Equity Literacy Project


Metal plated restroom sign placed over a red ground. On the metal restroom sign, from left to right, iconography of a female figure with a dress, male figure, and a figure with half female with dress and half male. The words Gender and Sexuality captioned at the bottom with white text.INTRODUCTION

Contributor: Rob Hill

Gender describes the conception and perception of an individual in relation to man-ness and masculinity on the one hand and woman-ness and femininity on the other. Sexuality refers to the spectrum of attraction to people of various genders. Although gender and sexuality are distinct concepts, they are often combined, in no place more visible than the initialization LGBTQIA+ (or variations thereof), which refers to people minoritized on the basis of their gender and/or sexuality, including trans, intersex, bisexual, asexual, lesbian, and gay people. The terms people in LGBTQIA+ communities use to describe themselves, and the relationships between their gender and sexuality (and other dimensions of identity), vary between individuals and cultures.


The oppression of gender and sexuality usually manifests as a dynamic in which individuals are expected to adhere to gendered norms: people assigned male at birth are expected to be men, masculine, and seek romantic and sexual relationships with women; people assigned female at birth are expected to be women, feminine, and seek romantic and sexual relationships with men. Deviations from these norms, some but not all of which constitute LGBTQIA+ identities, are discouraged or outright forbidden through various mechanisms such as legal (e.g., laws requiring individuals to dress “appropriate” to their sex, laws forbidding same-sex sexual and/or marital relationships to), physical-structural (e.g., facilities being designated for either men or women), and educational (e.g., single-sex schooling, sex education curriculum addressing only heterosexuality).


Like many dimensions of identity, gender is increasingly recognized as a social construction: that is, not bound by nature but rather governed by social rules and guidelines that vary across time and culture. Many genders, not just “man” and “woman,” exist across societies, and biologically, many sexes exist naturally – even among humans, whose DNA and sex characteristics are more diverse than a binary picture of gender would suggest. The recognition that the gender binary – the commonly-held conception that just two genders, man and woman, exist – is an incomplete approach to the wildly lived experiences of humans which has enabled a diversity of genders and sexualities to flourish. Put differently, when people recognize gender as a set of guidelines rather than unchanging natural dictates, they can embrace gender and sexual identities that feel most true to themselves instead of being confined to those they were once assigned.


Student Voices

Contributor: G.D., Harper College, Fall 2020

LGBTQIA in Schools

A major inequity in schools today is the treatment and experience of LGBTQ students. Gender and sexuality is a way for people to express themselves but it’s hard in schools. The students who are LGBTQ have to deal with bullying, lack of support from staff, and not always being able to experience what other heterosexual students can. This issue is a controversial topic around the world. Some people are being killed for being gay and some people are getting their rights taken away for being transgender.

It’s a topic that I identify as a gay student. I am open to my friends, but my family does not know, so it’s an interesting experience to witness. Bullying is an issue that has been going on for far too long. These days, it seems that there is some sort of norm created and if anyone tries to be unique and different, they are met with judgment and hatred. The LGBTQ experiences this daily. As a gay man, I express myself however I want.  Part of a gay man expressing themselves may be in a more feminine manner. That’s what I do, and I’m sure a bunch of other peers do too.  I’ve been fortunate to not have to deal with any personal bullying, but I have witnessed either in school or through social media, different types of bullying. Some people have been straight-up called awful slurs and been pushed around. They’ve been judged and have been made feel as if they can’t be who they are.

Additionally, we LGBTQ experience microaggressions, small subtle comments that can act as verbal hurt towards us. Phrases like “that’s so gay” or “no homo” get thrown around daily and even I’ve been in the presence of someone saying that not even 5ft from me. This heteronormative idea of being a stereotypical guy is what we are raised up and some students can’t see beyond that. Another term used is “toxic masculinity.” Straight guys have to be so classically “manly” and if they’re not, it’s considered dumb and “gay”. Let’s say that a straight guy is harassing a transgender student during school.  What any person would do is find an adult, but sadly nonheterosexual students can’t always trust that a teacher can help them. In general, most teachers are older and have grown up in a generation where there maybe wasn’t as much expression through sexuality as there is today.

