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If You Are an LGBTQ+ Instructor, Should You Tell Your Students?

Academic science can be an unwelcoming place for LGBTQ+ individuals, and fewer LGBTQ+ undergraduates persist in STEM than their non-LGBTQ+ counterparts. In addition to being underrepresented in STEM, an LGBTQ+ identity is a concealable stigmatized identity, meaning that individuals who hold this identity often have to “come out” in order for others to know that they are part of this community. Because revealing can have a negative impact on one’s career, LGBTQ+ instructors in STEM may hesitate to reveal their identity to students.
Past research has shown that students report feeling more positive toward professors who share the same identity as them. Specifically, women and persons excluded because of their ethnicity or race (PEERs) had greater self-efficacy, greater persistence in their major, and a greater sense of belonging when they had instructors that shared their gender or race/ethnicity. The chance for a student to find instructors with similar identities is less common for LGBTQ+ students since students may not even know which instructors identify as LGBTQ+.
In a new study published in the journal CBE Life Sciences Education, researchers decided to explore how an instructor revealing her LGBTQ+ identity in a large upper division biology class would impact the students and the following are the major take-home points:

An overwhelming majority of students remembered that their professor came out

Despite the instructor only spending approximately three seconds of class time during an introductory slide to come out to her students, over 90% of students remembered that the instructor had revealed her LGBTQ+ identity.

Most students perceived that the instructor revealing her LGBTQ+ identity had a positive impact on their overall experience in the course

Almost two thirds of these students indicated that the instructor revealing her LGBTQ+ identity positively impacted them, one third said that it had no impact on them, and virtually no students said it had a negative impact. The instructor revealing her LGBTQ+ identity unsurprisingly had more of an effect on LGBTQ+ students than non-LGBTQ+ students, but even non-LGBTQ+ students seemed to benefit overall. According to the student responses, these positive impacts most commonly include increased connectivity to the instructor, feelings of increased inclusivity in the course environment, and normalizing/increasing LGBTQ+ representation in science. For those who reported the instructor revealing her identity having no impact on them, they most commonly cited the fact that it did not change the instructor’s ability to teach or their own ability to learn.

Students overwhelmingly agree that it is appropriate for an instructor to reveal their LGBTQ+ identity

Encouragingly, over 95% of students reported that they agreed it was appropriate for instructors to reveal their LGBTQ+ identity in class. Students most commonly talked about it being appropriate because it empowered the LGBTQ+ community and normalized these identities, which increased the relatability of the instructor, and helped to build trust and community in the classroom.

What does this mean for instructors coming out to their classes?

Two large fears instructors have when deciding whether or not to come out to their class is taking up class time and being perceived negatively by their students, hurting their career. This study counteracts these fears as just three seconds spent on revealing was enough to impact the students and 96% of students reported finding revealing one’s identity to be appropriate. So, while coming out is a person decision that is influenced by many factors, if you or someone you know is hesitant to come out as a member of the LGBTQ+ community because of lack of time or perceived inappropriateness, this study is a first counterargument to that. Rather, these results indicate that instructors coming out to students can have a positive effect on the vast majority of students, both LGBTQ+ and non-LGBTQ+ students.

For more information, go to:

Busch, C. A., Supriya, K., Cooper, K. M., & Brownell, S. E. (2022). Unveiling Concealable Stigmatized Identities in Class: The Impact of an Instructor Revealing Her LGBTQ+ Identity to Students in a Large-Enrollment Biology Course. CBE—Life Sciences Education, 21(2), ar37.

Post Author

Sam Maas is a recent ASU graduate, receiving a B.S. in Biology and Society, and is now working as a program coordinator for the RISE Center. They are taking a gap year before attending law school for environmental law.


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