Honoring LGBTQA Students in the Virtual Environment
Greetings, colleagues! At this point, many of us have discovered that we will be teaching virtually fully or partially this fall. This is a new world for some of us and a cause of some anxiety.
I believe that one of the most important things we do as choral conductor-teachers is to provide safe spaces for our students—especially for marginalized populations like LGBTQA students. “Safe space” is a bit of a ubiquitous term. Safe spaces are created by safe people who make deliberate choices to make them safe. As Dr. Jason Nichols wrote, “Safe spaces are stationary and stagnant. The classroom safe space stays within the walls of the ivory tower of academia. Safe people travel, carrying the message of justice” (2016, para. 2).
Virtual spaces can also be made safe. Below are some practical ways that you can become safe people for your queer students in the virtual environment.
- Name and Pronouns. One of the most tangible ways that you can honor trans or gender expansive students is to use their real name and pronouns—even when that’s not listed on the roster. This fall, I will be doing an online survey with all of my students as a way to get to know them better. One of the prompts asks about their pronouns. Remember to always ask students to identify name and pronouns in private so as to not force them to “out” themselves in front of the class. You can also Share your own pronouns: in your syllabus, within your Learning Management System, on PowerPoint/Keynote slides, after your Zoom name, and in your email signature. You can also include a statement in your syllabus about use of preferred name. For example:
- This course affirms people of all gender expressions and gender identities. If you prefer to be called a different name than what is on the class roster, please let me know. Feel free to correct me on your preferred gender pronouns either in person or in writing. You may also change your name for BeachBoard and MyCSULB without a legal name change. To submit a request, go to MyCSULB/Personal Information/Names. If you have any questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact the instructor.
- Realize that some students may use a gender-neutral pronoun like singular “they” or “ze/hir”
- Examples and Illustrations. Be sure that your illustrations and examples are not heteronormative (assuming all students are straight) and/or cisnormative (assuming all students are cisgender). For example, if a choir was studying “The Light Hearted Lovers” by Kirke Mechem, a “dialogue” between a man and a woman, a student might point out that the man in the story is portrayed as able to take care of himself and others while the woman character is portrayed as needing a great deal of help. The teacher might point out that that is an example of gender category oppression and ask another student to explain why. Teachers of vocal music have a responsibility to consider the texts of chosen repertoire and how those texts may affect students, especially students from vulnerable populations such as trans and gender expansive youth.
- Classroom Vocabulary. Remember that we label voice parts, not genders. Outdated language like “let’s have the women sing at rehearsal A” is not inclusive. There is no such thing as a “male voice” or a “female voice”—these are social constructions that have evolved over time.
- If you use PowerPoint or Keynote slides in your class, ask yourself who is represented in images you use. Are LGBTQA persons represented?
- Be Open to Listening. As choral conductors, listening is one of our most important jobs. The same goes for dialoguing with queer students. They will show and tell you what they need, if you are open to listening.
We can all work to be more inclusive of LGBTQA students in choral environments. If you have questions or suggestions, please feel free to contact me: firstname.lastname@example.org. I wish you great success as we all navigate this new world together.
In good health,
Hello! I hope that you’ve had a restful and restful winter break and are ready for a great spring! I have very much enjoyed working in this new position on the CCDA board. I would like to update you on some of the LGBTQ-related goings in in CCDA/ACDA.
At our January 2020 board meeting, we approved the following statement with regard to trans and gender expansive youth in our honor choirs:
CCDA Position on Transgender Student Equity
The California Choral Directors Association commits to be inclusive for students who identify as transgender or gender expansive. CCDA affirms that students of any gender may audition for any CCDA honor choir that matches their vocal range. Thus, transgender and gender-expansive students may be placed in any honor ensemble in which they feel comfortable. However, it would be expected that the student meets all of the expectations for that ensemble, including demonstrating the necessary vocal range for the voice part for which they are auditioning as part of their audition.
CCDA encourages its members to work with their school and county administration to ensure a positive and inclusive environment for transgender and gender-expansive students. This may include placing transgender and gender-expansive students in voice-specific ensembles (SSAA or TTBB) for which they identify, modifying vocal parts slightly, modifying uniform expectations for all students, and increased awareness of how hormone therapies may affect the singing voice.
We also passed the following statement on the 2021 National Conference in Dallas:
The State of California bans state-funded travel by state employees to eleven states with laws that discriminate against the LGBTQA (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning, agender/aromantic/asexual/ally) community. Among these states is Texas, the site of the 2021 National ACDA Conference. In response, the California Choral Directors Association (CCDA) affirms solidarity with the LGBTQA community and supports AB 1887, through which the California Legislature states that “California must take action to avoid supporting or financing discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people.”
The CCDA board acknowledges that its members will make an individual decision about whether or not they will travel to the national conference and that some members will choose not to spend personal funds in a state that has laws that discriminate against the LGBTQA community. For more specifics, visit www.calcda.org. [A longer statement can be found on our site]
These statements are very exciting. We really are leading the way nationally in terms of supporting all of our members.
