Location/geographical coverage

University of Birmingham, United Kingdom, West Midlands region, Edgbaston, Birmingham.

Background and description

Widely accepted that university is a ‘good place’ to be gay, lesbian, bi, trans* or queer – that moving away from home and connecting with a wider range of people is a liberating experience and can positively shape students’ identities and enable them to build supportive social networks. On the other hand, people who identify as LGBTQ continue to experience higher levels of discrimination and abuse than the general population in all aspects of their lives, which can have a negative impact on their physical and mental health.

In order to address the issue, mentioned above, the guidance on best practice for an LGBTQ-inclusive curriculum was developed.

Guidance was rooted in the experience of students and colleagues, as well as being informed by theoretical developments in education. This guide supports colleagues across further and higher education to be inclusive about LGBTQ identities in their teaching practice and to feel confident in making gender and sexual diversity visible within the curriculum. Inspiring examples were shared and tailored to different academic disciplines, on how to do this in practice.

The model for the LGBTQ-inclusive curriculum consists of three domains of inclusivity (Language, Content and Role Models) and three levels of inclusivity (Awareness, Additive and Transformative).





Avoiding abusive and discriminatory language

Signposting to LGBTQ organizations and events

Basic acknowledgement of gender and sexual diversity


Avoiding hetero-normative and cis-normative language

Access to mentors for LGBTQ-identified students

Inclusion of topics, themes and readings about LGBTQ identities


Critical engagement with queer/trans inclusive language

Role models and allies in the teaching and learning environment

Critical approaches to pedagogy, supporting social engagement and action/inclusive professional practice

Stakeholders and Partners

The beneficiaries of the good practice were students, the users – University staff. The project team consisted of a range of colleagues from across the University of Birmingham. The main partner was Stonewall – an organization which stands for all LGBTQ+ people.

Methodological Approach

The project was developed over two years. First, a literature review was conducted which provided some context for the study and influenced the model of inclusivity. Second, a survey of staff and students was conducted to better understand the situation at the University of Birmingham. Third, meetings with various colleagues were organized to complement this quantitative and qualitative research data. Fourth, collaborative workshops with students and academic colleagues were conducted to share the findings from the project and gather further examples of good practice. Finally, a best practice guide was developed.


Students confirm that the good practice addresses the needs: ‘One of the reasons that drew me into coming to study and the University of Birmingham was the range of topics discussed on my course. This proved evident during last term when I had a selection of lectures exploring medieval sexuality in which I was able to dwell on a personal study for my assignment. Many of my friends studying the same topic at different universities aren’t fortunate enough to be able to learn about historical conceptions of gender and sexuality… I’m pleased my course offers this.’

Innovation potential

Developed guidance led to the creation of welcoming and inclusive environment in higher education where all students can reach their potential. In an environment where discrimination, fear of discrimination and hatred are declining, LGBT students can have a positive experience in higher education and better educational outcomes.

Success Factors

  1. Structures and policies. Where project team could, they continually made reference to University policies on inclusion. When issues emerged that were not covered by University structures or policies, the team contacted those with the authority to change them and shared findings and suggestions.
  2. Supporting staff to be more inclusive. Project fed into formal training systems of the University – such as a new component in the induction programme for new staff (run by HR) and increasing content on inclusivity in the teaching qualification for new lecturers (run by Educational Enhancement team). Also, supportive workshops within subject groups on becoming more inclusive were offered.
  3. Workshops with staff and students. Two-hour workshops with staff in discipline-specific groups were held. Workshop structure: (a) description of the national picture of LGBTQ inequalities in health and higher education, (b) data on completion rates and experiences of students from their own courses, (c) description of the model of inclusivity and reflection of the participants where their department was currently, (d) participants had to identify priorities for change within their department, and (e) participants had to make personal pledges on actions they would take in the next 3–6 months (on postcards which were sent back to them after 6 months).
  4. Developing wider networks and support. International network ‘LGBTQ inclusivity in Higher Education’ was set up which ran its first conference in September 2016.


Many people initially find it difficult to identify ways in which LGBTQ inclusivity can be woven into the STEM curriculum. Content was sometimes more challenging to think about, but lecturers were able to introduce and make students aware of diversity and its impact on research and the wider discipline. For example, in lectures of computer processing of human language one can touch on use of pronouns such as ‘he’, ‘she’, ‘they’, and in giving example sentences one can use ‘Bob loves Bill’ occasionally instead of ‘John loves Mary’. In Database classes, one standard example is how to represent marriage relationships, and that provides a great opportunity to discuss how to cater for non-traditional marriages.

Lessons learned

LGBTQ issues shouldn’t be an add-on but in line with the whole rationale of the module. Lecturer should demonstrate transformative practice in both the language and content domains, as well as be a role model for students. Initiatives could come from students and the staff should show support. Although the staff and students acknowledge that there is still some way to go in terms of full inclusive practice in teaching, their effort has already had a significant impact.


Lecturers need to participate in regularly organized workshops and review their curriculum. Students can also take part in workshops, learn more about the project, get involved in it, present their ideas. It takes time, effort and, in some cases, university funding but benefits (LGBTQ people feel more comfortable to be themselves) outweigh costs.

Replicability and/or up-scaling potential

Crucially this guidance has been informed by research amongst the University’s own community, and the report’s authors strongly recommend institutions ensure that they tailor their own approach to their local context and challenges and engage critically with their current practice. However, the accessibility and practicality of this guide should prove a strong foundation for institutions seeking to embed and explore LGBTQ inclusive practice within their own teaching and learning spaces.

For example, workshops could vary depending on context – such as whether there was clear leadership around LGBTQ inclusivity at organizational or department level, or whether the drive for change was coming from student or junior staff members.


Letting people know they are equally valued is important, especially when wider society is not always supportive. For LGBT people, universities can be environments that truly allow them to be themselves.

This guidance from the University of Birmingham brings together the first hand experiences of its own teachers and LGBT students. It demonstrates the importance of a fully inclusive curriculum and the impact that it can have on students and teachers. And it provides practical information for other institutions to create the changes that can and will make a difference. Most importantly, it will have a significant impact on the lives of many LGBT students, helping to ensure that they feel free to be themselves and accepted without exception.

Contact details

Twitter: @nickijward; @drnicolagale; @LGBTQinHE


URL of the practice Reference document

Related Web site(s)

University Web site about the project:

Related resources that have been developed 

LGBTQ+ Mentoring Scheme:

STEM at the University of Birmingham:

Being an LGBTQ student at the University of Birmingham: