LGBTQ+ Families Speak Out

Today’s bloggers are Pamela Baer, Tara Goldstein, and Jenny Salisbury from the University of Toronto. Together, they authored “Pairing Verbatim Theatre and Theatre of the Oppressed to Provoke Startling Empathy,” published in The Educational Forum.

Since 2014, our research team at the University of Toronto, led by Professor Tara Goldstein, has been conducting interviews with LGBTQ+ families in four different regions of Ontario about the issues they experience at school and how they work with teachers and principals to create safer and more supportive learning environments for their children.

Our findings indicate that, despite recent safe schools legislation, much work remains in helping LGBTQ+ families feel welcome at school. We have used the transcripts from these interviews to write a verbatim play called Out at School.

It is our hope that these short scenes will provide insight into the ways that participants are living with gender and sexual diversity, while also offering educators, parents, and students strategies for engaging in activism and allyship as they work to create more inclusive schooling spaces for all students. Here are a few excerpts from the play:

Excerpt From Scene 5

You have to start the work at the beginning


You have to start the work at the beginning. I say, even the earliest, the earliest thing that happened with [my son], was when he was in, maybe preschool or daycare or whatever they call it. You know, he was 4 and they did [this chart]. You’ll see this in the kindergarten curriculum, you know, my, you know, about family, and he had to write my mom’s name is blank, my dad’s name is blank, my siblings name are blank. And up until that time, he didn’t ever think anything was weird about our family. And then, when he had to fill that out, he just started crying, and he fell apart. He was a wreck, probably for a month over that, because the little chart didn’t match. So, [we went] to the teacher, not angry with her, but just, like, “Hey, you know this isn’t just a gay issue, like there are many different kinds of families.” And she started crying. She was really upset that she had hurt his feelings. But [she] just didn’t know, you know?

Excerpt From Scene 7

Mother’s Day and Father’s Day


Mother’s Day and Fathers’ Day were really interesting because early on, the teachers would feel they were supporting us by having our children make Mother’s Day presents for us. But our daughters have birth mothers and they have a relationship with them.


We are in touch with their birth mothers. So, early on, Milena would go and say, “My teacher said I don’t have a mom, but I do, her name is Heather.” So, you know, the teachers were doing it to actually support us but after our daughters said, “No I actually have a mother” . . . they began to make Mothers’ Day cards for their birth mothers and we send the cards to them and yeah so . . . We get double Father’s Day cards.


It’s a big day.


It is! It’s like Christmas here.

Excerpt from Scene 7

Mother’s Day and Father’s Day


[Teachers shouldn’t] assume what a child’s family may look like . . . take their word for it. I mean, if they say they have multiple people in their family, let them make those, you know, 10 Mother’s Day cards that they need to make (Evan and Jess laugh). Or whatever, five Father’s Day cards because maybe there’s, you know, . . . maybe an aunt or an uncle who’s like a father or a mother to them. 


I think one thing I really appreciate is that, for instance, at Mother’s Day, the school wasn’t sure who identified, you know, as a mother, for sure, and so they just sent out like you know a blanket message through our, you know, we have, like, an app we use to communicate with teachers and they sent out a message saying, you know, “We need to know who in your family identifies as a mother and should be getting a Mother’s Day card.”

In addition to the play, which we discuss in more depth in our article “Pairing Verbatim Theatre and Theatre of the Oppressed to Provoke Startling Empathy,” we have also published over 300 video clips from these interviews on our website: In curating the videos, we had a vision of creating a collection of community stories that can act as a resource for both parents and educators. For examples of two of our video clips, you can listen to parents . . .

…Max & Ryan talk about their hopes for teachers of trans families:

…Catherine & Nazbah talk about what they think school should be:


KDP is proud to partner with Routledge to share an essay from The Educational Forum with the education community. Access the article at Taylor and Francis Online, free through December 31, 2019.

​Pamela Baer is a PhD candidate in Pedagogy and Curriculum at the Ontario Institute of Studies in Education, University of Toronto. Her current research explores the use of applied theatre with young people from LGBTQ+ families to explore their experiences of school through a process of collaborative performance. Pamela is the Research Manager on the LGBTQ+ Families Speak Out project and an Instructor of Applied Theatre at Brock University.

