Protecting LGBT+ students from discrimination: the role of librarian teachers


Since the refoundation law of July 8, 2013, the fight against sexist, homophobic and transphobic discrimination has been at the heart of the school’s missions which, in the name of the values ​​of equality and respect for others in their diversity, must ensure the safety of LGBT+ students. The latter are in fact vulnerable populations , running the risk of being attacked during their schooling. A reality darkly illustrated in January 2023 by the suicide of young Lucas , 13, harassed at school because of his homosexuality.

Young LGBT+ people also encounter different barriers in their access to information in public or school libraries . This is due to a lack of works likely to meet their informational needs (understanding who they are, accessing positive representations) or to cataloging errors which make resources present in the collections invisible. There are also psychological barriers that these young people impose on themselves. For fear of being stigmatized, they refrain from consulting or borrowing certain documents.

Meeting the information needs of all students, allowing them to develop their critical thinking and gain self-esteem is also one of the fundamental missions of the school and more particularly of the librarian teachers.

A study funded by MSH Lorraine and carried out between 2022 and 2023 with librarian professors from the Grand Est focused on the way in which they developed and transmitted knowledge linked to “gender issues”. This included themes such as equality between girls and boys, student orientation , sexist, sexual and LGBTphobic violence. The data collected made it possible to identify results on the way in which these teachers work for the well-being of LGBT+ students.

The profession of librarian professor

Holders of a CAPES in Documentation, librarian professors pursue three missions . As teachers, they participate in transmitting a culture of information to all students. They place their actions within the framework of Media and Information Education which aims, among other things, to enable students to recognize and overcome the stereotypes and prejudices conveyed by the media, television, advertising or by certain social discourses going against democratic and republican values.

As managers of the Documentation and Information Center (CDI), they organize, enrich and exploit the documentary collection to meet the needs of students and teachers.

They are also involved in opening their establishment to its educational, professional and cultural environment, which involves developing a policy of access to culture and creating partnerships with the associative and artistic world, etc.

If their dual profession is sometimes a hindrance in terms of recognition and professional identity , it can also be an asset in responding to the socially lively questions that enter the school.

However, on the ground, they face many difficulties which sometimes give them the impression of tinkering and fighting against windmills.

Promote a documentary collection without stigmatizing an audience

LGBT+ students are not always identified by librarian teachers, with the exception of those who openly assert themselves, make suggestions for acquiring books or find refuge at the CDI to escape the bullying to which they may be victims. Most of the time, it is therefore a question of meeting the information needs of a supposedly present audience.

The desire to acquire resources is not enough to guarantee the creation of a relevant fund. Some librarians highlight their lack of knowledge of this public which is far from homogeneous (the needs of a cisgender gay boy are not the same as those of a transgender girl) and a lack of vocabulary which does not always allow them to conduct effective information searches or properly index documents. Their own representations also play a role in the constitution of the collections.

The question then arises of promoting a fund without stigmatizing a public. How to choose the right keywords and overcome the limitations of thesauri? How can we offer “positive” stories that do not reassure students in the idea that they will always be isolated, harassed, rejected?

Added to this is a reflection on the classification of the works . For example, removing from a manga collection those whose plot depicts a romance between two characters of the same sex to integrate them into a special collection can be a source of stigma. Conversely, not reporting the existence of such intrigues and leaving the works within a general collection can lead to their invisibility.

Questions that crystallize resistance

Whether it is the LGBT+ issue, girl-boy equality or even sexist and sexual violence, librarian professors are faced with a lot of resistance.

Students may be resistant to these themes because they follow group dynamics and avoid being open-minded so as not to be noticed. Some people sometimes mention political or religious beliefs which, although they have no place in school, can hinder the smooth running of a session.

Parents may also have reservations about the conduct of activities, which sometimes pushes teachers to a form of self- censorship or circumvention strategies. This is all the more true in private establishments under contract with the State located in territories where traditionalist Catholic organizations pressure so that gender issues are not addressed in schools .

Resistance can come from other members of the educational team, due to lack of time or interest, or because they are not comfortable with these questions or are also locked into stereotypes .

Finally, in France, the majority of librarian professors are women and some of those we met sometimes say they feel, within management teams, ordinary sexism ranging from a lack of support in the organization of events yet presented as priorities in official texts to a devaluation of the actions they put in place.

Hybridizing info-documentary knowledge and community knowledge

Documentary teachers, particularly those who are involved as girls-boys/LGBT equality mission managers , recognize the usefulness of the training offered by the institution, because they contribute to defining the institutional framework of the education policy. equality and to implement projects. However, they are often too short and too few in number.

The institution alone cannot provide the necessary knowledge and support, especially since it often formulates paradoxical injunctions, reproduces the gender system and promotes the persistence of sexual inequalities . It is therefore within other spheres that these teachers learn about LGBT+ history and culture:

  • young colleagues, interns or educational assistants, who embrace their sexual orientation and/or gender identity, or are interested in these issues;
  • concerned students who get involved in prevention activities or in the life of the CDI;
  • their private sphere (activism, child who has come out );
  • the associations with which they collaborate within the framework of specific actions .

The need for closer collaboration with this type of association to acquire resources appropriate to the needs of students, use adequate vocabulary and become familiar with the “queersaurus” was also mentioned during our survey.

A process of hybridization of info-documentary knowledge with situated and community knowledge (of the people and associations concerned) seems to be taking place, as well as a phenomenon of ascending knowledge transmission (from children/students/trainees to teachers). in office for several years). This promotes the emergence of relevant and non-stigmatizing documentary treatment and better consideration of the LGBT+ public in the cultural panorama of establishments.

Author Bio: Bérengère Stassin is a Lecturer in information and communication sciences, member of CREM at the University of Lorraine