Gender Inclusive Teaching

Introduction and Definitions

What is gender inclusive teaching? One way to understand gender inclusive teaching is to examine it within the contexts of related concepts: inclusion, gender inclusivity, and inclusive teaching. First, inclusion in the academic setting refers to “an environment that offers affirmation, celebration, and appreciation of different approaches, styles, perspectives, and experiences, thus allowing all individuals to bring in their whole selves (and all their identities) and to demonstrate their strengths and capacity (APA, 2021b).” American Psychological Association Inclusive Language Guidelines

Second, gender inclusivity refers to language and practices that validate the existence and experiences of people representing all gender identities and expressions, especially marginalized gender identities. Gender inclusive language and practices do not discriminate against people based on their gender and do not perpetuate gender stereotypes.

Third, inclusive teaching values and serves the needs of all students, supports their learning, and provides them opportunities to have a successful learning experience. It involves creating a learning environment in which all students are treated equitably and have equal access to learning. Its goals are to engage, include, and challenge all students. Inclusive teaching is intentional about using strategies that foster a productive learning environment for all students. Inclusive Teaching and Inclusive Remote Teaching

Thus, gender-inclusive teaching invites “the full participation of students of all genders and respond(s) to the harmful impact of gender stereotyping and misgendering on student learning” Gender Inclusive Teaching Practices. Gender inclusive pedagogy involves implementing inclusive teaching principles in all aspects of a course, including designing a syllabus, developing course content, choosing readings and activities, and establishing class guidelines and culture.

Concepts and Terms

In order to practice gender inclusive teaching, it is important to know about and understand key concepts because “The words we use are key to creating psychologically safe, inclusive, respectful, and welcoming environments” American Psychological Association Inclusive Language Guidelines. These are concepts that are often confused, and their misuse can not only lead to misunderstanding but also have harmful consequences for students. Following is a partial list of relevant concepts. These terms and definitions come from several sources. They are always evolving and changing and may mean different things to different people.

  • Cisgender: People who identify their gender identity with their sex assigned at birth.
  • Gender role: The socially constructed norms, roles, and behaviors expected of people, often based on their sex assigned at birth and used to ascribe qualities of masculinity and femininity to people
  • Gender attribution: attributing a gender to another person without knowledge of that person’s gender identity.
  • Gender binary: The idea that there are only two genders – man or woman – and that a person must be strictly gendered as either/or.
  • Gender expansive: Individuals who stretch their culture’s conceptions of gender identity, expression, roles, and/or norms. May be used as an umbrella term that includes trans and nonbinary people.
  • Gender expression: How individuals express gender through clothing, demeanor, speech patterns, body language, and social behaviors.
  • Gender identity: An individuals’ internal sense of their gender, which may or may not match the sex that they were assigned at birth.
  • Gender fluid: An adjective used to describe people who understand their gender as variable across time and space.
  • Genderqueer: An individual whose gender identity is neither male nor female, is between or beyond genders, or is some combination of genders.
  • Intersex Person: An individual born with physical reproductive or sexual anatomy (genitals, secondary sex characteristics, hormones, gonads, or chromosomes) that represent both male and female characteristics.
  • LGBTQIA – A common abbreviation for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, asexual community. Sometimes a second “A” is used to reference Allies and a second “Q” is used to reference people Questioning their identities. There are limitations to using this acronym, however. For example, it confounds the constructs of gender and sexual orientation and oversimplifies the diversity and heterogeneity of this group.
  • Misgender: Consciously or unconsciously attributing the incorrect gender to someone by using incorrect pronouns, names, or honorifics.
  • Nonbinary: A gender identity that cannot be categorized as masculine or feminine. Nonbinary people experience their gender in different ways. This identity may be experienced as a combination of male and female, neither male nor female, or completely independent of notions of conventional gender identities.
  • Pangender: Pangender is a gender identity in which a person identifies as and exhibits the characteristics of multiple genders.
  • Queer: An umbrella term that includes lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, people who are transgender, or intersex persons, other nonbinary people, and other gender diverse persons. This term is sometimes used as a sexual orientation label or gender identity label to denote a non-heterosexual or cisgender identity without defining specifics.
  • Questioning: An individual who is unsure of and/or exploring their gender identity and/or sexual orientation.
  • Sex: A medical term, it is assigned at birth based on a certain combination of physical attributes such as internal reproductive organs, sex chromosomes, external gender organs, secondary sex characteristics, and sex hormones.
  • Sexual identity: One’s sense of self in relation to one’s sexuality. As such, it encompasses many components, including gender identity and sexual orientation.
  • Sexual Orientation: Who one is attracted to, emotionally, romantically, or sexually; that is, the desire one has for emotional, romantic, and/or sexual relationships with others based on their gender expression, gender identity, and/or sex.
  • Transgender or Trans: When gender identity transcends biological sex. Transgender people can identify with the gender binary (as for a transwoman or transman), or as nonbinary, or neither.

