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What can we do in STEM to help LGBTQIA+ students?

Published: Nov 12, 2021 3 min read

Kat Young

Learning Technologist

National STEM Learning Centre

As educators, we know we can (and should) help widen young people’s horizons and increase their aspirations. This week I’m thinking particularly about LGBTQIA+ young people, as November 18th is the International Day of LGBTQIA+ People in STEM, a celebration day started in 2018 by the charitable trust Pride in STEM.
School can be hard for queer youth. The hetero-normativity and cis-normativity (where being heterosexual and cisgender is framed as the “default”) of the curriculum can be overwhelming.  As Mary Hoelscher notes in their blog post “Why (and How) STEM Curriculum Needs to Be LGBT Inclusive” for GLSEN:
“As a bisexual genderqueer person, I never saw or even imagined seeing myself in my classes. Then, in a college genetics class, I learned that there were biologically(!) more than two sexes. Then, in an animal behavior class, I learned that same-sex mating was pretty common in the animal kingdom.”
My experience mirrors Mary’s. I distinctly remember not seeing myself reflected in my lessons. I came out to myself at a fairly young age, but always felt like the odd one out as I couldn’t see people like me anywhere. This is the case for many queer youth.
So what can be done to help make schools and the curriculum more inclusive? What can we do to ensure LGBTQIA kids do see themselves reflected in their lesson content? The Royal Society of Chemistry suggests these four tips but I’d love to know your thoughts too:
1) Using inclusive language and examples
2) Highlighting LGBT scientists
3) Exploring gender stereotypes and barriers to STEM participation
4) Celebrating differences and sharing success
Schools OUT UK are running an event on November 17th titled Exploration of LGBT+ Inclusion in STEM Education which might be of interest. From their event summary:
Who is this event for?
This event is aimed at school teachers or anyone who would like to learn more about why it is important to make STEM education LGBT+ inclusion and ways in which they can do this.
The event
Three speakers will share their experiences of working in their area of STEM and their perspectives on why LGBT+ inclusion STEM education is important. We will also be sharing ways in which you can do this and signposting resources you can use."
Some other resources I’ve collated:
Stonewall has created guides for creating LGBT-inclusive curriculums for primary and secondary, as well as a handy resource search tool.
Pride in STEM has a resources page which includes a series of posters of LGBT+ role models.
Just Like Us resources for schools page includes information about their School Diversity Week initiative in June each year.
Related UK charities and organisations:
I'd love to hear your experiences and examples of LGBTQIA+ scientists - join the discussion on Community here.