I would also like to let you know about a very exciting project that I’m a part of. We’ve spearheaded a new commission consortium to bring awareness to the epidemic of violence against trans women of color in America:
NEW COMMISSION CONSORTIUM PROJECT
Artists: Mari Esabel Valverde & Dane Figueroa Edidi
Did you know that “The senseless killing of trans women” is a rampant problem in American society? (source: Marsha P. Johnson Institute)
Vision of the Work:
- The first in a series of choral pieces addressing the epidemic of violence, especially murders, of transgender women and in particular trans women of color (TWOC). We hope that this inspires conversations aimed at cultivating intentional solidarity with TWOC with a work created by two trans women of color. The vision is that this composition will eventually become one movement in a larger work. According to our artistic collaborators: “It’s not just one work. It’s a movement. It’s not just about honoring lives. It’s about saving lives.”
- Length of the Musical Work = ca. 4 minutes
- For SATB, with SSAA and/or TTBB voicings available
- To premiere in the 2021-2022 concert season/academic year. Choruses will receive scores no later than January 1, 2021
- Text to be written/compiled by Dane Figueroa Edidi
- Music to be written by Mari Esabel Valverde
Extension and Activism
- Conversation surrounding the work is necessary and can be extremely powerful in education and activism. Ideas include, but are not limited to:
- partnering with local organizations, schools, churches, etc.
- coordinating composer and/or poet talks at the premiere(s) of the work, etc.
- e-activism involving the distribution of the premiere video/audio recording
- Option for partnerships facilitated between high-school/collegiate choirs and GALA LGBTQ Choruses (www.GalaChoruses.org)
- Educational materials connected to the work will be provided for participating choruses.
Cost: Commissioning choruses pay a sliding fee of $300-750 to support the commission process. Includes score and curriculum for high school singers. This commission is offered free of charge to any trans chorus.
Deadline to commit to the project has been extended to March 1, 2020.
To state your commitment to this project, please click here (Google form).
For more information, please email Joshua Palkki at email@example.com.
As always, if you have any LGBTQ-related questions or concerns, do not hesitate to contact me.
I am so excited to take on this new role in CCDA. To my knowledge, we are the only state to have an LGBTQ-related position on their board. We really are “leading the way” nationally and we should all be proud of that.
Some vocabulary for common ground first. “LGBTQ” gets thrown around as an acronym often, but not everyone understands what these letters actually represent. The “LGB” and “Q” signify one’s sexuality, while the “T” and sometimes “Q” represent one’s gender identity. These are separate but related concepts. Sexuality (or sexual orientation), represents to whom one is attracted (or not)—physically, emotionally, or sexually. Gender identity is one’s inner “gender compass”—the gender they know themself to be on the inside, regardless of their body. If you woke up today feeling like a woman, then that is your gender identity. Gender expression is how we represent our gender identity in the world, through things like clothing, mannerisms, hair style, voice (choral directors take heed!), and jewelry. For example, I identify as a gay cisgender man (cisgender means that my gender identity and my assigned birth sex match). The Gender Unicorn is a great way to represent these abstract concepts (courtesy of Trans Student Education Resources):
Something I’d like to impart in this new role is that LGBTQ issues have always existed in choral music—we just “didn’t discuss it” for a long time. When Choral Journal published an article in 1990 about GALA (Gay and Lesbian Choral Organization) Choruses, there was great backlash from the readership. When Music Educators Journal published Louis Bergonzi’s “Sexual orientation and music education: Continuing a tradition” in 2009, there were scathing letters to the editor. Progress has not come easily, but it has come. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Let us realize the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” We all have multiple layers of identity (e.g., race, socioeconomic status, religious affiliation or lack thereof, sexuality, gender) and all of these play a role in how we experience the world around us—including choral music. Queer issues can be difficult to discuss, and there are varying levels of comfort with these issues. But for many of us in the queer community, these dialogues are powerful—even life changing. Paul Caldwell and I did research before our presentation on LGBTQ issues at the 2015 National ACDA Conference in Salt Lake City. As one of our respondents said: “Choir was my lifeline. I wouldn’t have survived my youth without the beautiful escape” (Palkki & Caldwell, 2018, p. 28).
There has been a lot of great research and scholarship around LGBTQ issues in choral music in the past several years. I started www.queeringchoir.com as a repository for these resources. There have been three LGBT Studies in Music Education Conferences thus far and a fourth next summer at the University of Oregon.
I am open to dialogue at any time. There are many questions of late about “gendered choirs”, uniforms, rooming on tours, honor choir policies, etc. I am happy to be a sounding board for anyone in CCDA about these issues. I look forward to the dialogue and I am grateful to Dr. Benson for creating this new position.
-Joshua Palkki, PhD
Palkki, J., & Caldwell, P. (2018). “We are often invisible”: A survey on safe space for LGBTQ students in secondary school choral programs. Research Studies in Music Education, 40(1), 28–49. https://doi.org/10.1177/1321103X17734973