Understanding the Effects of Stigmatizing Language and the Benefits of Inclusivity on the LGBTQ Community

By: David Lee Sexton, Jr.

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Pixabay[Hand Flag by Kurious, February 13, 2015, CC0]
What is Inclusivity and Why Does it Matter?

To be inclusive in the context of LGBTQ issues means to engage in behaviors that acknowledge, include, and support LGBTQ individuals and the issues that they face (Russel et al., 2006). This broad definition can be narrowed to describe inclusive practices in a variety of different situations. One of the most important situations in which inclusivity is key is within schools. LGBTQ students are alarmingly vulnerable to harassment and bullying due to their sexual orientation/gender identity; as a result, these students may feel unsafe at school, which prompts them to engage in behaviors that are harmful to their well-being and academic success, such as anxiety, depression, and a lack of feeling like they belong with their peers (Poteat and Espelage, 2007).

Russel et al. (2010) found evidence supporting the use of a curriculum that explores the history of LGBTQ people and issues; such curricula can be a valuable strategy for improving the climates of schools for LGBTQ students. This particular strategy reflects the usage of inclusivity, through acknowledgment and acceptance of LGBTQ history, to create a safer environment within schools by addressing and identifying LGBTQ issues. By educating students in this way rather than disregarding the issues altogether, schools can both increase the safety of the learning environment and decrease victimization of LGBTQ students (Kosciw et al., 2012).

The Benefits of Inclusive Language

Inclusivity is also very important in the language individuals may choose to use, in general. This is especially important for professionals working with the LGBTQ population. McGuire (2016) notes that within the LGBTQ community, words used to describe the ways in which people identify their gender identity and sexuality change frequently. As such, one strategy for promoting inclusivity is to take an interest in the language utilized by the LGBTQ community. This act alone demonstrates acknowledgment and support of the issues this population faces, and taking the time to learn the language demonstrates to LGBTQ individuals that they can perceive you as an ally (McGuire, 2016).

In demonstrating the importance of inclusivity in language, McGuire (2016) examines a word that has changed over time and can be used in both inclusive and stigmatizing ways: queer. This particular word is one that can be used academically but can also be misused derogatorily through labeling (McGuire, 2016). This dichotomy between the academic and derogatory use of a single word demonstrates the importance of really attempting to learn appropriate usage of the LGBTQ language and researching unknown words before use, when in doubt.

Want to Learn More?

To learn more about inclusivity and its impact on the well-being of LGBTQ individuals, take some time to watch MFLN Family Development’s free, archived webinar presented by Jenifer McGuire, Ph.D., Associate Professor at the University of Minnesota. Dr. McGuire’s field of study focuses on the well-being of young people who identify as Transgender, with a specific focus on how family support can foster healthy development. Afterwards, check out TRANSforming Conversations: Addressing Needs of Transgender Youth and Their Families, also presented by Dr. McGuire. FREE CEUs are available upon completion of both webinars!

Also, get social with us on Facebook and Twitter to learn about more great content, webinars, and free CEU opportunities in the future.

Check out our archived webinar entitled Needs and Supportive Strategies for Professionals Working with LGBTQ Military Families for a history of the struggles faced by LGBTQ military service members and strategies you can use to support this unique population.

References

Kosciw, J. G., Greytak E. A., Bartkiewicz M. J., Boesen, M. J., and Palmer, N. A. (2012). The 2011 national school climate survey: The experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth in our nation’s schools. New York: Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN).

McGuire, J. (2016). The ABCs of LGBT: Learning language and inclusive practices in work with LGBT families. MFLN Family Development. Retrieved from: https://learn.extension.org/events/3008.

Poteat, V. P., & Espelage D. L. (2007). Predicting psychosocial consequences of homophobic victimization in middle school students. The Journal of Early Adolescence 27(2), 175–191. doi: 10.1177/0272431606294839.

Russell, S. T., Kosciw J., Horn, S., & Saewyc, E. (2010). Safe schools policy for LGBTQ students. Social Policy Report 24(4), 3-17.

Russell, S. T., McGuire, J. K., Laub, C., and Manke, E. (2006). LGBT student safety: Steps schools can take. (California Safe Schools Coalition Research Brief No. 3). San Francisco, CA: California Safe Schools Coalition.

This post was written by a member of the MFLN Family Development Team. The Family Development team aims to support the development of professionals working with military families. Find out more about the Military Families Learning Network Family Development team on our website, Facebook, and Twitter.

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