I was recently in a meeting with an education organization that I’m consulting with as they begin a new LGBTQ+ initiative. The grounding question was about why we do this work, what brings us to this initiative. Everyone has a story or two, a neighbor, a friend, a student who you never forget. I loved listening to their stories, their connections, their passion, their mix of frustrations and joy. And I also struggled a little with how to answer this question for myself.
As an LGBTQ+ and Equity consultant, I do this work for the teachers, family members, and administrators who have come to me over the years asking for support, resources, strategies; they have the want, but need the how or they need help bringing other people into their why. They need support to have difficult conversations on why this work is important, conversations that keep the focus on equity and justice that is integral to their schools’ mission. All of my work for schools and with teachers and educational leadership is with the focus of creating supports that help LGBTQ+ students, families, and educators can be a welcome and celebrated part of the school community. That’s the difference between LGBTQ+ affirmation and “inclusion”, these measures where we add in a lesson plan here, a June assembly there, a quiet hallway display of LGBTQ+ historical figures that is taken down on November 1st.
LGBTQ+ -affirming schools have systemic and integrated considerations for shifting school culture. This is truly needed in order for the lesson plans to have their impact, for the LGBTQ+ students to be safe (mentally as well as physically) in the hallways, the locker rooms, and after school. That’s what happens when the actual lessons are learned beyond when the lesson plan ends. A community-centered and administrative-led LGBTQ+ affirming approach is bullying prevention that doesn’t create an identity label or a threat out of someone who is acting out of ignorance or self-shame. It creates space and multiple opportunities for people to learn about new concepts or ideas, at their own pace, while giving clear and immediate expectations about respectful behaviors and actions.
As a former teacher, with ten years of experience in elementary classrooms, I do this work for the youth who I will always consider my “kids”, my students, and the queer and trans youth I’ve had the honor to work with and learn from over the years. I focus on adult education and professional development so that we can close the gap, focus on the un-learning that we need to do in order to meet our young people where they are. This is never more needed than when we’re trying to support our students in terms of sexual orientation, healthy relationships, and the expansiveness that is their relationships to gender.
As a spiritual organizer, I do this work for the mental, emotional, and spiritual wellness of QTBIPOC (queer, trans black indigenous people of color) in our communities. I know the harm that can be caused when we perpetuate the idea that spiritual, faithful, and religious people are separate from the LGBTQ+ community. I know the harm that is caused when we fail to consider that a young person’s sense of community lives outside of their faith community. I know the benefits of having a queer and trans-affirming spiritual community, or the impact that this could have on their journey of self-identity. I’ve worked with administrators across the country in creating learning opportunities for faith-based groups and families in schools. Through my work with House Of Our Queer, I share offerings and guidance directed at QTBIPOC folks in order to support us in our own pathways towards ritual and belief that center our lived experiences and continued spiritual growth.
Finally, as a biracial, Chinese and Polish, first generation queer lesbian and gender-playful femme, I’ll admit, I also do this work for myself. I grew up in a small, mostly-white town before there were GSAs (gender-sexuality alliances) and when I didn’t have language for my own identities or feelings. As a queer person of color, my understanding of my identities around race, sexual orientation, relationships, gender are inter-connected. I started my LGBTQ+ advocacy over a decade ago by working with the Diversity Director at my current school to add a queer lens to the work they were already doing around “diversity and inclusion” which at the time was mostly just race. I never understood why LGBTQ+ supports were put in such a separate and un-mergeable category, or what schools hoped to accomplish with white-centered LGBTQ+ supports.
Anti-racist LGBTQ+ -affirming schools understand that the resources, lessons, policies, and school clubs that are implemented must be done within an intersectional framework, centering those with the most marganilzied identities. School leaders with this framework are more likely to bring in professional development, approve resources, and guide supports that truly ensure that all of their students, their faculty, and their families are part of a school community where they can thrive.
All of this, and more, is why I created the 90 minute workshop 5 Considerations for an Anti-Racist LGBTQ+ Affirming School for the Institute for Anti-Racist Education. This workshop is aimed at administrators and school leaders or educator advocates. Participants will learn about intersectional, systemic changes for a school culture shift that centers LGBTQ youth of color. This course names and shares research showing that LGBTQ youth of color need different things and are treated differently in schools than their white LGBTQ peers. It invites us to consider how to reframe our LGBTQ advocacy in schools with an anti-racist lens. Bex will share the five considerations and guide participants through meaningful action planning before sending participants off with a variety of free resources to ease the implementation process.
Bex Mui, M. Ed. (she/her) is organizer and consultant committed to the work of LGBTQ+ affirmation at the intersections of education, equity, and spirituality. Bex created the online class, Decolonzing Gender, for the Institude for Anti-Racist Education, and has presented on anti-racist, LGBTQ-centered advocacy at the local, state, and national level.