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Celebrating Queer Allyship in and Beyond Schools: Advocacy and Actionable Steps

by Kate Mastruserio Reynolds, Ethan Trinh, James Coda |

In TESOL, a core principle is valuing diversity in all forms. As LGBTQ+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and other) individuals can be oppressed or threatened for their very existence, we—meaning both the authors of this article and the field as a whole—need to underscore the importance of human rights. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has said that 

discrimination against LGBTI [lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex] people undermines the human rights principles outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Yet discrimination and violence against people in the LGBTI community are all too common. Homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and discriminatory attitudes towards intersex people remain deeply embedded in many cultures around the world. (n.d., para. 1)

This reality illuminates why TESOL professionals should consider their roles as allies to support LGBTQ+ students and colleagues. 

This article describes the role of allyship in the classroom and the field of English language teaching (ELT) more broadly, providing actionable steps that educators can take in contexts that may not always be welcoming to LGBTQ+ individuals. We share a list of action steps that educators can take in their classrooms to support LGBTQ+ individuals. We also provide a list of 10 actionable strategies for English language educators to embrace and develop allyship in their professional spaces. 

What Is Allyship?

There has been a recent increase in anti-LGBTQ+ discourse globally, which has affected how we as educators address social justice (Woo et al., 2023). In our classrooms, we must include not only queer pedagogies but allyship to challenge cisheteronormativity and encourage the inclusion of LGBTQ+ identities (Trinh, Reynolds, & Coda, 2024). Allyship, then, can provide us with a path forward toward cultivating inclusivity. This article addresses how TESOL educators can implement allyship in various teaching and learning contexts.

Recommendations for Educators

Drawing on Trinh’s (2024) allyship and advocacy work, we suggest the following queer considerations for working with students in English language classrooms. For each suggestion, we offer a rationale for taking this step and ideas for implementing it in your space.

1. Cocreate a safe space of trust building with students.

Why: TESOL educators strive to create emotionally safe learning environments for their students in order to promote an active use of English. Therefore, we must collaborate with learners in our classes to cocreate a place of safety and trust so they can be their authentic selves. Without this aspect of safety, LGBTQ+ learners could be marginalized, excluded, or otherwise mistreated by their classmates.

How: It begins with trust building in general, which can be accomplished through discussions and rapport-building activities. We advocate for regularly changing partners in many of these tasks, so that cliques don’t emerge. Using seating formats that allow students to communicate with and see each other helps promote a sense of group unity. 

One choice that we make is to ask students to share the pronouns they use to describe themselves, and we share ours. This small act sends a message of affirmation, respect, and acceptance. Sharing our pronouns might make us feel vulnerable, but being our authentic selves allows and encourages others to do so as well. 

2. Cocreate a safe space of engaging discourse of difference.

Why: To be able to grow and understand each other, creating a safe space to discuss our beliefs, thoughts, and perspectives is essential. Without an environment for open dialogue, our classes will reinforce cisheteronormativity.

How: Co-constructing class rules with students ensures that they listen actively with an open mind, act respectfully to each other, and maintain confidentiality. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology Teaching and Learning Lab (n.d., para. 5) also suggests:

      • Listen respectfully, without interrupting.
      • Listen actively and with an ear to understanding others’ views. (Don’t just think about what you are going to say while someone else is talking.)
      • Criticize ideas, not individuals. We all can learn something from each other, even if your views don’t necessarily align.
      • Avoid blame, speculation, and inflammatory language.
      • Allow everyone the chance to speak.
      • Avoid assumptions about any member of the class or generalizations about social groups. Do not ask individuals to speak for their (perceived) social group.
      • We are accountable for our words and their impact.
      • Personal information that comes up in the conversation should be kept confidential.  

Facilitate conversations with your students at the beginning of the term to hear their ideas on class discussion rules while guiding them with your own insights. Prior to class discussions on LGBTQ+ related topics, it’s helpful to remind students of the class discussion rules in order to establish respectful discourse.

Critically examine your curriculum and materials to notice where gender binaries of male/female surface and when gender/sexuality norms are portrayed stereotypically, and employ thinking queer, or thinking differently, to upend dichotomies (Trinh & Tinker Sachs, 2024). When identifying these issues, we suggest engaging with students through analyses of the content to destabilize cisheteronormativity. For example, if the chapter discusses family, you can organize readings and discussions of various types of family structures. 

3. Cocreate a safe space of exploring local community-based projects.

Why: In TESOL, our communities of practice are paramount, and community-based projects can provide an avenue for our students to connect with their local communities in and beyond the classroom. Through these connections, they can work to destabilize the preponderance of cisheteronormativity and explore the lives, histories, and other aspects of the LGBTQ+ community.

How: Pursue connections and create opportunities for students to work with a local community-based organization that supports LGBTQ+ individuals. One example is to take students on field trips to shelters for queer youth experiencing homelessness. By learning with them and creating collaborative projects, multilingual learners of English can not only increase their awareness of LGBTQ+ individuals, but also enhance their linguistic skills to be able to discuss, debate, and consider the issues affecting LGBTQ+ individuals. 

10 Action Steps for Allyship

The following suggestions are excerpted from our book, Teaching Pride Forward: Building LGBTQ+ Allyship in English Language Teaching. This list is not exhaustive. We welcome other future research studies, pedagogical enACTSment, and policymaking to complicate, multiply, and build allyship with us. 

