LGBTQ+ Text Set
The Merriam-Webster definition for empathy is “the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner” (n.d., para 2). Through literature, readers can begin to experience empathy and apply these understandings to their own lives. Literature, in a sense, are stories of others lives. When we read, we place what we know onto the pages, and uncover new understandings that we had not known. Readers can only do this, however, if they are able to see empathy, practice empathy, and understand what the focus of understanding is.
Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer (LGBTQ) rights have been fought for for decades. With the 2015 Supreme Court ruling, stating that same-sex marriage is a right for all citizens in all 50 states in the United States of America, there has been more LGBTQ visiblity than ever before. As with all aspects of diverse cultures, support as well as backlash have also become more visible. Politics in America and around the world have questioned LGBTQ rights, making the wellbeing of LGBTQ youth unstable, depending on the climate of where they live. Though there may not be a substantially high percentage of LGBTQ youth in the United States, there is a troubling percentage of homelessness, bullying, and suicide amongst the LGBTQ youth that needs to be addressed.
Educators and schools need to be educated to help cultivate an empathetic culture for all diverse backgrounds, and provide opportunities for learners to experience these diversities within their curricula. All readers should be able to see themselves in stories they read, so that they can know that they exist in the world. In this case, LGBTQ literature and nonfiction texts can begin to expose another realm of diversity amongst educators and learners that may or may not have personal connections with that community.
This paper will be looking at a text set devoted to the social justice of LGBTQ rights, the diverse stories of those who are like and unlike ourselves, and how reading about others’ experiences, while making connections of our own, can help cultivate and nurture a school culture of empathy.
Newman, L., & Thompson, C. (2009). Mommy, mama, and me. Berkeley, CA: Tricycle Press.
Mommy, Mama, and Me (Newman & Thompson, 2009) is an illustrated children’s book suitable for children in Preschool up to second grade. It is a short text of twenty pages which has illustrations of the story, as well as rhythmic text. Both of these qualities would help young learners understand and connect with the story, as it provides visual aesthetics and rhythm to help aid in their emerging literacy.
The story of Mommy, Mama, and Me (Newman & Thompson, 2009) is about a lesbian couple and their child. This story depicts what a same-sex family looks like, and how they interact with one another. From fun activities to how much both mothers love their child, this book helps show that all families, regardless of their makeup, are capable of the same bonds that any other family has shared. Through this text, learners can begin to see connections from the bonds this family shares to instances in their own lives or in others’. They can compare and contrast these connections, making sense of the story while thinking about their own lives. In this way, these connections can introduce understanding and empathy in children’s lives for other diverse lives.
With this book, a teacher led think aloud would be most efficient when introducing the topic of LGBTQ. Prior to this book being read, it would be beneficial for the educator to have the learning community discuss similarities and differences amongst our own families amongst the peers in the classroom. This can help build personal connections and prior knowledge leading into the book.
- Woodson, J. (1995). From the notebooks of melanin sun. New York, NY: Scholastic Inc.
Jacqueline Woodson’s 1995 Young Adult novel, From the Notebooks of Melanin Sun, takes a different approach within this diverse text. Rather than the narrator struggling with coming to terms with her or his sexuality, as most LGBTQ novels involve, this novel’s narrator struggles with his own mother coming to terms with her sexuality. This novel gives the readers a new perspective on LGBTQ issues, and how the people affected by this sexuality struggle are the ones closest to you. Through the story, readers get to experience the thoughts and feelings of the narrator as he struggles to understand and accept his mother and her new lesbian relationship.
This novel is suitable for readers in seventh grade up to twelfth grade. It has a lexile measure of 690L and a Developmental Reading Assessment (DRA) level of 70. Learners would benefit from understanding the main conflict within the story in order to understand the effect it has on the characters and events throughout it. It would also help learners make notes on the transformation of characters as the story progresses, so they can see how the causes affected the evolution of the characters themselves. In order to maintain discussions of empathy, it would be important for the educator to provide learners the opportunity to express their own feelings in regards to what is going on in the story as it advances. They could do this by allowing for small group or whole group discussions, having learners journal about a section or topic of the book, or annotations in regards to their personal feelings and questions.
- Green, J., & Levithan, D. (2010). Will grayson, will grayson. Boston, MA: Dutton Juvenile.
Will Grayson, Will Grayson, written by John Green and David Levithan (2010) is a Young Adult novel that takes place in Chicago. Two characters who share the same name, Will Grayson, encounter each other and learn similarities and differences between one another. This novel has potential for many deeper meanings of what teenagers go through at this stage in their life, how labels and society affect us, and how many people can be in the same situation but experience something completely different.
One character in this book is a heterosexual male, who teenagers could relate to. He has his best friend, his love interest, and plenty of drama. The other protagonist of the book is a homosexual male, who teenagers could also relate easily to. He is hopelessly looking for love while not being completely true to himself. Learners could take this novel to become immersed in two worlds from both the protagonists views. The novel alternates between narrators of both protagonists, giving readers a chance to experience both lives. Being a part of both lives of the protagonists would allow for learners to reflect on the comparisons and contrasts between both characters, analyze the problems they both have and what solutions would benefit them both, and reflect on how the sequence of events played out and what would have happened if the two narrators hadn’t met at all.
