Queer Terminology 101

Written by
Olivia Williams

Apr 4, 2019

Apr 4, 2019 • by Olivia Williams

Dr. Katherine Mohrman, a queer faculty member at the University of Colorado Denver, focuses on incorporating LGBTQ support and advocacy into her teaching.  As a “contingent faculty” member she is tasked with focusing on and nurturing her own career while also attending to those of her students. 

Although the campus as a whole, including administration and many faculty members, supports LGBTQ inclusion and diversity, there is very little being done to foster it.  She notes there are very few academic or personal resources available to LGBTQ students and so she has done everything possible to support those students personally and academically.  Her major method of tackling this challenge is incorporating support and LGBTQ education into her teaching.

Most of the courses Dr. Mohrman teaches are introductory survey courses many students need to satisfy graduation requirements.  She has begun including LGBTQ issues in her courses to expose students to these concepts and encourage questions.  As part of a discussion of the Netflix reboot of the series Queer Eye, she raised the issue of LGBTQ terminology with her students.  After allowing them to submit anonymous questions, she received significantly more questions from students who were genuinely interested in learning more but had been afraid to speak up in class for fear of offending.

“The students are interested and want this information but they’re afraid to ask,” she explained.  Allowing them a safe space in which to raise these issues encouraged discussion and helped reach an understanding of issues many were grappling with for the first time. 

She was also the only instructor to offer a first-year seminar on an LGBTQ topic.  Although the campus is open to the idea of inclusive courses and actively recruits diverse students, there is little follow through, and few instructors are willing to include these topics in their courses.  Dr. Mohrman explained that “it gets lonely, tiresome, and frustrating, and it’s not my job to do this but it’s critical to keep doing it especially for the students.”

Her work on LGBTQ inclusion hasn’t just been geared towards students; she has also offered faculty training about LGBTQ issues including what she describes as “queer terminology 101.”  After explaining the importance of being sensitive to an individual’s preferred pronouns she got mixed reactions.  Many faculty members objected to the use of gender inclusive pronouns because they were “grammatically incorrect.”

Despite these small setbacks Dr. Mohrman is committed to incorporating LGBTQ topics and grassroots planning into her classroom in an attempt to support students and raise awareness amongst the student body and faculty.  Although the work can be difficult and lonely, she feels it is important to support LGBTQ students and ensure they are represented on campus.

Katherine Mohrman is an instructor in the Department of Interdisciplinary Studies at the University of Colorado Denver.  Her areas of research include critical gender and sexuality studies, feminist and queer theory and politics, and critical race theory and queer persons of color critique.  Her focus on the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter- Day Saints incorporates ethnic studies and critical Mormon studies to examine gender, sexuality, racial formation, and empire in the United States.  She is the author of the forthcoming “Exceptionally Queer: Mormon Peculiarity and U.S. Exceptionalism” and the recipient of the 2018-2019 LGBTQ Religious History Award for her paper entitled “Becoming White: Theologizing Heteronormativity in Mormonism, 1890-1945.”