Common Core

LGBT Perspectives in the Middle School Classroom

There has recently been a lot of buzz around a new short animated film entitled “In a Heartbeat.” I first saw it being shared on Facebook, and since it was posted on July 31st, it has been viewed over 20 million times.  If you have not had the chance to view it yet, here is a link: In a Heartbeat. Without giving too much away, this animated short film is the story of a young boy who has not yet come to terms with his sexuality, and ultimately leaves the viewer with the message, “the heart wants what the heart wants.” This short film is groundbreaking. It’s the first animated film I’ve ever seen from the point of view of an LGBT character, and it’s exactly what is needed in classrooms in order to spark a much-needed discussion with students in middle school.
LGBT youth are four times more likely to attempt suicide than their straight peers. Click To Tweet
I say it’s perfect for middle school students based on a number of reasons. First, it is developmentally appropriate. Early adolescence is the stage in life when students transition from childhood to adolescence. With all of this change in development, it is not uncommon for middle schoolers to feel awkward about themselves. For our gay and lesbian students, or students questioning their sexuality,  these feelings of awkwardness may also be accompanied with feelings of depression and isolation.  According to the Center for Disease Control, LGBT youth are four times more likely to attempt suicide than their straight peers. One way educators can help is by incorporating LGBT voices and perspectives in their classrooms and curriculums, in the hopes of starting critical conversations.
Understanding Early Adolescence
This is the period of time when students go from listening to authority to questioning authority. It’s the time when their peers become more important to them than their parents. It’s the time when all of our adult demands become “unfair,” and are met with disagreements and complaining. I’m really not selling this period in life very well, am I?  There are some really exciting elements to teaching middle school students too! Researchers have identified six areas of growth or change during early adolescence including; physical, cognitive, moral, psychological, social-emotional, and spiritual development (Scales, 2010). According to the Association of Middle Level Education, it’s during the moral development of adolescence where students begin to see and understand other points of view. Students begin to realize they are not the center of the universe, and they begin to consider the rights and feelings of others. Educators need to keep this moral growth in mind when planning activities that focus on issues in society like fairness, justice, and equality (Caskey & Anfara).
Inclusion of LGBT Voices
By incorporating literature/media that includes viewpoints, thoughts, and ideas from LGBT characters, educators can help students learn how to take a stand, develop empathy, and seek guidance (Knoblauch et al.) For our LGBT students who may be struggling with depression and feelings of isolation, they need to see characters that mirror their own struggles, so they can see that they are not alone. Additionally, when students see characters who are different from themselves, it helps open the doors of understanding. Our middle school students are at a point developmentally where they can begin to understand other people’s points of view, and are considering the rights of others. According to the Common Core standards, students should be able to, “appreciate that the twenty-first-century classroom and workplace are settings in which people from often widely divergent cultures and who represent diverse experiences and perspectives must learn and work together.” In order to achieve this, we must expose our  students to literature and media that include different points of views and perspectives. Since being in middle school is a time for students to discover who they are and what they stand for, we need to equip our students with knowledge of the entire world around them, and hold meaningful conversations that include different perspectives. 
Bravo, Esteban and Beth David, directors. In a Heartbeat. 2017,
Caskey, Micki, and Vincent A Anfara. “Developmental Characteristics of Young Adolescents.” AMLE – Association for Middle-Level Education, Association for Middle-Level Education, Developmental Characteristics of Young Adolescents.
CDC. (2016). Sexual Identity, Sex of Sexual Contacts, and Health-Risk Behaviors Among Students in Grades 9-12: Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance. Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Knoblauch, Dee, et al. “LGBT Literature in the Classroom.” AMLE – Association for Middle-Level Education, Association for Middle Level Education, LGBT Literature in the Classroom.
Scales, P. C. (2010). Characteristics of young adolescents. In This we believe: Keys to educating young adolescents (pp. 63-62). Westerville, OH: National Middle School Association.

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