The sources below include additional terms that pertain to gender and gender inclusivity.


Brandeis University Prevention, Advocacy, & Resource Center
Suggested Language List

Gender Terminology

Michigan State University Gender and Sexuality Campus Center

OutRight Action International
Terminology Surrounding Gender Expression and Identity

Thrive Counseling Atlanta
What’s the Difference Between Sexual Identity and Sexual Orientation?

Trans Student Educational Resources

University of California/Davis LGBTQIA Resource Center

University of Connecticut Rainbow Center
LGBTQIA+ Dictionary

It Gets Better Project
LGBTQ+ Glossary

Pedagogical Best Practices

The literature on gender inclusive teaching focuses on the need both to create a safe, supportive, and affirming environment for transgender and gender expansive students and to educate students about gender by integrating gender inclusive materials and practices throughout a course. This means being proactive by starting on (or before) the first day of class and continuing these efforts throughout the duration of the course.

The following are some suggestions for gender inclusive teaching:

  • Add a gender inclusion statement to your syllabus that makes your commitment to gender inclusivity explicit. It can include elements such as clarification of expectations for gender inclusivity, information on use of gender inclusive language and pronouns, information on your own gender pronouns, and an invitation for students to share their names and pronouns.
    • Example: This class is founded on an environment of mutual respect. All students are encouraged to share, engage in discussion, and learn from one another. Respect will be a requirement for participation in this course. In line with respecting others, we will use the correct names and pronouns for all members of this class, in other words, the name and pronouns they share. Please share with the professors and/or the class (as you feel comfortable) the name(s) and pronouns you would like for us to use for you, if they ever differ from information shared on the first day of class. Creating Inclusive Classrooms
    • Example: Many people might go by a name in daily life that is different from their legal name. In this classroom, we refer to people by their correct names and pronouns. Pronouns are a part of language in which people are referred to in place of their name (e.g., “he” or “she” or “they” or “ze” or something else). In this classroom, you are invited (if you want to) to share what pronouns you go by, and we seek to refer to people using the pronouns that they share… Good Practices: Names and Pronouns
    • Example: I will gladly address you by your correct name and pronouns. Please advise me of this at any point in the semester so that I may make appropriate changes to my records. OR If I misgender you in any way, please feel free to let me know, in whatever manner makes you comfortable, what pronouns you use so that I can make every effort to correct that error. Supporting Transgender Students in the Classroom
  • Provide opportunities for students to indicate the name and pronouns they would like to use in this class. Providing an opportunity for people to share their pronouns indicates that you are not assuming what their gender identity is based on their appearance or gender expression.
  • One alternative: Before the course begins email students to introduce yourself and provide them with an opportunity to share the name and pronouns they would like to use in class. This should be an invitation, not a requirement.
  • Create a pre-class survey that provides a way for students to disclose the information they may wish to divulge.
    • Example: The information requested is confidential.  I will use it to make adjustments in class design and to support your learning needs.
      • Name to address you as:
      • Phone number: Email address:
      • Pronoun to address you as:
      • Do you have specific learning needs or issues that may impact your learning, attendance, or participation? If so please explain… (parent, caretaker, disability, etc.)
