I’ve attended and delivered my fair share of LGBTIQ+ awareness training sessions. Too many to count! What I’ve noticed is that they follow a common formula. The facilitator will typically run through what the acronym stands for, the difference between gender expression and gender identity, how to use pronouns and what can be done to increase LGBTIQ+ inclusion in the participants workplace, school or sporting club.
Recently, I became aware of the failure of this model to support effective discussions around gender or to impart an understanding of the lived experience of LGBTIQ+. Sure, misgendering of a colleague’s partner may be introduced, perhaps through a lighthearted exercise where a member of the participant group is asked to describe their weekend without alluding to their partner’s gender.
But, particularly in Diversity and Inclusion in the workplace training sessions, this is as close as the participants get to understanding the difficulties and challenges faced by LGBTIQ+ people and to challenging their own assumptions about gender. Let’s take a look at why this is.
A key reason LGBTIQ+ awareness training sessions aren’t as successful as they could be is because of time constraints. I’ve observed sessions as short as twenty minutes! And very rarely would a session be longer than two hours. This is completely understandable – priorities are many, time is precious and attention spans dwindle.
So, with the short time available trainers prioritise the above mentioned content because after all, it is LGBTIQ+ awareness and if the acronym isn’t described in detail then haven’t we failed? However, importantly, just because your organisation is short on time doesn’t mean the content can’t be effective. I’ll unpack this a little further down.
I suspect another reason facilitators often stick to the tried and true model above is that I think they’re frightened and/or frustrated by the experience of non-LGBTIQ+ folk talking about queers as if they completely understand our lives and experiences. I get it. It can be condescending and sometimes outright offensive. But, if we don’t facilitate a brave space for opinions and mistruths to be voiced, how can we know what education needs to occur?
I think that LGBTIQ+ awareness training has moved too far into a teacher-centered approach of direct instruction and knowledge transfer. Ultimately, I don’t believe it’s helpful for an office worker to sit an exam on the definitions of each letter of the acronym.
What I’d like is for workshop participants to feel empowered to be curious. This might look like an effort to be respectful when a new employee requests they/them pronouns AND to find out what could make that person’s experience better, by asking the right questions and knowing what to look for.
LGBTIQ+ awareness training (and for that matter gender equity training) lends itself to inquiry-based and interactive learning. Not many topics capture people’s attention like this one. And if the facilitator has lived experience, is well researched and possesses the skill to guide the conversations – the outcomes will surpass those of traditional teaching methods.
I delivered a session with this approach to a group of Geelong’s emerging leaders to unpick the concept of gender. I provided very little information before I set them a case study to attend to. Within two minutes I’d already overheard four of the key concepts I wanted us to get to being discussed. The participants were challenging each other and, importantly, they were sharing stories about their lives. We then got to flesh out some ideas further as a group.
By the end of the session, I was satisfied we’d covered all the required content and I knew the participants had a deeper understanding of gender and its impact on them and people around them. And sure enough, the feedback provided to me afterwards suggested they’d developed confidence about discussing gender with their families, communities and work colleagues.
This field is forever changing – the acronym itself is forever changing! – but it’s important for us to challenge people to consider what it means to not fit into gender norms. Then maybe they’ll identify specific and targeted actions to promote inclusion in your organisation.
If your workplace, school or organisation is looking to run LGBTIQ+ training sessions, here are 5 questions to ask your potential facilitator to make sure you get the right fit. Better yet, get in touch with Bree Gorman. We offer LGBTIQ+ inclusion workshops that provide space for your colleagues to learn how to foster a safe, supportive environment for LGBTIQ+ people.
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