In this post I will highlight two authors who have each written Spanish comprehension-based readers that present the lives of LGBTQ adolescents. Not only do Jennifer Degenhardt’s Secretos and Adriana Ramirez’s Julio provide great sources of comprehensible input for students, but they also present protagonists who are living their whole selves with regard to their sexual orientation and/or gender identity. By presenting positive representations of LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer) characters, these authors have affirmed the identities of LGBTQ people and created stories that will have a lasting effect on those who read them: representation and seeing oneself reflected in the curriculum and classroom matters. The positive effects of this cannot be ignored and GLSEN’s research continues to support this claim.
Adding readers like this to your curriculum or free-reading library is a way to pull the curtain back on the inclusion of the often hidden LGBTQ identities that have yet to find their way in the main-stream publishing word. I could not imagine having seen positive representations of LGBTQ identities in my Ya verás or Dime textbooks back in the 1990s or 2000s (not even at the college level). For this reason I applaud the team at Voces Digital whose comprehensible input digital text series Nuestra Historia includes Degenhardt’s Secretos as the additional reader for their level IV text. This inclusion, in a mainstream Spanish textbook, is a remarkable step toward bringing visibility of a young person grappling with understanding their gender identity.
Secretos (Level: Intermediate Low/Mid) explores the lives of pen-pals Sofia, from Argentina, and Alexis, from the US, who both have secrets related to their identities. Sofia’s family has just learned that her mother was “adopted” during the Dirty War of Argentina. This compelling and socio-historical setting provides students a time to learn about the Plaza de las Madres while the family and pen-pals all try to solve the mystery of the parents of Sofia’s mother. The storyline reminds us of the power of the Internet and today’s generation’s strong capacity to investigate and find information while also having interpersonal global connections at the touch of a button. Through the character of Alexis, we see a teen understanding his gender identity with a positive-centered approach to mental health support. We hear Alexis’s words as he works through pronoun usage and his thoughts on telling his family about his gender identity. For more information about understanding gender identity, visit GLSEN’s page on Supporting Trans and GNC Students.
The addition of a black trans female therapist, who is fierce, confident, and proud, is a great intentional move by the author to represent another minority voice in the work. Unfortunately in the US, the statistics of murders and violence toward black trans women and the suicide rates of transgender and gender-conforming youth are staggeringly high (I have included a hyperlink for more information on each topic). News reports like the links provided are not the only representation our young people deserve to see, and Degenhardt’s Secretos has given voices to real characters, who love themselves and are affirmed by the people around them.
Adriana Ramirez’s Julio (Level: Novice High-Intermediate Low) tells the story from the perspective of a teacher about her student Julio, whose self-confidence and ability to live openly as a gay teen is heroic and school-climate changing. High school teacher Ramirez says she will never forget all she has learned from Julio, who lived his truth and was able to be as we hope all LGTBQ teens could. The book’s cover shows Julio with rainbow-colored angel wings. To me, the wings represent the beauty of his visibility in the school community and how his legacy will continue to raise the community up by providing safe-spaces for more LGBTQ students to come.
Throughout the book, Ramirez states that she has learned so much from Julio. An additional take-away for me is that their mutual mentorship and admiration is exactly the kind of support and strength that is needed for many LGTBQ youth. It is critical to have visible educator advocates in school communities. With more educators donning the symbolic rainbow-colored angel wings, all students feel safer and more educators can help some students along their journeys of understanding their complex identities. Please consider downloading GLSEN’s free Safe Space Kit, which is in English and Spanish, for tips and strategies for being an educator ally. It also has safe-space signs and stickers, to print, so you too could be visible in your school community.
Since my professional life has centered greatly on the fields of World Language Teaching and LGBTQ Inclusivity & Social Justice, I have worked, over the past few years, to create spaces and times to bring my two fields together in workshops and trainings throughout the country. In fact, Dr. Ramón Robles-Fernández and I presented on “Building a More Inclusive Environment for LGBTQ Students in World Languages” at ACTFL 2018 (linked included for the full presentation) to a room of 100+ educators who wanted to understand how to meet the needs of LGBTQ young people in their classes and make better connections to the LGBTQ experience in their curriculum. It brings me joy when other educators from the world language field are using their platforms and voices in order to teach about and/or improve the experiences for LGBTQ students who too often feel marginalized, hidden and ashamed, and are still bullied or harassed for being their authentic selves.
Thank you to Jennifer Degenhardt who is committed to telling stories of many minority voices and providing inclusive materials for our Spanish, French, and English language students. Degenhardt has also written the Spanish reader Los tres amigos with a gay character and is currently writing another LGBTQ positive reader. More information about Jennifer Degenhardt’s work can be found at https://www.puenteslanguage.com/.
Thank you to Adriana Ramirez for sharing Julio’s story and the personal impact he had on her growth as an educator and on her school’s community. The book beautifully describes your pride for Julio and his accomplishments in a way that is so affirming. Your story reminds me of the important role we all play in the lives of our students and the importance of having more visible educator allies in our schools. More information about Adriana Ramirez’s work for French and Spanish language students can be found at http://adrianaramirez.ca/.
Peace as we move on to a great school year!
Here are a few more resources:
-My Resource: LGBTQ Resources for Educators
-An Article: The Necessity of LGBT-Inclusive Curriculum by Mark Pino
-GLSEN’s Site, www.glsen.org, as the leader in Educator Resources, Policy, GSA Support and Research on and for LGBTQ Students in K-12 schools.