"LGBTI issues are societal and topical. Even if there are no rainbow people in the student group, these are things that should be taught and discussed. If the educator does not have words for it, holding the conversation will be very difficult, " says Marita Karvinen.

Adult educator: learn (at least) these terms about gender plurality and sexual orientation

Toolkit. What should an adult educator know about LGBTI issues? In education, the attitude matters more than memorising terms, says Marita Karvinen, Training Curator at Seta, an organisation for LGBTI rights in Finland. But to be able to hold a conversation about the topical issue in class, some basics will be needed.

18.06.2019

Why should adult educators move with the times on LGBTI issues?

“Simply because there will be students of sexual and gender minorities, and they have the full right to be themselves in learning environments. For this reason, it is important that teachers know things so that the student does not have to explain every single time what is what and why.

Another point is that LGBTI issues are societal and topical. Even if there are no rainbow people in the student group, these are things that should be taught and discussed. If the educator does not have words for it, holding the conversation will be very difficult.”

What is your message to those who complain that LGBTI terms cannot be learned because they keep on changing?

“It is quite true that the terms are changing. It is due to two things: there is ever-increasing information and people have the right to self-determination.

In the case of educational institutes, the most important thing is not to memorise all terms, but to be aware of the needs associated with different identities. For example, if someone is non-binary, they may not know which toilet they should use. Or a student may wish to be referred to with a particular pronoun in a language lesson.

The most important thing, however, is to interact with the student. You may say, ‘I have never heard of such a term. Please tell me more’.

I think that this kind of complaining is also due to a fear of accidentally using the wrong term. I would like to encourage people by saying that the attitude matters. Using the wrong term is not the end of the world. People will know whether its use is intentional or not. If you make a mistake, apologise and move on.”

What is your message to those who say that we are already going too far with all the LGBTI terms?

“I think mathematics goes too far! [laughs] The terms and guidelines are not so difficult that they cannot be learned. Nevertheless, I’d like to repeat that it’s the attitude that counts. The goal is to learn the big picture and to interact with the student.”

What is the worst way in which a teacher or educator can react to sexual and gender minorities in class?

“Suppressing and neglecting the matter and denying the right to self-determination are examples of bad reactions.

Examples can be found in basic education. The teacher may say “I’m not going to get involved with that kind of nonsense”, or “in my papers it says you are a girl”.

The teacher may also refuse to call the student by the name they wish to be called. Someone whose name is David (a male name) may wish to be called Dakota (a non-binary name), but the teacher insists on using the name David.”

What is a good ally in education like?

A good ally respects LGBTI people’s right to self-determination, gives credence to their identity, and also dares to intervene when witnessing something offensive in the learning situation. It is important for the LGBTI person not to always have to intervene themselves.

Where to find information if you want to move with the times?

One good source is the website of the European umbrella organisation ILGA-Europe. It also publishes a glossary of LGBTI terms. It is good to remember that term connotations can vary from country to country, so you should also search for information on your country’s rainbow organisation’s website.

LGBTI glossary for adult educators

Marita Karvinen curated a Glossary of LGBT Terms that will get you started.

Sexual orientation

  • Heterosexual (n. & adj.). A person attracted emotionally and/or sexually to members of the other or “opposite” gender.
  • Heteronormativity (n) refers to cultural and social practices where people are led to believe that heterosexuality is the only conceivable sexuality. It implies that heterosexuality is the only way of being “normal”.
  • Homosexual (n. & adj.). A generic term for someone who is generally attracted emotionally and/or sexually to someone of the same sex. It can refer to both lesbians and gay men. In English-speaking countries, the word is often used offensively and the terms Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual (LGB) are preferred.
  • Bisexual (n. & adj.).  A person emotionally and/or sexually attracted to persons of more than one gender.
  • Pansexual (n. & adj.). A person emotionally and/or sexually attracted to people regardless of their sex or gender identity. The term partly overlaps with bisexual.
  • Asexual (n. & adj.). A person who experiences very little or no sexual attraction to other people.

Gender diversity

  • Trans. An inclusive umbrella term referring to people whose gender identity and/or gender expression differ from the sex/gender they were assigned at birth. It may include, but is not limited to: people who identify as transsexual, transgender, transvestite/cross-dressing, androgyne, polygender, genderqueer, agender, gender variant, gender non-conforming, or with any other gender identity and/or expression which does not meet the societal and cultural expectations placed on gender identity.
  • Transvestite or Cross-dresser (n). A person who dresses in clothes associated with the opposite sex to that in which they were assigned at birth. This may be public or private; occasional or full- time. Today, the term “transvestite” is commonly considered outdated and derogatory, with the term cross-dresser used as a more appropriate replacement.
  • Non-binary (n. & adj.). A person who can be both a man and a woman, something between manhood and femininity or just outside this division.
  • Intersex. A term that relates to a range of physical traits or variations that lie between stereotypical ideals of male and female. Intersex people are born with physical, hormonal or genetic features that are neither wholly female nor wholly male; or a combination of female and male; or neither female nor male. Many forms of intersex exist; it is a spectrum or umbrella term, rather than a single category.

Other terms:

  • Ally (n). A person who does not identify as LGBTI but who supports LGBTI equality.
  • Rainbow family (n). Rainbow families are families with children where one or more parents belong to a sexual or gender minority.

(these definitions are modified from glossaries published in ILGA-Europe, the Rainbow project and Seta)

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