equality-act (accessed Sept. 30, 2019)
Jennings, Kevin. 2015. One Teacher in Ten in the New Millennium: LGBT Educators Speak Out about What’s Gotten Better and What Hasn’t. Boston: Beacon Press.
Jensen, Karen. 2019. “Beyond the Collection Diversity Audit: Inclusion Is More Than a Book, Why We Should Be Auditing All of Our Library Services for Inclusion and Best Practices.” School Library Journal (Mar. 20). http://www.teenlibrariantoolbox.com/2019/03/beyond-the-collection-diversity-audit-inclusion-is-more-than-a-book-why-we-should-be-auditing-all-of-our-library-services-for-inclusion-and-best-practices/ (accessed Sept. 30, 2019).
Prescott, Sabia. 2019. “Why We Are Still Failing LGBTQ Students.” Advocate.com. https://www.advocate.com/commentary/2019/9/10/why-we-are-still-failing-lgbtq-students (accessed Sept. 30, 2019).
Slater, Dashka. 2017. 57 Bus: A True Story of Two Teenagers and the Crime That Changed Their Lives. New York: Farrar Straus Giroux Books for Young Readers.
Tong, Joe. 2019. Twitter. https://twitter.com/teachertong/status/1142840226248704000 (accessed Sept. 30, 2019).
Author: Nancy Jo Lambert
Nancy Jo Lambert is a Google Certified Trainer and high school teacher librarian in Frisco Independent School District at Reedy High School. She is a presenter advocating for libraries by telling the story of the learning happening in her library. She holds positions in the Texas Library Association, Texas Computer Education Association, American Library Association, American Association of School Librarians, and the Texas Association of School Librarians. She has been published in professional journals and won numerous awards and grants and was named TCEA Library Media Specialist of the Year and the American Association of School Librarians Social Media Superstar Curriculum Champion in 2019. She is co-founder of EduPrideAlliance.org and she is known for sharing her professional work on Twitter @NancyJoLambert and her website reedylibrary.com.