This is a topic that’s still developing and that means that some teachers aren’t trained properly to help a non-hetero student. This puts teachers and victimized students in a weird spot because training helps educate the teachers on how to handle a situation and if they’re not trained about these types of situations, the victimized students possibly might not be able to get the exact help and solution they need. Aside from a lack of training, there are some teachers that sadly do not support LGBTQ students and so we feel judged by our own teachers that we can’t be ourselves. I’ve had male teachers who you would describe as stereotypical straight guys. I’ve tried to be myself and express myself in those classes with those male teachers and I have been met with weird glances and obvious judgment. It’s tough to see that even the adults in a situation, the people who we expect to be mature about these topics or educated about them, are in a way against us. In my school district, there was an ongoing issue about transgender bathroom rights. Transgender students were not able to use the bathroom of their choice and were forced to change into a separate isolated room. This issue was brought up in front of the district board several times and has been going on for several years, and luckily just this year, the district board finally allowed three of those students to use the bathroom of their choice. The fact that these administrators and superintendents were not allowing these bathroom rights for 5+ years is truly disheartening. They were not educated and informed and simply were acting based on the reaction of the community.

Another situation that happened to one of my transgender peers is that he was taking a class and was introducing himself. On the attendance sheet, it showed him and his name before he transitioned which was not updated and accurate. The teacher saw this and after class told him that no one would accept him for who he is and no one would call him by the pronouns he wants to be called. People transitioning from one gender to another is also another topic that is still controversial and there are many teachers and staff members that do not morally accept them and choose not to accept them or try to. At the end of the day, we’re all human. Our sexuality and gender do not define our personality. We are not good or bad based on our gender or sexuality. In high school, we all have traditional experiences and moments that the majority of us experience. Unfortunately, the LGBTQ can’t experience those moments sometimes. Falling in love in high school is something most students experience and many heterosexual students have crushes and are able to freely date whoever they like, but unfortunately, the LGBTQ cannot. The high school that I went to pretty much just had mostly heterosexual students and there wasn’t much of a diverse gay population. I know this may seem like a minor issue, but we all have different experiences and feelings, and emotions in the stages of high school. We all experience love, and we want to try and date and just feel the same happiness and emotions that our heterosexual peers do, and when we can’t get what our heterosexual peers want, it doesn’t make our high school experience as enjoyable. This leads to many different side effects and bad things that can happen. I know we can’t really control how many heterosexual students versus queer students attend schools, but I feel this goes back to the idea of toxic masculinity. There are many closeted students who want to come out and express themselves but the fear and worry that they might be judged for who they really are takes over. This means that the LGBTQ could have the same possibilities for people to date but the bullying and fear of bullying gets in the way. I know many people who were closeted in high school and waited till they graduated to come out because they were worried about how everyone around them would react. It’s something we need to normalize and alongside with normalizing it, we need to make sure everyone feels accepted. Teenage sexuality is a complex idea; it’s a topic met with bullying, no support or understanding from teachers, and bad experiences. It’s hard for some people to accept that we can love who we want to love and we can marry who we want to marry. It’s not an easy feat to walk into classrooms with my pink sweater, flamboyant personality, and eye-catching fashion. I feel content with myself even if I see bewildered responses—strange looks, some avoiding eye contact, distancing themselves, or covering up trying to avoid me. Although it might not be of great importance to those outside the community, it can be unsettling to anyone if they are continuously stared at wherever they go, since it is something they cannot control. In the end, all we’re asking for is acceptance and no judgment, as being gay, lesbian, bisexual, queer, transgender, because it’s not a choice. It’s a complex life and a series of emotions that happen; let’s not make it an inequity.




Identities & Labels


Denoting or relating to a person whose sense of personal identity and gender corresponds with their birth sex. [1]

Drag Queen/Drag King

Used by people who present socially in clothing, name, and/or pronouns that differ from their everyday gender, usually for enjoyment, entertainment, and/or self-expression. Drag queens typically have everyday lives as men. Drag kings typically live as women and/or butches when not performing. Drag shows are popular in some gay, lesbian, and bisexual environments. Unless they are drag performers, most Trans people would be offended by being confused with drag queens or drag kings.[2]


Of, relating to, or being the sex that typically has the capacity to bear young or produce eggs; made up of usually adult members of the female sex; characteristic of girls, women, or the female sex. [3]


Having qualities traditionally ascribed to women. [4]


Female to male [5]


A person who does not identify with a single fixed gender; of or relating to a person having or expressing a fluid or unfixed gender identity. [6]