Here are 10 action steps for educators to apply as they engage with their ELT colleagues and professional communities (Trinh, de Olivera, & Andrade, 2024, pp. 187–188): 

      1. Calling out: Leaders, along with staff and teaching associations, name, address, and confront homophobic, ableist, xenophobic, and White privilege in public spaces such as meetings, conferences, and events, calling out these discriminatory acts in public and emphasizing that these actions are not accepted and allowed in professional spaces.

      2. Inviting in: Leaders, along with staff, create a culture of belonging for all identities at school by promoting inclusivity and respect for all students, regardless of their race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, religion, shape, or ability. This can be done through various means, such as providing diversity and sensitivity training for staff, implementing inclusive curriculum and policies, and fostering a positive school climate where everyone feels safe and valued. Additionally, actively seeking input and feedback from students and families from diverse backgrounds can help ensure that the school is meeting the needs of all community members.

      3. Using critical storytelling: Leaders and staff use critical storytelling in professional spaces by inviting local queer communities to discuss challenges faced by queer individuals and suggest how to support their communities. Queer performance is another activity that shows cultural, social, pedagogical, and political validation to queer individuals.

      4. Inquiring one’s self: Critical love involves self-reflection and examination of one’s own biases and privileges, which ask ELT organizations and leaders to identify and address the ways in which they may inadvertently perpetuate homophobia, transphobia, and biphobia. Leaders and staff actively listen to and value the perspectives and experiences of queer individuals and take action to address and challenge discrimination and injustice.

      5. Amplifying minoritized voices: Professional organizations encourage and amplify the voices of minoritized individuals within their organizations, particularly those from the queer community.

      6. Using inclusive language: Leaders in ELT organizations advocate for the use of inclusive language in their professional organizations, such as using gender-neutral terms and avoiding language that is offensive or harmful to the queer community.

      7. Hiring: Leaders in ELT professional communities ensure that their organization’s hiring practices are inclusive and diverse and that the workplace is free from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

      8. Providing professional development: Organization leaders offer professional development opportunities for employees to learn about queer issues and to develop their skills in working with and supporting the queer community.

      9. Creating a safe space: Teachers, leaders, and associations create a culture of allyship in their professional organization, where everyone feels comfortable and supported in bringing their authentic selves to work.

      10. Working collaboratively: As leaders, we must act and work collaboratively with others to explain the importance of using correct pronouns and knowing about the identities of our students, staff, and faculty. This is a form of love for the people we work with and an example of a humanizing approach to leadership.

Consider this list as a call to action to enhance the study of the intersections of learner identity, culture, ideology, research, pedagogy, and advocacy. We, the authors, hope to see the TESOL community embrace this approach to instruction and inclusion for all LGBTQ+ students.



Massachusetts Institute of Technology Teaching and Learning Lab. (n.d.). Create an inclusive classroom: Discussion guidelines. Retrieved from

Trinh, E. (2024). Queer allyship in TESOL: We need to ACTS now! TESOL Journal, e801. 

Trinh, E., de Oliveira, L., & Andrade, B. (2024). Cultivating critical love in professional organizations: A queering approach for ELT leaders. In E. Trinh, K. Reynolds, & J. Coda (Eds.), Teaching Pride Forward: Building LGBTQ+ Allyship in English Language Teaching (pp. 79–190). TESOL Press.

Trinh, E., Reynolds, K., & Coda, J. (2024). Teaching pride forward: Building LGBTQ+ allyship in English language teaching. TESOL Press.

Trinh, E. & Tinker Sachs, G. (2024). Thinking queer with Vietnamese EFL textbooks. Critical Inquiry in Language Studies, 21(2), 125–152.

United Nations Office of Higher Commissioner for Human Rights. (n.d.). About LGBTI people and human rights: OHCHR and the human rights of LGBTI people. Retrieved from 

Woo, A., Lee, S., Tuma, A. P., Kaufman, J. H., Lawrence, R. A., & Reed, N. (2023). Walking on eggshells? Teachers’ responses to classroom limitations on race- or gender-related topics: Findings from the 2022 American Instructional Resources Survey. RAND Corporation.

About the author

Kate Mastruserio Reynolds

Kate Mastruserio Reynolds, EdD, is a professor of TESOL/Literacy at Central Washington University. A licensed K–12 educator, she has trained teachers in several countries and taught multilingual learners of English in public-school districts at the elementary, middle school, and university levels in various contexts. Dr. Reynolds’ publications include Introduction to TESOL: Becoming a Language Teaching Professional and Research Methods in Language Teaching and Learning: A Practical Guide. In 2022, she was inducted onto the TESOL International Association’s Board of Directors (2022–2025).

About the author

Ethan Trinh

Ethan Trinh, PhD, (they/them) is an associate director of the Atlanta Global Studies Center. As a Vietnamese queer immigrant, Ethan enjoys thinking with emotions, gender, and language and explores how to embrace queerness as healing and meditative teaching and research practices. Ethan has published five edited volumes that focus on critical storytelling; teachers’ well-being; doctoral students’ emotions, identities, and community; and queer allyship. Ethan is the recipient of the 2022 Leadership Mentoring Program Award from TESOL International Association.

About the author

James Coda

James Coda, PhD, (he/him) is an assistant professor of English as a second language and world language education in the Department of Theory and Practice in Teacher Education at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. His research interests include LGBTQIA+ issues in language education, LGBTQIA+ teacher identity, and gender and sexuality.

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