Tara Goldstein is a professor, ethnographer, and playwright in the Department of Curriculum, Teaching and Learning at the Ontario Institute of Studies in Education, University of Toronto, where she teaches an undergraduate course called Equity, Activism and Education for the Equity Studies program at New College, as well as a graduate course called Gender, Sexuality and Schooling for the Curriculum and Pedagogy program in the Department of Curriculum, Teaching and Learning at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education. Tara also is the Founding and Artistic Director of Gailey Road Productions, a theatre company that produces research-informed theatre on social and political issues that affect us all.

​Jenny Salisbury is a PhD candidate at the Centre for Drama, Theatre and Performance Studies at the University of Toronto. Her teaching and research interests include contemporary Canadian play creation and devising processes, with a focus on audience, community-engaged theatre, and the role of the artist as researcher. She is a co-founder and Associate Director of The Centre for Spectatorship and Audience Research.

Research from The Educational Forum: Navigating Disability and LGBTQ Identities in the Classroom

Today’s bloggerMiller is Ryan A. Miller, Ph.D., Director, Office for Inclusion and Equity at The University of Texas at Austin. He writes here to describe research published in an article in the current special issue of The Educational Forum on Sexuality, Gender, Identity, and Education.

Picture these scenarios from the perspective of a teacher:

  • Before you take attendance, a student shares with you that she is transgender, and that the name and gender marker on your roster incorrectly identifies her as male.
  • In classroom discussion, students use language that portrays disability and LGBTQ identities as inherently negative—referring to ideas with which they disagree as “crazy,” “gay,” or “lame.”
  • A student without a disability complains about the “unfairness” of not receiving the accommodations that a student with a disability receives.

Perhaps you are already familiar with one or more of these situations. For a student with a disability, or a student who identifies as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer (LGBTQ), these scenarios can be fraught with challenges. For students who live at the intersections of these identities, these potential difficulties can be amplified, and students will rely on their instructors to set the tone for an inclusive classroom climate.

My article in The Educational Forum chronicles the university classroom experiences of 25 LGBTQ students with disabilities and reveals that students carefully considered whether and how to disclose their identities to peers and instructors, become vocal advocates in class, and react to microaggressions they experienced. In many cases, an instructor made a difference—either positively (by setting a tone of inclusion, introducing diverse curricular materials, and intervening when bias occurred) or negatively (by questioning a student’s identity, refusing to provide disability-related accommodations, or permitting biased language).

Educators at all levels wield a significant amount of influence on the experience of students in their classrooms. Students who experience a hostile school climate, or derision from peers and other teachers, may find in you and your classroom a space in which they become a bit more comfortable with themselves, who they are, and who they will become. Given this influence, it becomes essential that educators understand how they can create and maintain a classroom climate that intentionally engages social justice issues, including but not limited to disability, gender identity, and sexual orientation.

Instructors aiming to create an inclusive classroom climate might consider the following:

  • Reflect on your own formative experience and possible biases related to disability, gender, and sexuality—and how these biases may inform your teaching.
  • Learn about current terminology and concepts in disability and LGBTQ communities. Be open to learning new language.
  • Signal to students on day one that your classroom is an inclusive one by discussing relevant campus/classroom policies and including them in a syllabus or posted document.
  • Include representations of diverse identities in curricular and classroom materials, and acknowledge the many contributions of underrepresented groups.
  • Incorporate universal design concepts in your classes by varying your instructional materials and forms of student assessment to allow for the use of different strengths and skillsets.
  • Encourage the engagement of all students with diversity, rather than relying upon one or two students to educate the rest of the class or use their personal experiences as teaching moments.
  • Intervene when biased language or discrimination occurs in your classroom.
  • Strategize with colleagues on how to create a more inclusive classroom and campus climate.

KDP is proud to partner with Routledge to share Dr. Miller’s article free with the education community through November 30, 2015. Read the full article here