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Dutton Digest, March 2022

March 21st, 2022

Making Your Online Class a Safe Space for LGBTQ+ Students

The EMS Rainbow Network, created to support and encourage LGBTQ+ students and their allies to join the research team in Penn State’s College of Earth and Mineral Sciences, is a an example of how EMS actively works to create an inclusive learning environment. These efforts are critical, and it is important that they reach our online students, too.

In the article How to Support LGBTQ Students During Distance Learning, Laura McGuire explains just how important educators can be in the lives of queer or gender nonconforming students. Though first offered for teens who had to shift online during the pandemic, her suggested strategies translate to college-age students learning online.


  • Create an open and affirming classroom: Commit to an environment where students feel safe. Share your name and pronouns and invite students to share theirs, but make it optional. Example: “Please share your name and any other information you would like us to know; this could include your pronouns, where you are from, or some of your personal interests.”
  • Weave inclusivity into lessons: McGuire recommends highlighting LGBTQ leaders in the field/subject you are teaching and points out that “Discussing the contributions of diverse scholars, scientists, and authors can mean the difference between a student feeling erased and seeing that their future is indeed bright and a path well-traveled by those before them.”
  • Observe and support: When a student is falling behind or struggling, reach out to them if possible. If a student shares that they are struggling due to their identity, be prepared to provide resources for support.

The Office for the Advancement of Teaching at the University of the Philippines Diliman offers the following Tips on How to Make Your (Online) Class a Safe Space for LGBTQ+ Students:

  • Respond to anti-LGBT language or behavior
  • Recognize and respect students’ lived names, pronouns, and titles
  • Discuss ground rules and expectations from the start of the class
  • Provide clear, thorough, and honest discussion on guidelines for privacy and confidentiality


Penn State Student Affairs’ LGBTQ+ Information for Faculty and Staff provides excellent resources for the use of pronouns in your email signature, for sample syllabus language, and for suggestions to incorporate LGBTQ+ subject materials into class curriculum.

The National Education Association (NEA) Center for Social Justice suggests creating visible signs, like Zoom backgrounds or posters to demonstrate to students that you are LGBTQ+ affirming:

Penn State's outstanding LGBTQ+ workshops for Faculty and Staff:

  • Safer People Safer Places Foundations Workshops: In-person April 11, 2022, 8-10 a.m., and Webinar April 26, 2022, 8-10 a.m.
  • Safer People Safer Places Transgender and Gender Inclusion 101 Workshop: Webinar April 19, 2022, 8-10 a.m.