In 1979, Diana Ross (the Grammy Lifetime Achievement, Kennedy Center Honors, and Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient) collaborated with Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards. Their creative partnership produced the hit “I’m Coming Out,” released in 1980. It has become an anthem of the LGBTQIA2S+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer/Questioning, Intersex, Asexual/Allied, Two-Spirit) community: a song about pride, self-assurance, and strength.
After an incredibly challenging year, “I’m Coming Out” seems to have a more meaningful significance during Pride Month 2021. Coming through many months of hybrid and distance learning models, the return to in-person teaching provides educators a valuable opportunity to intentionally sustain classroom communities that affirm students’ identities as well as celebrate LGBTQIA2s+ perspectives and experiences.
Three impactful ways to do this vital work are 1) centering Asian American and Pacific Islander narratives in LGBTQIA2S+ history lessons, 2) exploring the importance of two-spirit people in indigenous communities, and 3) elevating the legacy of civil rights movement leader, Bayard Rustin.
1. Amplifying AAPI Experiences and Perspectives
Amplifying the lived experiences of Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) people offers opportunities to consider the rich diversity of identities within groups. Further, research has shown that LGBTQIA2S+ representation in curriculum supports safe school communities and fosters a sense of belonging. After the devastating episodes of violence against the AAPI community that occurred this year, it is critical that students’ examination of the AAPI community and LGBTQIA2S+ history is nuanced and inclusive. The Smithsonian’s digital exhibit, A Day In The Queer Life Of Asian Pacific America, invites students to engage with personal narratives, poetry, and videos that explore unique stories and journeys.
2. Acknowledging Two-Spirit People
The 2s identifier in the LGBTQIA2s+ acronym acknowledges two-spirit people. The term is derived from a translation of the Anishinaabe word: niizh manidoowag, which means “two-spirited.” In various indigenous groups, two-spirit people are those who are gender variant. In some tribal communities, two-spirit people are healers and perform important roles in ceremonies. Providing access to stories about how various Native American groups celebrate two-spirit traditions ensures a more layered understanding of indigenous history and contemporary culture.
3. Exploring the Life & Legacy of Bayard Rustin
Bayard Rustin was one of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s closest advisors. An architect of the first March on Washington in 1941, Rustin introduced Dr. King to the Principles of Nonviolence which served as a guiding framework for the Freedom Struggle. Rustin’s life and legacy has been diminished in the historical narrative because of his homosexuality. Recent academic research has elevated Rustin’s invaluable contributions, and, by studying Rustin, students have opportunities to also discuss intersectionality, hidden history, LGBTQIA2S+ inclusion, and changing social attitudes.
Learning for Justice and the ONE Archives Foundation both have excellent lesson resources for educators. In addition, Youth in Motion has constructed a comprehensive discussion guide to accompany a viewing of the award-winning documentary, Brother Outsider.
The final verse of “I’m Coming Out” includes the lyrics: “I’ve got to show the world all that I want to be….and all my abilities. There’s so much more to me…” Let’s amplify LGBTQIA2s+ perspectives and experiences this month and year-round; there’s so much more for us to learn and understand. Happy Pride!
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