Genderqueer people typically reject notions of static categories of gender and embrace a fluidity of gender identity and often, though not always, sexual orientation. People who identify as “genderqueer” may see themselves as being both male and female, neither male nor female nor as falling completely outside these categories. [7]


A general term used for a variety of conditions in which a person is born with a reproductive or sexual anatomy that doesn’t seem to fit the typical definitions of female or male. [8]


Denoting or relating to a person whose sense of personal identity and gender does not correspond with their birth sex[9]


A male person: a man or a boy; an individual of the sex that is typically capable of producing small, usually motile gametes (such as sperm or spermatozoa) which fertilize the eggs of a female. [10]


Having qualities or appearance traditionally associated with men, especially strength and aggressiveness.[11]

Metro Sexual

A heterosexual, usually urban male who pays much attention to his personal appearance and cultivates an upscale lifestyle. [12]


Male to female [13]


An adjective describing a person who does not identify exclusively as a man or a woman. Non-binary people may identify as being both a man and a woman, somewhere in between, or as falling completely outside these categories. While many also identify as transgender, not all non-binary people do. [14]


Refers to people who are in the process of understanding and exploring their sexual orientation or gender identity. They are often seeking information and support during this stage of their identity development.[15]


An older term for people whose gender identity is different from their assigned sex at birth who seek to transition from male to female or female to male. Many do not prefer this term because it is thought to sound overly clinical.[16]



Free from sexual desires or sexuality. [17]


Noting or relating to a person who is romantically or sexually attracted to both men and women, or to people of various gender identities; ambisexual. [18]


A person who is emotionally, physically, and/or romantically attracted to some other people of the same gender. Can be used to refer to people of all genders, though it is used most commonly to refer to males. Some women and girls choose not to identify as gay but as lesbian. [19]


Pertaining to the opposite sex or to both sexes. [20]


A person who is emotionally, physically, and/or romantically attracted to some members of another gender. [21]


Sexually attracted to members of one’s own sex/gender. [22]


A woman who is emotionally, physically, and/or romantically attracted to some other women. [23]


Not limited in sexual choice with regard to biological sex, gender, or gender identity. [24]


An acronym that stands for Queer Person of Color or Queer People of Color. [25]


Usually disparaging and offensive, used to refer to gay or lesbian. Noting or relating to sexual orientation or gender identity that falls outside the heterosexual mainstream or the gender binary. [26]

Sexual Identity

Sexual identity labels include “lesbian,” “gay,” “bisexual,” “bi,” “queer,” “questioning,” “heterosexual,” “straight,” and others. Sexual identity evolves through a developmental process that varies depending on the individual. Sexual behavior and identity (self-definition) can be chosen. Though some people claim their sexual orientation is also a choice, for others, this does not seem to be the case. [27]

Sexual Orientation

Determined by one’s emotional, physical, and/or romantic attractions. Categories of sexual orientation include but are not limited to, gay, lesbian (attracted to some members of the same gender), bisexual (attracted to some members of more than one gender), and heterosexual (attracted to some members of another gender). [28]

LGBTQ+ Experiences & Lives



Describes an LGBTQ person who has not disclosed their sexual orientation or gender identity. [29]

Coming out (of the Closet)

To be “in the closet” means to not share a part of one’s identity. Some LGBTQ people choose to disclose that part of their identity in some situations (to be “out”) and not in others (to be “closeted”). To “come out” is to publicly declare one’s identity, sometimes to one person in conversation, sometimes to a group, or in a public setting. Coming out is a lifelong process. In each situation, a person must decide where they are at that point in time with their identity. In each new situation, a person must decide whether or not to come out. [30]

(Cross-sex) Hormone Therapy

A treatment used to help people with gender dysphoria transition from their biological gender to their desired gender. [31]

Down Low

Pop-culture term used to describe men who identify as heterosexual but engage in sexual activity with other men. Often these men are in committed sexual relationships or marriages with a female partner. This term is almost exclusively used to describe men of color. [32]

Gender Dysphoria

Clinically significant distress caused when a person’s assigned birth gender is not the same as the one with which they identify. According to the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), the term – which replaces Gender Identity Disorder – “is intended to better characterize the experiences of affected children, adolescents, and adults.” [33]

Gender Expansive

Conveys a wider, more flexible range of gender identity and/or expression than typically associated with the binary gender system. [34]

