Monthly Mentor

Natalie C. Jones (February)
Each month, a different member is the guest writer for the NAEA Monthly Mentor Blog. Natalie C. Jones is an artist, small business owner, and the director of education at the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture. She has 10 years of experience working as an art teacher and teaching artist throughout the east coast and the Midwest. Click "GO" to read her full bio.

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« Striving Toward an Antiracist Classroom | Main | Your Existing Curriculum CAN Be A Social Justice Curriculum: Part 1 »

June 17, 2020

Supporting LGBTQIA+ Students in the Art Room

By Krissy Ponden

UnknownPride, by Margot, 8th grade, 2018

This week, the Supreme Court extended protections from the Civil Rights Act to gay, lesbian, and transgender workers in a landmark ruling widely celebrated as a victory for anti-discrimination. While the ruling was specifically in response to hiring and firing practices, it is also significant for LGBTQIA+ individuals and allies who advocate for equal protection, representation, and inclusion in society. The decision also comes in the middle of Pride Month, 50 years after the first pride march was held in New York City on the one-year anniversary of the Stonewall Riots. The historical significance of this cannot be ignored.

For art educators who have recently been thinking about ways to make their classrooms more representative in terms of race, I propose this moment of reflection as an opportunity to also highlight LBGTQIA+ artists. While public opinion has grown to favor broad support for LGBT rights, schools still remain far behind in terms of providing accurate, comprehensive, and representative LGBTQIA+ education. The consequence of this lack of visibility in schools is alarming: According to GLSEN’s latest school climate report, over 80% of transgender and gender non conforming students reported being harassed in school because of their gender expression. Schools are still incredibly heteronormative spaces and students are assumed to be straight and cisgendered, while the reality is that many students are queer or questioning or have a friend or family member who is. What message does it send when students do not see themselves or those they love reflected in physical spaces and curricula?

What can teachers do?

  • Introduce LGBTQIA+ artists into your curriculum. Let the artists speak about their experiences whenever possible. An example of an accessible artist for younger students is Rae Senarighi, a transgender painter whose powerful portrait series, TRANSCEND, celebrates the diversity of non-binary identities. According to Senarighi, “Transgender youth should be able to see space for themselves in the fine art world.”

TranscendTranscend by Rae Senarighi, 2018

  • Evaluate your physical classroom space. Are there LGBTQIA+ affirming images on the walls? Teaching Tolerance offers free posters that feature quotes from transgender activist, Jazz Jennings, and Harvey Milk, one of the first openly gay elected officials.

  • Designate your room as a safe space. Place a safe space sticker outside your door so students know they can come to you.

DoorLet your students know you are an ally.

  • Work with your students to establish community norms. How will you respect all voices and ensure that students do not feel targeted because of their identities?

  • Encourage students to create art that challenges social and gender norms and helps present a more nuanced conception of identity.

Haley Just Be Me by Haley, 7th grade, 2019


These are just some examples of ways to make your classroom more inclusive and representative for LGBTQIA+ students. As with race, it is important to admit what you don’t know and strive to better understand. The lives of our students are literally at stake. Art educators love to teach the rainbow; we must ensure we are supporting our rainbow students too.

-KP

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