LOVE, SIMON: A GLSEN DISCUSSION GUIDE FOR STUDENTS AND YOUTH GROUPS
Rated PG-13 for thematic elements, sexual references, language, and teen partying
Everyone deserves a great love story. But for seventeen-year old Simon Spier it’s a little more complicated: he’s yet to tell his family or friends he’s gay and he doesn’t actually know the identity of the anonymous classmate he’s fallen for online. Resolving both issues proves hilarious, terrifying and life-changing. Directed by Greg Berlanti (Dawson’s Creek, Brothers & Sisters), written by Isaac Aptaker & Elizabeth Berger (This is Us), and based on Becky Albertalli’s acclaimed novel, LOVE, SIMON is a funny and heartfelt coming-of-age story about the thrilling ride of finding yourself and falling in love.
HOW TO UTILIZE LOVE, SIMON TO CREATE DISCUSSION
Whether you’ve read the book or watched the movie, Simon Spier and the rest of the crew at Creekwood High have the potential to spark many important and meaningful conversations about identity, heteronormativity, coming out, consent, safe spaces, and cyberbullying/social media. Host a movie night, assembly, or after-school screening, and consider inviting other student clubs or groups to join you. Use the guide and discussion questions below to start conversations in your GSA, diversity club, leadership class, or other youth group.
FRAMING THE CONVERSATION
- Set up the room so that you can all see each other while discussing the questions (e.g. a circle or U-shape).
- Before starting the discussion questions with your group, go over group guidelines of how to have a respectful conversation. Ask the group if they have any other guidelines they would like to add.
- Pose one question to the group from the sections below. Limit reflections to 2-3 participants for each question to make sure you have enough time to touch on each theme.
NOTE: Each section below has 5-8 questions for discussion, including follow up questions, and should take groups around 20 minutes to work through. For those with a limited amount of time, please feel free to select enough sections to fill the time available while being considerate of the most relevant themes to your group.
These groupings can be modified depending on the comfort level of your group. While facilitating the conversation, be mindful of the unique identities and experiences of each member. Make sure to choose questions and themes that resonate with the group without causing harm or triggering members.
Heteronormativity: Heteronormativity is the assumption that heterosexual identity is the norm, which plays out in interpersonal interactions and institutional privileges that further the marginalization of lesbian, gay, bisexual, asexual, and queer people.
Cisnormativity: The assumption that cisgender identity is the norm, which plays out in interpersonal interactions and institutional privileges that further the marginalization of transgender people.
THEMATIC DISCUSSION QUESTIONS
Identity: Love, Simon follows the character Simon Spier, who is navigating coming out as gay while also
moving through the world as a white, upper-middle class, 17-year-old high school senior. His friends hold
many diverse identities around race, religion, socioeconomic status, family structure, gender identity, and
gender expression, which shape their relationships with each other and understandings of themselves.
- What are some identities that Simon holds? (consider race, sexuality, socioeconomic status, religion, and ability)
- How is privilege connected to each of these identities?
- What are some identities that other characters, besides Simon, hold in the movie and how might those identities impact the way that they interact with each other? (consider race, sexuality, socioeconomic status, religion, and ability)
- What expectations of your identity have you felt pressured to look, dress, or act like (consider fashion/ dress stereotypes)? How did that impact how you felt about your identity?
- After being harassed in the lunchroom for being gay, Simon tells Ethan, who has been out as the “resident gay” of their high school, “Maybe I was jealous because it seemed so easy for you.”
- Why might Simon make this statement?
- What assumptions might Simon have in making this statement?
- What differences might there be between Simon and Ethan’s experiences in coming out and being out?
- How do you think each of their identities might impact their experiences of being out in school?
Heteronormativity: When trying to decide if he should come out or share his sexual orientation, Simon says, “It
doesn’t seem fair that only gay people have to come out. Why is straight the default?”
- What are some examples of heteronormativity in the movie? (Example: Simon’s dad thinks that Simon is looking at girls on the internet.)