Gender Expression

A person’s behavior, mannerisms, interests, and appearance that are associated with gender in a particular cultural context, specifically with the categories of femininity or masculinity. The external expression of gender roles, as through socially defined behaviors and ways of dressing. [35]

Living Openly

A state in which LGBTQ people are comfortable out about their sexual orientation or gender identity – where and when it feels appropriate to them. [36]


Refer to (someone, especially a transgender person) using a word, especially a pronoun or form of address, that does not correctly reflect the gender with which they identify. [37]


Exposing someone’s lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender identity to others without their permission. Outing someone can have serious repercussions on employment, economic stability, personal safety, or religious or family situations. [38]


Refers to a transgender individual who is generally perceived as cisgender. Passing typically involves a mixture of physical gender cues, for example, hairstyle or clothing, and certain behavioral attributes that tend to be culturally associated with a particular gender. [39]


A becoming or dignified sense of what is due to oneself or one’s position or character; self-respect; self-esteem. The state or feeling of being proud. [40]. Among LGBTQ+ people, pride can refer to being proud of their identities and communities, as well as Pride celebrations, which are often held in June to commemorate the Stonewall Riots and other struggles for LGBTQ+ rights.


Used to classify something, or suggest that it can be classified, in terms of its position on a scale between two extremes or opposite points. [41]


The process of changing one’s gender presentation and/or sex characteristics to accord with one’s internal sense of gender identity [42]

Systems & Institutions


Prejudice, fear, or hatred directed toward bisexual people. [43]

Biological Sex

The sex a person is assigned at birth. [44]


Either the male or female division of a species, especially as differentiated by social and cultural roles and behavior. [45]

Gender Role

The set of roles and behaviors expected of people based on gender assigned at birth. [46]


Unreasoning fear of or antipathy toward homosexuals and homosexuality. [47]


Strong or aggressive masculine pride.


Any of the diverse forms of interpersonal union established in various parts of the world to form a familial bond that is recognized legally, religiously, or socially, granting the participating partners mutual conjugal rights and responsibilities and including, for example, opposite-sex marriage, same-sex marriage, plural marriage, and arranged marriage. [48]


A system of society or government ruled by a woman or women.


 A social system in which power is held by men, through cultural norms and customs that favor men and withhold opportunity from women. [49]


Prejudice and/or discrimination against people based on their real or perceived sex. Sexism is based on a belief (conscious or unconscious) that there is a natural order based on sex. [50]


Fear or hatred of transgender people; transphobia is manifested in a number of ways, including violence, harassment, and discrimination.[51]



Fear or hatred of transgender people; transphobia is manifested in a number of ways, including violence, harassment, and discrimination. [52]

Safe(r) sex*

Sex education*

Sexual assault

Sexual assault is any type of sexual activity or contact that you do not consent to. Sexual assault can happen through physical force or threats of force or if the attacker gave the victim drugs or alcohol as part of the assault. Sexual assault includes rape and sexual coercion. [53]



Moonlight, dir. Barry Jenkins, 2016

This film tells the story of Chiron, a Black child growing up in Miami, in three parts: as a child, teenager, and adult. The film insinuates his sexuality in the first part wherein he is mentored and cared for by drug dealer Juan and his girlfriend Teresa. Juan and Teresa try to emphasize Chiron’s goodness and that there is no shame in being gay in the face of his being bullied for being effeminate. In the second part, Chiron has a sexual encounter with a classmate, another teenage boy named Kevin, who is later bullied into taking part in beating Chiron. In the final part, Chiron reconnects with Kevin and opens up to him in a way that would have been dangerous for him throughout his life, except when Juan and Teresa had cared for him as a child.

Moonlight tells a story of Black gay identity formation and includes themes of trauma, queer family, and vulnerability and intimacy. The story and its themes are not told so much as shown.

The film won the 2016 Academy Award for Best Picture, a first for a film with an almost exclusively Black cast and explicit LGBTQ+ themes. Tarell Alvin McCraney wrote the play on which Moonlight was based and co-wrote the screenplay; the story was semi-autobiographical for McCraney, who is openly gay.

The Celluloid Closet, dir. Rob Epstein & Jeffrey Friedman, 1995

This documentary reflects on American films and TV in the twentieth century and the Hollywood Production Code that forbade depictions of LGBTQ+ people.