      • Identify and describe a personal goal and a professional goal for you in this course.
      • Any questions for me
  • Ask students to make a short video to introduce themselves, including their name and pronouns and any other information they would like to share.
  • Update the class roster so you use correct names and pronouns.
  • Other alternatives: During the first class meeting pass around index cards or a sign-in sheet and ask students to fill in their name and the pronouns by which they want to be addressed.
  •  Ask students to introduce themselves to the class with their name and pronouns.
    • Example: We are going to start by doing introductions. Please introduce yourself by stating your name, gender pronouns, if you feel comfortable doing so, and year/program. Your gender pronouns might be she/her/hers, he/him/his, they/them/their, or something else. It’s important that we all use the correct pronouns when referring to others. I’ll start by introducing myself. My name is _____ and I use (she/her/hers, he/him/his, they/them/their) pronouns. I’m a faculty member in the _____ program.
  • Do not read names from the roster; update the roster if necessary.
  • Invite students to speak with you confidentially if they wish to do so.
  • When communicating with students, formally or informally, use the name and pronouns they have specified (e.g., in class, during office hours, in emails).
  • Don’t share students’ private information without their consent. Be careful about confidentiality, disclosure, and “outing.” A person’s gender history is personal information, and it is up to them to share it with others if they wish to do so. Do not casually share this information, speculate, or gossip about a person’s gender.
  • Don’t ask intrusive questions (i.e., personal questions that you would not ask all students) or allow other students to ask such questions (e.g., do not to ask about the appearance or status of genitals or sex life).
  • Do not ask transgender and gender expansive students to represent and speak on behalf of all TGE individuals (e.g., calling on a TGE student to share their opinion about a gender-related topic discussed in class).
  • Model an inclusive approach to gender
  • In class, indicate how you want to be addressed: state your name and pronouns when you introduce yourself.
  • Include your pronouns in your syllabus, email signature, Zoom display name, office sign, etc.
  • If you are not sure of a person’s pronouns, ask. (You can begin by sharing your own pronouns.)
    • Example:
      • “What pronouns do you use?”
      • “How would you like me to refer to you?”
      • “How would you like to be addressed?”
      • “My name is Alex, and my pronouns are he and him. What about you?”
      • Or – use a name rather than a pronoun or use a gender neutral pronoun (e.g., they or them)

Pronoun Guide

  • Use gender inclusive language (e.g., everyone, students, learners, or authors) and gender-neutral pronouns (e.g., they and them) or no pronouns in referring to self or others.
  • For more information, see section below on Using gender inclusive language and gender-neutral pronouns and the handout developed by Alliant faculty members and students, Gender Neutral, Singular “They,” and All-Around Pronoun Guide.
  • Create a class culture of respect
  • Set a respectful tone by establishing behavior guidelines on the first day. Include discussions of gender as part of these behavior guidelines and course expectations. This can be formalized into a written document you create alone or with the collaboration of students. Discussion Guidelines
  • Include a conversation about the importance of correctly pronouncing names, not assuming the gender or pronouns that people identify with, and consistently using the pronouns that people have asked to be used.

Example:  It is important to have a respectful environment in which everyone can feel comfortable to fully participate, and this includes referring to students by the name or the pronouns they have specified.