- How does heteronormativity impact the school environment?
- What are examples of how characters from Love, Simon break out of the box of what’s assumed to be “normal?”
- Where do you think Blue and Simon’s fear of rejection from those around them is coming from (with relation to coming out)?
- Why do you think Blue and Simon view coming out as a brave act?
Coming Out: Love, Simon follows Simon in his process of coming out to his family, friends, and then being outed to his entire school. Simon and Blue are shown navigating as young people, learning about their own LGBTQ identity and coming out in a heteronormative and cisnormative world that can often be challenging for LGBTQ youth.
- Are there any parts of your identity that you’ve had to “come out” about? (Consider race, ability, religion, gender, sexual orientation, etc.)
- What did people say that affirmed you, or what would you want people to say to affirm you after you’ve shared?
- How can you be supportive to people who might be terrified to “come out” and share their identities?
- How might having a multitude of identities (i.e. race, religion, ability, etc.) play into someone navigating coming out? (Example: Blue talking about coming out to his dad during a Hanukkah celebration)
- What helps you to feel the most authentically “you”?
- When was the last time you felt the most “you”?
Consent: Consent is asking permission from another person to do an action before doing it in order to make sure that the person is comfortable and on the same page. Love, Simon shows many characters navigating through consent and explores what happens when someone does not ask for consent and shares very confidential information.
- Where was the lack of consent in how Martin told Simon’s identity?
- What was the impact of Martin “outing” Simon as gay? How do you think Simon felt when he found out that Martin had told people about his identity?
- Why do you think Simon yelled, “I get to decide where, when and how I come out!” at Martin?
- What does consent look like with regard to general relationship development?
- How do you think Martin could have navigated the conversation about his hopes for a relationship with Abby differently?
Safe Spaces: Simon looks for signs of a safe space to be comfortable and disclose his gay identity. He talks
about the probability of safety and how people might react negatively to him coming out.
- What are ways Vice Principal Worth showed his allyship throughout the movie? (Examples: putting GLSEN’s Safe Space sticker in his office window, and wearing a rainbow pin after Simon is outed)
- What are other ways Vice Principal Worth could have used his power as the vice principal to be an even better ally?
- How do the educators and administrators at your school show allyship for LGBTQ students at school?
LOVE, SIMON: COMING OUT & INVISIBLE IDENTITIES
In this lesson, students who have watched Love, Simon will compare Simon and Blue by creating life-sized character studies of each, decorating them with character traits and identity terms. As a class, students will discuss identity characteristics and the idea of “invisible identities.” Students will write to the characters, showing support for them and sharing ways that they are similar and different from them. To conclude, students generate a list of suggestions for supporting LGBTQ people who want to be out and visible in their schools, but may not yet be comfortable to do so.
Students will compare identities and traits of main characters with a focus on “invisible” identities and identify factors that affect people’s decision to come out as LGBTQ.
Students will reflect on their own identities around race, sexuality, gender, socioeconomic status, religion, and ability, in order to strengthen their capacity to empathize, connect, and collaborate with a diverse group of people.
Students will demonstrate allyship and commitment to an inclusive learning environment by discussing ideas for supporting LGBTQ people who want to be out and visible in their school.
THINGS TO PREP & TOOLS NEEDED
Large butcher paper, markers, lined paper, chart paper, pencils
As much of this lesson centers around “coming out” or sharing about LGBTQ identity and other “invisible” identities, you may want to have students read or use GLSEN’s Coming Out Guide for support: glsen.org/comingout.
ALL ABOUT THE ACTIVITY
- (5 minutes) Introduce the lesson to students familiar with Love, Simon stating, “Today we will focus on the main characters Simon and Blue, and their identities around race, sexuality, socioeconomic status, gender, religion, and ability. We’ll also talk more about ‘invisible identities’, or identities people need to ‘come out’ about or share in order to be recognized.”