The age range for the novel Will Grayson, Will Grayson (Green & Levithan, 2010) is fourteen to eighteen years old with a lexile measurement of 930L. This novel would be suitable for a high school course in which learners are able to interact with the text through annotation strategies, small group and whole group discussions on the novel’s plot, character qualities, conflicts, and opportunities for journaling personal connections.
- Winterson, J. (1985). Oranges are not the only fruit. London: Pandora Press.
Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit (Winterson, 1985), a semi-autobiographical novel, has been widely seen as a coming-out lesbian novel. However, Winterson reacts to that notion by saying that her book is “...for anyone interested in what happens at the frontiers of common-sense. Do you stay safe or do you follow your heart? I’ve never understood why straight fiction is supposed to be for everyone, but anything with a gay character or that includes gay experience is only for queers” (Winterson, 1985). In this way, readers will be given the opportunity to apply their own experiences to what that main character faces.
The novel is centered around a young girl who is a devout Evangelist, and comes from a family and town who are as well. Throughout the novel, she realizes her same-sex attraction, to which she questions and fears everything she thought she knew to be true.
Reading this semi-autobiographical novel with learners between the ages of sixteen to eighteen would be ideal. The lexile level, though not able to be found, I would suspect to be around the 1210L range. This novel has high level vocabulary, as well as deep concepts. Learners would benefit from having an essential question asked of them to ponder, such as what Winterson had asked, “Do you stay safe or do you follow your heart?” In this way, learners can begin dialogue around one of the enduring understandings of the novel, which will show how some people have one belief, while others have different beliefs. Due to the conflict that is confronted by the protagonist in the novel, learners will be asked to analyze the cause and effect of the protagonists actions. They will be asked to compare their own understandings to the protagonists. And possibly come up with a solution to the protagonist’s conflict. Teacher think alouds and annotations should take place throughout the reading of this novel, as there are many complex concepts within it. Teachers should continually model how one questions what they are reading, so that their learners will have the opportunity to practice this.
- Kuklin, S. (2014). Beyond magenta: Transgender teens speak out. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press.
Written as a nonfiction book of interviews, Susan Kuklin wrote Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out (2014) to share and represent the stories of six transgender young adults. Her interviews allow for those she interviewed to tell their realities, good and bad. Along with the interviews, Kuklin (2014) also provides photographs of her interviewees and their lives. This novel would give learners an opportunity to read an interview transcript based on questions that many of them probably have, or did not know they had. They will be reading about real lives in the world they presently live in.
This text would be suitable for learners aged fourteen to seventeen, with a lexile measurement of 600L. Beyond Magenta (2014) offers more than just text, but pictures as well. This can show learners that people who identify as transgender are indeed human, and are willing enough to make themselves vulnerable and show what people who are transgender look like. Through these interviews and photos, it is hopeful that learners will be able to identify some comparisons between themselves and the interviewees within the book. This would also provide great opportunities for learners to see what questions the interviewer asked, and develop their own questions to further their understandings.
The teacher could give the opportunity to allow for their learners to interview each other about their own lives. Regardless of how they identify culturally, it would be a time for the class to get to know each other and celebrate their idiosyncrasies. This could help the learners share their own stories with one another, gaining new understandings and empathy for their peers.
- Newsela Staff. (2017). White House lifts transgender student bathroom guidance. The Associated Press.
This article, along with multiple more articles that NewsELA (2017) has to offer regarding the topic of LGBTQ rights, is an important text to have within this text set. Nonfiction articles that are not only relevant but recent are important to learners. They are able to access prior knowledge on a subject they have seen on the news or read from a social media outlet. News articles are happening here and now, and learners appreciate getting to discuss such matters with their peers.
While reading and utilizing nonfiction articles, it is important that the teacher model strategies to help learners read complex texts. Reminding them strategies like skimming the page to get the idea, reading it through without highlighting first, how to highlight and annotate, what questions you come across, etc. and exemplifying them is crucial for learners who struggle with reading. Another great activity a teacher can do is to have their learners utilize double entry diaries to write their reflections on. In small groups, learners can come together with their reflections and discuss them together. This allows for a safe opportunity to share and listen, as well as ensuring that everyone has an idea because of the diary entry.
This activity of using the article would also benefit learners who do not know how to identify relevant and irrelevant information. The modeling, diaries, annotations, and discussions can help them stay the course when finding important information for understanding. Inevitably, we want for our learners to make connections to the literature we read, their own lives, and to the world around them.
- Newsela Staff. (2017). Text set: LGBTQ rights. The Associated Press. Retrieved from https://newsela.com/text-sets/37527/lgbtq-rights
This site is the text set of nonfiction articles that I would use throughout the literature readings to practice reading and comprehension strategies, to keep information relevant and recent, and to help further connections for the learners.
Empathy (n.d.). In Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Retrieved from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/empathy
Green, J., & Levithan, D. (2010). Will grayson, will grayson. Boston, MA: Dutton Juvenile.
Kuklin, S. (2014). Beyond magenta: Transgender teens speak out. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press.
Newman, L., & Thompson, C. (2009). Mommy, mama, and me. Berkeley, CA: Tricycle Press.
Newsela Staff. (2017). Text set: LGBTQ rights. The Associated Press. Retrieved from https://newsela.com/text-sets/37527/lgbtq-rights
Newsela Staff. (2017). White House lifts transgender student bathroom guidance. The Associated Press.
Winterson, J. (1985). Oranges are not the only fruit. London: Pandora Press.
Woodson, J. (1995). From the notebooks of melanin sun. New York, NY: Scholastic Inc.