Disclosure: Trans Lives on Screen, dir. Sam Feder, 2020

Disclosure explores the ways trans people are depicted in media and some of the experiences of trans performers.

Paris is Burning, dir. Jennie Livingston, 1990

This documentary tells stories of ball culture in New York City and is regarded as one of the “classic” documentaries of LGBTQ+ life. The film follows trans and gender non-conforming individuals, almost all Black and Latinx, who compete in “balls,” underground competitions involving fashion, dance, and other modes of engagement. The documentary depicts important predecessors for drag culture and shows the origins of many terms that have since become mainstream such as “shade” and “reading”.

The film can provoke rich discussions about the intersections of race, class, gender, and sexuality; ball culture is not merely queer and trans, it is of and by poor communities of color, many of whom were sex workers. Paris is Burning can also encourage discussion on storytelling and who gets to tell whose stories; director Jennie Livingston is a white woman and although she spent considerable time with the people interviewed and portrayed in the film, she was not from the communities she portrayed. It also important to bear in mind that language individuals use to describe themselves and others may not reflect current cultural norms; for example, in the 1980s many trans people might describe their aesthetic as drag whereas today there is a clearer distinction between drag performance and trans identity.



Feinberg, Leslie. Stone Butch Blues : A Novel. Leslie Feinberg, 2014.

Stone Butch Blues is widely considered an essential reading on trans life and identity. Feinberg tells the fictional (though drawn from Feinberg’s own experiences) story of Jess, a gender non-conforming individual growing up in the 1970s and ‘80s in a blue-collar town and eventually moving to New York City. Jess seeks out and finds pockets of queer and trans people but is subjected to constant violence.

Feinberg herself was one of the most notable trans figures of the 1990s and 2000s. In addition to Stone Butch Blues, zie wrote Transgender Liberation: A Movement Whose Time Has Come, a 1992 pamphlet that describes trans communities and their history. Hir final words were, “remember me as a revolutionary communist,” emphasizing hir connection between trans life and class/worker struggles.

Stone Butch Blues is assigned as reading in college classrooms more often than high schools, largely because of the brutal descriptions of sexual and physical violence. Older high school students may be interested in reading it but might be offered support to manage any re-traumatization or other harms that could emerge.

Taylor, Brandon. Real Life. London, Daunt Books, 2020.


Children’s Books

Herthel, Jessica, et al. I Am Jazz! New York, New York, Dial Books For Young Readers, An Imprint Of Penguin Group (Usa) Llc, 2014.

Love, Jessica. Julian Is a Mermaid. London, Walker Books And Subsidiaries, 2019.

Richardson, Justin, et al. And Tango Makes Three. New York, Little Simon, 2015.


Comics & Graphic Novels

Bechdel, Alison. Complete Dykes to Watch out For. Volume One. New York, Quality Paperback Book Club, 1997.

Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic. Boston, Houghton Mifflin, 2006.

Gabby Rivera. Juliet Takes a Breath. S.L., Penguin Group Usa, 2020.



Bornstein, Kate. My Gender Workbook: How to Become a Real Man, a Real Woman, the Real You, or Something Else Entirely. New York; London, Routledge, 1998.



“Sun Goes Down” – Lil Nas X



Canals, Steven. Pose. Color Force, 2018.

Sugar, Rebecca. Steven Universe. Cartoon Network Studios, 2013.

This animated TV show centers on the Crystal Gems, aliens who call Earth home, and Steven who is a part-gem, part-human child. The gems are canonically non-binary but use she pronouns. Concepts in the gems’ society such as fusion and off-colors can be seen as metaphors for marginalized sexual and gender identities (i.e., LGBTQ+ identities). Cultural expectations of gender, gender roles, taboo forms of love, queer family, authoritarianism, colonization, and trauma all emerge as themes.

Showrunner Rebecca Sugar is nonbinary and bisexual and had previously worked on Adventure Time, which also had LGBTQ+ themes including a romantic relationship between two central characters who were both women.

Several episodes specifically focus on Garnet, who is revealed to be a fusion between Ruby and Sapphire. Fusion between different kinds of gems is forbidden in gem society as a violation of class, with implications to the forbiddenness of deviant sexual orientations as well. The episode “The Answer” shows Garnet’s origin story and features the powerful queer affirmation, “don’t ever question this, you already are the answer.” The later episode “Reunited” features the wedding of Ruby and Sapphire.


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