LGBT in the Classroom: Invading Comfort Zones

Have you ever put your foot in your mouth, feeling embarrassed by something you said? Students at Globe University-La Crosse learned vocabulary and information that will prevent this from happening when it comes to the LGBT community.

Globe University

Globe students participate in a classroom LGBT discussion.

Understanding LGBT In the Classroom

LGBT is the abbreviated name for LGBTQQIA or Lesbian Gay Bi Transsexual Questioning Queer Intersex and Ally. These are the appropriate terms to use when referring to a differing sexuality or gender in our society. Some of these terms have been around for a long time but are only being used and circulated in the past decade or so. One of the terms that students do not understand is intersex and how it differs or is more appropriate than hermaphrodite.

Asking Uncomfortable Questions

“Hermaphrodite [the term] is not okay? What? I thought that was a scientific term that should be used for a person with both gender parts.” I hear this question/comment each quarter when we discuss this no longer used term for a person who was born intersexual or born with a variation of both male and female sex organs.

According to Merriam Webster Dictionary online, the term intersex was first used as a part of the international scientific vocabulary as early as 1910. The term hermaphrodite was discontinued because its definition is not possible in humans. The term refers to a creature that can fully function as both male and female, which is not something that is possible for Homo sapiens. One may or may not be able to function as one or the other when born as an intersexual.

When teaching this lesson in May, I heard this question in both classes: “Are we studying this because of what just happened in Minnesota?” [referring to the legalizing of same-sex marriage]. I responded that in order to cover the objectives in the Global Citizenship class with the theme of social justice, I cover awareness and understanding of the LGBT community and the idea of safe spaces.

Invading Comfort Zones

Part of this lesson is taking students out of their comfort zone. Students are given a question and asked to answer to the best of their ability. The questions are typical questions asked to a gay or lesbian after coming out, but turned around and asked to a heterosexual. This activity generates a great deal of conversation about nature versus nurture and the idea of being born that way.

After discussing the questions, students are asked to “come out” to three to five of their closest friends and family members. In this activity, students begin with a five point star in varying colors. Each color represents a different experience in the coming out process, so students can gain some understanding into the trials, worries, and tribulations one might think about and go through during the process of telling loved ones they are gay or lesbian. Some students end with perfectly formed stars while others are torn and/or bent partly or completely. Sisters Kristine and Lorali Mickelson are taking the class together. They had similar responses to the activities.

Globe University“The star activity was really sad,” said Lorali. “I got lucky and got to keep every point on my star, but it got more and more depressing as people ‘lost’ more and more things. When we did the questions, it really makes you look at yourself and think. I understand a little more how the life of a homosexual can be difficult.”

With similar feelings Kristine reported, “The star activity was really eye-opening. It’s hard to imagine what some people go through until you put yourself in their shoes. I found the questions to be very difficult to answer because I’ve never had to answer them before. They really gave me a new perspective on what life as a homosexual might be like and how conflicted they could be come.”

As the instructor of this class, hearing the responses from these young students is encouraging. The activities invite the idea of opening one’s perspective to a differing point of view. Many students understand the idea of being different in some way, but until put into a situation where they feel like the ‘other’ within a particular realm where they would otherwise feel included increases the ability for the student to understand why a certain behavior or stereotype may be unacceptable.


Each quarter after “coming out” and answering the tough questions students play a matching game where they need to find the definition of what would be a common vernacular in the LGBT community. Some words are easy to define: ‘Gay’—a man who primarily loves and is attracted to other men.  Other terms are much more difficult like intersex. When the class ends, students of varying orientations have mentioned that there were words or terms that they had never heard before.

Globe University

Globe students participating in the LGBT discussion.

Fighting Ignorance with Education

Each community has its own vocabulary. One would not walk into a wrestling ring and expect to know all of the terminology without having studied it. It is the same way when learning about different arenas in our social world. Education is the best defense against ignorance, even when we think we know everything there is to know about a topic.


This post was written by Ree Nae Roberge-Greene. Ree Nae is the Student Services and Online Learning Coordinator at Globe University-La Crosse. She has been employed at Globe University since January 2011. She moved into the role of Student Services Coordinator in August of 2011 and loves it! Ree Nae Roberge-Greene blogs for Globe-La Crosse, and she is enjoying the challenge of finding a new and exciting topic to write about each week.