What did the researchers want to know?
What is the nature of the role secondary choral programs play in creating safe space for LGBTQ students?
What did the researchers do?
Palkki and Caldwell surveyed 1,123 collegiate choral students from the U.S. and Canada who identified as members of the LGBTQ population. The survey included a variety of Likert-type items as well as open-ended questions pertaining to participants’ experiences as LGBTQ singers in middle school and high school choirs.
Quantitative data analysis indicated that high school choral programs were more strongly perceived as safe spaces for LGBTQ students than middle school programs, and respondents reported feeling safer expressing their LGBTQ identities in their high school choral programs. Through qualitative analysis of open-ended responses, Palkki and Caldwell found that “the overwhelming message … was that the singers wanted choral conductor-teachers to acknowledge and/or discuss LGBTQ issues in the choral music classroom…. Participants believed that if choral educators did not discuss [matters of gender identity and sexuality] in a culture and schools that are heteronormative and cisgender-centric, that they were not open and accepting” (p. 35). Without specifically addressing LGBTQ issues, general “no-bullying/zero-tolerance” policies were not effective in helping students feel safe and supported by the teacher. Numerous respondents indicated that directors’ failure to confront homophobic slurs hindered students’ sense of safety. Conversely, having teachers “come out” as allies for LGBTQ students is extremely encouraging. Inclusion of LGBTQ topics in the curriculum, such as LGBTQ composers/lyricists, can be “symbolic and influential” (p. 37). Additionally, “LGBTQ students may feel excluded from experiences and conversations in which they do not see themselves represented” (p. 38), such as exclusively heteronormative language or lyrics.
What does this mean for my classroom?
Unless we make it explicitly clear to our students that our classroom is a safe space for LGBTQ individuals, they are likely to assume it’s not. Here are some suggestions based on Palkki and Caldwell’s findings:
- Display a “safe space” sticker or sign in your classroom or on your office door, such as this printable one from GLSEN. One of Palkki and Caldwell’s respondents commented, “It might sound silly, but the ‘safe space’ sticker makes all the difference in the world. Even if you don’t talk about it to that teacher, knowing they won’t tolerate any negativity about that makes a world of emotional difference” (p. 37).
- Be sensitive and thoughtful when choosing music, consciously considering the feelings and experiences of your queer and gender non-conforming students. As described by one of Palkki and Caldwell’s respondents, “heteronormativity in songs is very troubling. And the way that traditional worship songs and outdated homophobia are linked together made singing worship songs very uncomfortable for me” (p. 38).
- Rethink gendered language. For example, one of Palkki and Caldwell’s respondents noted, “A trope that has become standard choral parlance of referring to TB voices as ‘men’ and SA voices as ‘women’ is EXTREMELY CISSEXIST IN NATURE [capitalization in original] and [makes] me as a transperson singing in a choir feel very awkward and uncomfortable” (p. 40). Instead of referring to singers as men/women, they could be referred to by their voice parts (e.g., treble voices, sopranos and altos, etc.).
- Choose concert attire that will allow all students to be comfortable. Avoid traditional “gendered” performance uniforms, instead opting for concert black or providing several uniform options from which students can choose. In the words of one of Palkki and Caldwell’s respondents, “forcing everyone with a vagina to wear a dress is bullshit” (p. 40).
- Include LGBTQ topics in your classroom. One of Palkki and Caldwell’s respondents suggested, “When a piece by a queer composer is done, or if the text is written by someone queer, mention it. Show queer youth that, yes, this beautiful work was written by someone who is queer. Allow their dreams to be as infinite and indestructible as non-queer kids” (p. 38).