Queer 101: LGBTQ+ Cultural Competence for ESD Teachers

Violence against someone because they aren’t heterosexual is gender-based violence.

Violence against someone because they violate gender norms is gender-based violence.

Helping LGBTQ+ people isn’t different, or separate, from the work we do already.

~ Lauren Taylor, Defend Yourself

As Empowerment Self-Defense instructors, we’re committed to eradicating gender-based violence.

People who aren’t heterosexual and cisgender experience the most frequent and most severe interpersonal and hate violence, and can truly benefit from ESD training.

Because of that, we’re responsible for developing cultural competency and learning to be inclusive of all students, regardless of sexual orientation or gender.

Here are some suggestions for making your ESD classes welcoming and comfortable.


(Definition from Merriam Webster)

Not everybody identifies with the traditional binary of male and female. Many people identify along the spectrum between male and female, some move along the spectrum in their day-to-day lives or during their lifetimes. Many people identify as off the spectrum entirely.

We can't know a person's gender by looking at them, and because we want to be respectful, we give people a chance to share their pronouns.

When you introduce yourself to your class, tell the group your pronouns. This models the practice and can help others feel comfortable doing the same. This sounds like: “Hi my name is Lauren, and I use the ‘she’ pronouns or the ‘they’ pronouns” -- or your own version of this.

Many people aren’t familiar with the practice of introducing themselves with their pronouns. So explain that a pronoun is the word we use to refer to a person when we're not using their name. For example, “Where’s Lauren?” “She/he/they just went to the bathroom.”

Be clear that the practice of sharing your pronouns is a choice -- not required.

A singular “they” is the most common pronoun besides “she” and “he,” but others exist. To help yourself, any other teachers and the group members get everyone’s pronouns right, give everyone the option of writing their pronouns on their name tags.

And if you make a mistake (called “misgendering”), apologize, correct yourself, and move on.


Make it clear who’s welcome in your classes, and if you only teach women and girls, consider broadening your work. Those most affected by gender-based violence are women, teen girls, and LGBTQ+ (including nonbinary) people. Those most targeted for sexual violence and most likely to be abused in relationships are women, teen girls, children, and LGBTQ+ people.

For example, at Defend Yourself, most of our classes are open to women, transmen, and nonbinary (or enby) people. Sometimes we have LGBTQ+-specific classes, and we open those to all genders.

In the classroom, use inclusive language so you don’t make people feel unwelcome or create a barrier to learning. For example, don’t use “he” as the aggressor” and “she” as the target. Instead, use the singular “they” in sentences like: “What are the target’s options in a situation like that? What do you think they might be feeling?” Another example: Instead of saying, "The man you're out to dinner with," say "The person you’re out to dinner with." Or “Did you know them?” Don’t assume the gender of the people your students are seeing or partnered with.

Do the same with targets on the body. In Defend Yourself classes, we call a knee to the genitals a “groin strike,” and say “if the person has testicles….” Here again, we’re not assuming the attacker will have testicles, as an abuser may be a woman, and because some men don’t have testicles, and some women do.

Images, Space, & More

Think about where you promote your classes, and which marketing strategies will attract a diverse group. Do you partner with the LGBTQ+ organizations in your city or on your campus? Do you reach out to LGBTQ+ faith groups, sports teams, or employee associations when publicizing your classes?

Look at the images you use on your website, fliers, or handouts. Do the people in the images represent all the people you offer classes to? If not, how can you vary the images so all of your students will have some to relate to?

If you're looking for a space to hold your ESD class, think about where LGBTQ+ people will feel comfortable and welcome. What neighborhoods will be safe for them to be in? What places will be safe (for example, some churches may not be welcoming). Who else might be sharing the space with your group? Will people be in the building who might harass your students about what bathrooms they use?

If you have a say in the matter, find assistants and co-teachers whom students will relate to easily, and make sure they’re educated about LGBTQ+ issues.

Support LGBTQ+ Survivors

The best way to begin advocating for LGBTQ+ survivors is to be empathetic, and to be knowledgeable about their lives and needs. Educate yourself about the ways that gender-based violence against LGBTQ+ and nonbinary people is different from (and the same as) violence against cis, straight people.

Understand that because LGBTQ+ people are marginalized, they have more barriers to asking for and finding support. If they belong to other oppressed groups – for example they’re also a person of color, or poor, or disabled – understand that those identities are intertwined and can’t be thought of apart from each other.

Find out what groups in your town, city, or state provide culturally competent services to LGBTQ+ people, including nonbinary people, so you can make solid referrals.

Next Steps

If you’re cisgender and straight, or even if you’re not, acknowledge that you don’t know everything about the realities of LGBTQ+ people’s lives.

As ESD instructors, we want to reach as many people as possible so we can make more lives safer. What matters is your willingness to learn and educate yourself.

Ask yourself: How does what you teach and how you teach leave out communities or group of people? Read the materials and follow the links below to start finding out where your blind spots are. Then choose an action or two that you can take to make your classes more welcoming, inclusive, and relevant to all those who need them.

* Please tell us: What is one step you will take to make your curriculum / teaching / marketing more inclusive?

Lauren R. Taylor has been working to end gender-based violence, and been an out queer activist, since 1978 (coincidence? You decide). She directs Defend Yourself, which teaches skills to those targeted, and bystander intervention, which teaches those who witness. She also heads up Safe Bars, which empowers hospitality staff to step up when they see harassment and worse. Lauren also has published widely on interpersonal violence. She loves justice, chocolate, her hometown of DC, and cats, not necessarily in that order.

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