Skip to main content
Queen Mary Academy

A conversation on diversity: LGBTQ+ inclusivity in the language classroom

A hand holding a rainbow flag
Photo by Ian Taylor on Unsplash
Dr David Rodríguez-Velasco

Dr David Rodríguez-Velasco

Lecturer in Spanish Language and Culture

An inclusive curriculum reflects the diversity of individuals and their experiences and allows for the understanding of different experiences and perspectives among those with varying identities. It is crucial for academics to create a safe and inclusive learning environment that supports and empowers LGBTQ+ students to help them thrive and reach their full potential.

The visibility and representation of the LGBTQ+ community in the second language teaching process have received little attention. Most class materials tend to adhere to heteronormative standards, where heterosexual relationships are portrayed as an unmarked and undetectable sexual identity that is seamlessly integrated into the curriculum. This bias reinforces cultural norms at the expense of same-gender relationships. This phenomenon is closely related to the concept of the “hidden curriculum”, which is comprised of implicit messages, unwritten rules, unspoken expectations, unofficial norms, behaviours, and values that are present in the dominant cultural context. Even though these expectations and assumptions are not formally conveyed, they dictate the appropriate way to think, speak, and behave. To achieve academic success for all of our students, it is crucial for educators to comprehend, recognize and learn from the hidden curriculum and adapt our resources when necessary.

Scholars have emphasized the vulnerable and precarious situation that LGBTQ+ students often find themselves in due to covert mechanisms of discrimination and invisibility, which are often unintentional (Cech and Rothwell, 2018; Couture and Bang, 2022). Other scholars, such as Arnold (2006), Linnenbrink (2007) or Gupta, Ashwin, and Guddeti (2019), also have highlighted the significant role of affectivity in student behaviour and the teaching-learning process. An unsupportive and unwelcoming educational environment for LGBTQ+ students, where they cannot express themselves freely for fear of not fitting in, can lead, not only to increased stress levels and reduced learning, but also a possible disinterest in the module, and lower attendance, which ultimately can affect their academic prospects. Therefore, it is crucial for academics to create a safe and inclusive learning environment that supports and empowers LGBTQ+ students to help them thrive and reach their full potential.

Responding to a need

Although universities and publishers have made progress in advancing equality for the LGBTQ+ community in recent years, representation of the community in language materials is still limited and often confined to specific topics or events, such as Pride Month or discussions about human rights, homophobia, and transphobia. To promote a safe and inclusive learning environment for LGBTQ+ students in the Language Centre, it is important not only to increase the portrayal of the community in seminars and workshops but also to understand the students' perspectives and experiences regarding LGBTQ+ visibility in the academic setting. This case study aims to facilitate a discussion about the inclusivity of course materials and to assess students' experiences with LGBTQ+ inclusivity in higher education.

An image showing an example of class materials with photos and text in Spanish

The approach

Based on feedback from students in previous years and analysis of the course material in my modules, it became clear that an inclusive curriculum was necessary. The curriculum should not only reflect the diversity of individuals and their experiences but also allow for the understanding of different experiences and perspectives among those with varying identities.

To achieve this goal, I have implemented strategies that promote gender diversity in my pedagogical materials and select content that acknowledges barriers to inclusion and engages diverse perspectives. My approach is heavily influenced by the lessons I learned in previous CPD on trans awareness, which has helped me to select content that is relatable to students from a wide range of sexual preferences, socioeconomic backgrounds, ages, and religions.

Some of the approaches I have adopted to promote inclusivity in my workshops include:

  • Incorporating activities that feature minorities, especially the LGBTQ+ community, in my workshops. By modifying the existing course material, we can challenge bias, initiate conversation, and increase visibility for these communities. One straightforward way to apply this approach to our modules is by selecting images that showcase the diversity of our student body. Seeing oneself reflected in course material can bolster self-affirmation and create a space for learning about the realities and attitudes of those with different experiences.
  • Designing activities that increase awareness among all our students by avoiding heteronormativity, exclusion, and fragmentation while positively representing the history and presence of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) individuals.

By adopting these strategies, we are contributing to Queen Mary's goal of becoming "the most inclusive university of its kind, anywhere" by 2030, while creating a truly inclusive environment where students can feel safe and express themselves freely.

An image showing an example of class materials with photos and text in Spanish

The impact

Openly discussing these issues is crucial for our institution to receive feedback and gain a broader understanding of different perspectives. Students generally respond positively to this content because it makes them feel that their classrooms are more inclusive and that they can express themselves freely in a secure environment. By directly asking students for their opinions, they can voice their thoughts and provide valuable input that we can use to create an action plan to improve learning environments and approaches to student support and guidance. Below are some of the questions and answers I collected from students:

Do you have suggestions for any other practices that academics could consider?

“Use appropriate vocab to make the students feel comfortable”

“Don't create a sense of them and us by over focusing on the LGBTQ+ learners”

What do you think is the biggest barrier or issue facing LGBTQ+ students?

“I think the biggest issue for queer students is facing prejudice or discrimination from individual people - this could be academics or campus security staff etc., but largely fellow students and housemates in campus accommodation. If you live with people, it’s often hard to escape hearing things they have said, and it can make the guilt of reporting discriminatory behaviour to the university even stronger as you don’t want to cause a rift between students especially if you live with them.”

“I don’t like people assuming I’m straight because of my hairstyle, dress sense and/or interests. I think stereotypical views of what gay people look like need to be challenged more often.”

What actions can staff take to improve the experience of LGBTQ+ students?

“Definitely include queer lives/stories/examples in the classroom (as a normal part - not making a big deal out of it)”

“More LGBT themed academic talks or lectures run by departments - maybe with guest speakers?”


As academics, there are several questions we can ask ourselves to reflect on our teaching practices and ensure a safe and inclusive classroom environment. Some of these questions may include:

  1. Are my teaching materials and examples inclusive of diverse perspectives and experiences?
  2. How do I address sensitive topics in my lectures or discussions, and am I creating a safe space for students to share their thoughts and experiences?
  3. How do academics understand their responsibilities in this area of work and is there a need for a coherent set of policies and guidance?
  4. What pedagogical practices do academics need to consider in making a classroom a safe, respectful, and inclusive learning space for everyone?
  5. How can academics be best supported to carry out their duties under the Equality Act and Ofsted policy in the light of personal or organisational dilemmas or conflicts?

By considering these questions, we can promote awareness and benefit all students by promoting acceptance and respect and teaching them more about the diversity of people and families in the world. As we have learners from many different cultures, countries, and backgrounds, incorporating an LGBTQ-inclusive curriculum in our seminars and workshops can help prevent students from developing prejudices later in life. It can also enable them to empathize, respect, connect, and collaborate with a diverse group of peers. By fostering an inclusive learning environment, we can create a space where all students feel valued and supported, and where their unique perspectives and experiences are recognized and appreciated.

Back to top