  • Respect the term (transgender, nonbinary, genderqueer, etc.) a person uses to describe themself.
  • Do not allow students to bully other students or use other students’ personal information as insults. Intervene when necessary; silence may be seen as condoning unacceptable behavior.
  • Do not claim to be “gender blind”; that approach dismisses students’ experiences and identities rather than validating them.
  • Develop a plan for responding to incidents of misgendering. Misgendering occurs when someone refers to another person using terms or pronouns that do not match that individual’s gender identity. When this happens, it is important to correct the mistake, whether you or someone else makes it.
  • Don’t get defensive or make excuses.
  • Admit you’ve made a mistake, correct yourself, and move on.
    • Example: I’m sorry, that wasn’t the word I meant to use; I meant to say “them.”
    • Refrain from giving a drawn-out apology that asks the person who has been misgendered to soothe your feelings.
  • If someone else makes a mistake, correct them. The point is not to shame or embarrass anyone but to make sure everyone has the information they need to respect each other and that misgendered students don’t carry all the burden of reminding people of their pronouns.
    • Example:
      • Alex actually uses they/them pronouns.
      • I noticed you used “she” to refer to Alex. Just to let you know, they use they/them pronouns.
  • Include relevant research and scholarship (e.g., research and scholarship on people who experience gender and sex-based marginalization, including nonbinary, queer, and gender-nonconforming people).
  • Connect all material covered to course learning objectives so that students see it as an essential part of the course.
  • Integrate this material throughout the course rather than relegating it to a separate unit. Incorporating the material into multiple course topics provides an opportunity to discuss its relevance throughout the course.
  • Avoid tokenism that occurs by including only a narrow set of gender nonconforming voices into your course; include authors representing diverse backgrounds (e.g., racial/ethnic, socio-economic, ability, etc.).
  • Avoid suggesting a particular author represents the beliefs of all authors.
  • Do not reduce the complexity of individuals’ experiences in order to simplify the material; present conflicting viewpoints and nuanced material.
  • Do not limit materials to those that focus on the negative experiences of marginalization; instead, provide information on a wide range of topics and experiences.
  • Include scholarship written by queer and transgender and gender expansive authors and scholarship that included queer and transgender and gender expansive participants/topics.
  • When mentioning a work by a specific individual, be explicit about that person’s pronouns so that students refer to them correctly during discussions.
  • Acknowledge the limits of theories and research you cite; for example, note if a study focuses on cisgender heterosexual men or women.
  • Practice LGBTQIA allyship by listening to students and learning about their experiences. This video is an example:
  • Examining your own assumptions about gender and being aware of how they affect your behavior. This may include:
    • Expecting that a person’s appearance will reflect their gender identity.
    • Making a judgment about what a person should look like based on your ideas about gender.
    • Presuming that knowing a person’s gender identity provides insight into their experiences, competencies, and goals.
  • Don’t be afraid to admit you don’t know everything. It is better to admit you don’t know something than to provide information that may be incorrect or hurtful.
  •  Be consistent in your support of LGBTQIA rights and defend LGBTQIA students against discrimination as a matter of social justice. For example,
  • Address microaggressions directly
  • Get involved in campus groups/initiatives such as Transgender and Gender Expansive Workgroup
  • Take the initiative to change outdated language in program policies/procedures manuals
  • Learn and teach about intersectionality – the complex and cumulative ways that multiple systems of oppression combine, overlap, and interact in the lives of those with multiple marginalized identities to produce and sustain inequalities. This means becoming aware of how people’s experiences with gender are also shaped by their experiences of race, sexuality, class, ability, religion, and other dimensions of social identity (e.g., BIPOC transgender women historically experience higher rates of violence and sexual assault than White transgender women).
  • Know about and share university policies and resources. Alliant International University has a Transgender and Gender Expansive (TGE) Work Group that has developed the following policy and resource:
  • Name change policy:
  • The university also has a discrimination policy, which includes gender identity and expression:
  • Additionally, some Alliant campuses have clubs/affinity groups that provide a safe and supportive environment for members of the LGBTQIA community.


