LGBTQ Literature in Middle School Classrooms: Possibilities for Challenging Heteronormative Environments

Document Type


Publication Title

Sex Education: Sexuality, Society and Learning

Publication Date



Annsley Frazier Thornton School of Education


Department of Education


This paper uses a case study approach to examine how the heteronormative nature of one middle school setting and classroom environment shapes the climate of safety, support and learning for LGBTQ students when they are engaged in studying a novel with a gay character. Heteronormative environments inform and shape positioning of and by students and teacher, impacting how knowledge is created, processed and applied. LGBTQ literature integrated into the classroom curriculum invites opportunities for possibilities through windows and mirrors for exploration of the world and self. Heteronormativity, positioning and LGBTQ literature thereby become interactive catalysts that create and foreclose possibilities and impossibilities for student learning. Three themes emerged from the study that reveal positioning and possibilities when studying a text with a gay character: (1) the school environment and classroom context positioned students as heterosexual; (2) students and teacher positioned gender performance and sexual identity as other; and (3) while the text acted as both a window and a mirror, the teacher and students consistently framed different, and sometimes contradictory, views for each other. Together, these themes reflect a nested understanding of gender performance and sexual identity that subscribed to heterosexual norms and limited possibilities for LGBTQ students.