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The Importance of Including Voices That Matter

By Juan Jacobs Sheblak
The Importance of Including Voices That Matter

Because we in the LGBTQI+ community know that there are implicit biases, we do not always have the willingness to share our stories. These experiences of bias are often reflected in the hesitancy people representing a variety of generations, sexual orientations, and gender identities have felt about coming out at work, at school, and at home. When I am asked why I do not always tell people I am gay, I express fears that I would be mistreated or receive little support due to implicit biases held by an organization, colleagues, and parents.

Most LGBTQI+ members, like myself, learned from an early age to very quickly read if a person is someone we can talk to. Past experiences have taught us that we need to make ourselves visible for our voices to be heard; in essence, “to come out.” The onus has always been placed on the LGBTQI+ individual to require acceptance by announcing their presence. After reflecting on this in recent years, the question I have is, what if instead of expecting people to come out to us, people show that we can be invited in? Inviting someone in, putting the power with the person to share what they choose, is essential to building trust. This trust is often built when we are able to share our narrative stories about ourselves in a safe and welcoming environment.

Narratives are stories of who we are and who we want to be. At the core, they are the discourse surrounding our lives and identities. They are powerfully shaped by the contexts, relationships, and activities in which we are most deeply invested. As such, we need to acknowledge that people's experiences and stories are integral when we embark on a process to develop an LGBTQI+ schoolwide approach. These stories need to play an essential role in developing policies and protocols to protect marginalized individuals and communities.

Schools that begin on this journey of inclusion need to realize it is important to educate faculty and employees and acknowledge that an inclusive workplace is very hard to achieve. From personal experience, not being able to be out at work or feeling the need to hide one's identity for fear of reprisal is a large burden for someone to carry. This translates even more so to students who are discovering their identities. It is these personal experiences within the LGBTQI+ community that allow such work to be motivated as a moral imperative in ensuring a safe and inclusive school environment.

School leaders and educators leading these programs need to be guided by a moral imperative. This moral imperative is what helps us shape schools and organizations, to support the community we are trying to serve. Working in the LGBTQI+ field suggests that a significant sociocultural driver behind many LGBTQI+ microaggressions is cis/ heteronormativity. The often explicit or implied endorsement of cisgender experience and/ or heterosexuality as the standard gender modality or sexual orientation results in heterosexual and cisgender privilege. Many who lead this work are not within the LGBTQI+ community and must make efforts to set aside their privilege in order to learn to operate with a deeper understanding of the LGBTQI+ community’s struggle.

In an LGBTQI+ context, people hold multiple identities in addition to their sex, gender, and sexual orientation, all of which in turn affect the individual. Those intersectionalities can lead to dramatically different experiences within LGBTQI+ spaces. Individuals, for example, are not immune from the forces of racism, power structures, and assumptions that uphold white privilege.

LGBTQI+ individuals, and even more so people with multiple marginalized identities, are constantly forced into presenting little bite-sized pieces of themselves. Being among like-minded people is a way of finding relief from the strain of holding back so much of one’s self. Often, nonwhite queer and trans people do not feel included, or necessarily even safe, within the larger LGBTQI+ community. As in other spaces in a system built on white supremacy, racism is all too prevalent. People who are part of communities across the Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) spectrum also face increased oppression and unique challenges because of the intersection of their cultural and LGBTQI+ identities. Although the term BIPOC is meant to be inclusive, sometimes it can be used as a catchall term that, intentionally or not, erases individual communities.

Intersectionality theory (briefly) is built on the premise that people are complex, and that people and groups have been influenced by a host of dynamic and contextual dynamic forces. One must be able to see how identities intersect and interact to understand people and their relationships with society. It is also then important that policies, protocols, and guidelines be measured by the people it is meant to protect and serve, and not just live in a neat document or statement.

I do not think that we have one answer in approaching inclusion, given the multiple layers that are often dealt with. What is evident is that we need to include the voices that really matter and that we need to allow for authentic participation in the process. Just as the history of non-western entities needs to be included in the curriculum, so too should we include LGBTQI+ themes that allow students to see themselves in the classroom.

At the core of inclusive education, people should feel safe and happy with their identities and know they are represented and welcomed in the educational setting. When students experience representation through diverse and inclusive education, they are more likely to develop a strong sense of self, empathy, and confidence, thereby strengthening their social and emotional development.

An inclusive education is one that is respectful and sensitive to all identities, where children and queer adolescents are not at risk of misinformation or dismissal of feelings. An environment in which the adults need to ensure protection and allow students to feel safe to be included.



Juan Jacobs Sheblak is the deputy secondary principal at UNIS Hanoi.

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04/13/2023 - Kristina Pennell-Götze
Thank you for this important piece. Your words resonate and change is coming. Please continue to raise your voice and help us all move forward by understanding the importance of intersectionality, implicit bias, and white supremacy in queer advocacy.