The musical ensemble has a power to bring people together in many different ways. Through music, students can transcend boundaries that ordinarily may keep them apart, whether they be based on identity, age, race, religion, etc. Television is filled with shows like Glee who feature tropes of the choir room being a gathering place for misfits or school outcasts. Common stereotypes persist in our society for the affectionately called “band geek” who spends the majority of their time at school in the band hall.
Like their peers, many LGBTQ+ kids find themselves when they belong to an ensemble. Studies have shown that music teachers’ attitudes towards transgender students are fairly positive (Silveira & Goff, 2016). Transgender students like Rie found ensembles to be a safe place on her school’s campus:
“From within the ranks of her school’s music ensembles, Rie found a group of friends who would support and sustain her through the difficult middle school years and a larger cohort of musically minded peers who did not harass her as the students of the larger school body did.” (Nichols, 273)
“Rie experienced her band and choir classrooms as just that—sites at which she could express herself, places of momentary freedom in which music provided a means of escape from the pressures of a hostile school environment.” (Nichols,276)
Perpetuating a safe classroom environment for all students should be a priority for every educator. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs reminds us that students who do not feel safe will not be in the correct mindset to learn. By providing an environment that welcomes all, it will ensure a place for every student.
The following list is a collection of ideas focused primarily on maintaining an accepting environment for transgender students, but it should be noted that trans students are not the only marginalized individuals who are in your ensemble. Take a look here for some resources in creating an environment that welcomes all diverse students: https://www.cotyravenmorris.com/resources.html
·Stop any derogatory language in its tracks, whether it be transphobic, homophobic, racist, or anything else negative. Do not be afraid to take the time to publicly address the unacceptable language; explain why it is not okay or appropriate in your classroom.
· Make mutual respect one of the top priorities and rules.
· Be there for your students consistently. Let them know you are there for them.
· Trans students are normal students, so treat them as such! Try to not to draw extra attention to them or let students draw extra attention to them, especially in regard to things relating to their gender identity or gender expression.
· Model appropriate ways to speak with your students. Use correct pronouns and names for any transgender student based on what they have told you they use.
· Avoid gendered language such as “Ladies and gentlemen” or “Men do ____”. There are many other ways to refer to groups, such as by instrument/voice part, or something positive but gender neutral like “Hi friends!” or the ubiquitous Southern “Y’all.”
· Be vigilant for behind the scenes bullying.
· Check in with transgender students privately every once in a while, to make sure there aren’t any issues you are missing and also to build rapport with them.
· If you make a mistake, it’s okay! If a quick apology can be offered without being obvious, offer one. If you feel it would draw too much attention to the transgender student, apologize at the end of class. Forgive yourself, vow to do better, and then do better.
· Think about your implicit or explicit biases—be mindful of which students you call on, how many times you call on them, and try to equally call on all students.
· Do some team building and build camaraderie in the ensemble in both small and large groups. The more an ensemble feels like one unit, the more likely they are to support each other and develop deeper bonds.
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