Barnard College Center for Engaged Pedagogy
Gender Inclusivity in the Classroom

Binghamton University LGBTQ Center
Creating A Classroom That Affirms All Gender Identities

Brown University Sheridan Center for Teaching and Learning
Supporting LGBTQ+ Students

Duke University Graduate School
Becoming a Better Teacher: Trans* Inclusive Pedagogy

Tips for Allies of Transgender People

Mount Holyoke College
Supporting Trans and Non-Binary Students

New York University Global Inclusion and Diversity
Trans Inclusive Practices in the Classroom

Pennsylvania State University Liberal Arts Community
Best Practices for Gender Inclusion in Teaching

Stanford University Vice President for Teaching and Learning
Gender Diversity in the Classroom

University of California/Davis LGBTQIA Resource Center

University of California/Irvine Office of Inclusive Excellence
Gender Inclusive Campus

University of Michigan Center for Research on Learning & Teaching
Gender Inclusive Practices for Your Teaching

University of Tennessee/Knoxville Teaching & Learning Innovation
How to Create a Gender-Inclusive Learning Environment

University of Wisconsin/Madison Gender and Sexuality Campus Center
Pronoun Guide

Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching
Teaching Beyond the Gender Binary

Using Gender Inclusive Language and Gender-Neutral Pronouns       

One of the most direct ways to create a gender inclusive environment in a class is to use language that is gender inclusive to avoid language that harms or offends members of marginalized communities. This means avoiding words and terms that refer only to one gender when that is not the intent. These are some examples of gendered nouns as well as alternative terms that are gender inclusive. Sources, cited below provide additional lists.

  • Instead of using “men” and “women,” use “individuals” or simply “people.”
  • Instead of using “ladies” and “gentlemen,” use “everyone.”
  • Instead of using “mankind,” use “people,” Human beings,” or “humanity.”
  • Instead of using “manmade,” use “machine made,” “synthetic,” or “artificial.”
  • Instead of using “chairman,” use “chair” or “chairperson.”
  • instead of “boyfriend/girlfriend” or “husband/wife,” use “partner” or “significant other, “or “spouse.”
  • Avoid titles such as “Mr.,” “Mrs.,” and “Ms.”
  • Instead of calling the class “guys,” use “folks,” “everyone,” “you all,” or “you.”
  • Instead of Dear Sir,” use “Dear Editor,” “Dear Members of the Search Committee, or “To Whom It May Concern.”

Another way to create a gender inclusive teaching environment is to use gender neutral pronouns; that is, to avoid pronouns that refer only to one gender or imply that there are only two genders. There are several examples of pronouns that can be used.

One example of a list of possible pronouns to use includes:

Subjective Objective Possessive Adjective Possessive Pronoun Reflexive
She Her Her Hers Herself
He Him His His Himself
They Them Their Theirs Themselves
Ze Hir Hir Hirs Hirself
Ze Zim Zir Zirs Zirself
Ze Zir Zir Zirs Zirself
Ey Em Eir Eirs Eirself
Per Per Per Pers Perself
Some individuals prefer to be called only by their name and not by any pronouns.

Personal Pronouns and Gender Inclusivity in the Classroom

Additionally, according to the American Psychological Association Style: Bias Free Language,

“When referring to individuals whose identified pronouns are not known or when the gender of a generic or hypothetical person is irrelevant within the context, use the singular ‘they’ to avoid making assumptions about an individual’s gender. This also means using  the forms of  the singular ‘they’: ‘them,’ ‘their,’ ‘theirs,’ and ‘themselves’.” Using this term and its forms is inclusive of all people and prevents making assumptions about gender.

To become fluent, you can practice pronouncing pronouns that are new or unfamiliar to you. Practice with Pronouns


American Psychological Association
American Psychological Association Inclusive Language Guidelines

American Psychological Association
American Psychological Association Style: Bias Free Language

Duke University Student Affairs
Gender Pronouns Resource Guide
Pronouns Matter

New York University Global Inclusion and Diversity
Trans Inclusive Practices in the Classroom

University of California/Santa Cruz Lionel Cantu Queer Center
Pronouns Matter

University of Wisconsin/Milwaukee Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer Plus Resource Center
Gender Pronouns

Vanderbilt University English Language Center
Pronoun Guide

Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching
Pronoun Etiquette

Vanderbilt University LGBTAI Life
Pronoun Guidance