Teachers, Check Your Texts

LGBTQ Asian identities need to be amplified in the school curriculum—and not just during a heritage month.  
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Becca Mui, the education manager of the Gay Lesbian and Straight Education Network, recently called for the amplification of LGBTQ Asian identities in the school curriculum. This amplification needs to happen all year, but Asian Pacific American Heritage Month offers an opportunity for educators who are newly committed to this goal. Mui’s article is an important wakeup call. In our work to create inclusive classrooms and schools, we educators must always remember to present intersectional views and voices when we discuss communities and cultures. There is no singular LGBTQ narrative, nor is there a singular Asian and Pacific Islander (API) experience.

For starters, educators can assess which texts they teach and whether these selections represent diverse identities and experiences, including those of LGBTQ API individuals. Teachers can think about their text selections with Teaching Tolerance’s one-page questionnaire Reading Diversity. (An extended version is available for curriculum coordinators, literary coaches, book-selection committees, etc.) 

LGBTQ young adult literature as a genre skews toward a monocultural narrative that focuses on white characters. However, a number of new titles over the past few years have worked to disrupt that trend. If You Could Be Mine and Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel by Sara Farizan center on the experiences of Iranian and Iranian-American characters, respectively. Paul Yee’s Money Boy documents the experiences of a young Chinese immigrant in Canada who navigates his intersecting identities of being Chinese, an immigrant and gay.

For readers fond of the fantasy genre, there’s Malinda Lo’s Huntress, which chronicles the coming-of-age story of a young queer witch in a setting influenced by the ancient Chinese text I Ching. The blog Read Diverse Books presents a list of books with LGBTQ Asian protagonists. Looking beyond prose, Justin Chin’s lauded poetry explores the intersections of race and sexuality.     

Several American political figures serve as examples that civic and social studies teachers can reference to amplify the voices of LGBTQ API individuals. Three LGBTQ API judges sit on state Supreme Courts: Sabrina McKenna of Hawaii, Lynn Nakamoto of Oregon and Mary Yu (who is also Latina) of Washington. Immigration activist and award-winning journalist Jose Antonio Vargas’ story about “coming out” as both an undocumented American and gay can help students better understand the various ways identities intersect. U.S. Rep. Mark Takano of California, a former public school teacher, made history in 2012 when he became the first openly gay API American elected to Congress. Kenji Yoshino, a constitutional law professor and frequent legal commentator, has been instrumental in framing contemporary conversations and understandings of civil rights.

Several nonfiction texts can support the broadening of students’ understandings about LGBTQ experiences and global issues. The Huffington Post reported on the experiences of LGBTQ individuals and couples in 10 Southeast Asian countries, and Beena Sarwar documented the lives of LGBTQ people in South Asia for The Boston Globe. Students can also follow how Taiwan could become the first country in Asia to expand marriage rights to same-sex couples. Or a class might look at how Nepal included a third gender on passports, possibly opening up a conversation about how government entities define and police gender.

Becca Mui has made her call; it’s important that educators answer it.

Miller teaches ninth-grade English language arts at P.K. Yonge Developmental Research School, the University of Florida’s affiliated K-12 laboratory school. He is also a recipient of the 2016 Teaching Tolerance Award for Excellence in Teaching.

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