- (20 minutes) Divide the class into partners or small groups. They should have their notes from the movie and two pieces of butcher paper large enough for your students to lie down and trace an outline. Students work together while one student lies on the paper and another traces their outline. They should repeat this so that each pair or group has two student outlines labeled “Simon” and “Blue,” respectively.
- Note: The butcher paper can be placed on a table to help students with mobility challenges better reach their classmates for tracing. Alternatively, students can use smaller paper or paper that is pre-outlined to best meet individual needs.
- Ask students to add identity words, labels, and/or symbols for the character’s race, sexuality, income, religion, and ability, as well as adjectives, feelings, and other character traits. Ask students to consider which identities might be “invisible” and to write these on the inside of the character’s outline. Ask students to draw or write traits, identities, or other descriptors that are visible on the outside of the outline.
- For example: for Simon, students may write “white” on the outside of the outline, and “gay” on the inside. Other identities, adjectives, and traits for Simon include able-bodied, brother, two parent family, Christmas-observer, high-income or upper-middle class family, creative, masculine, coffee-drinker. Students can also include feelings at different parts of the story, for example, “scared when he was outed” or “furious when he was teased for being gay."
- Identities, adjectives, and traits for Blue include Jewish, gay, divorced family, upper-middle class family, Oreo-lover, outgoing.
- Display the discussion questions for students to consider as they work on their character comparisons. Tell students to start reflecting on their own identities, as they’ll be including their own experiences and identities later in the lesson.
3. (10 minutes) Come together as a whole group to discuss these characters, with a focus on the idea of “invisible identities” vs. visible identities, and ask the students:
- What words, labels, and symbols did you write for Blue and Simon’s identities around race, sexuality, income, religion, or ability? Where and how did you choose to represent them, and why?
- Simon is “outed” by another high school student, while Blue decides to come out. You should never share people’s “invisible” identities without their permission. Everyone has a right to share their identities on their own terms. How are Simon and Blue’s experiences with coming out different and similar? How do you think other identities or factors impacted Simon and Blue’s difficulty coming out? What parts of Simon’s identity and privileges help him to navigate being “outed”?
- “Heteronormativity” is the assumption that heterosexual identity is the norm. Simon complains that it’s unfair that he has to “come out” or share his sexual identity when “straight” or heterosexual people don’t. What other identities do people sometimes have to “come out” about? How does heteronormativity and assumptions around sexual identity affect people who don’t identify as heterosexual but rather lesbian, gay, bisexual, asexual, or queer?
- While Simon and Blue are able to keep their sexual orientation “invisible” for most of the movie, their
classmate Ethan is already known as the “resident gay.” What identities does Ethan hold? How might
Ethan’s gender expression, or the ways he communicates his gender to others, including mannerisms,
clothing, hair styles, etc., shape his experience with “coming out” or sharing his sexual identity? See
GLSEN’s Gender Discussion Guide for more information.
4. (10 minutes) Guide students to reflect on their own identities around race, sexuality, income, religion, and ability. Have students divide a notebook or blank paper into six sections to generate words, labels, and/or symbols for their own identities for race, sexuality, income, religion, ability, and “other.” Tell students that this reflection can be done privately, and that what they decide to share in the writing assignment is up to them. After a few minutes of reflection, have students write individually to Simon or Blue as if it is the day after the school play and carnival. Following the pen-pal theme of Love, Simon, have students create imaginative letters, emails, blog posts, or text exchanges with one of the characters, showing support and sharing some similarities and differences as a friend.
5. (10 minutes) To conclude, tell students, “Actively hiding part of our identities isn’t easy, and doesn’t feel
good. It can lead people to feeling depressed and to thinking that there is something wrong with who they
are, whom they love, or how they express themselves. Being part of the LGBTQ community is important for
many people all over the world, and more people every day are coming out. Still, it’s important that people
get to decide for themselves when and if they come out, and who they share that information with.”
- “People who want to be out as LGBTQ should feel safe in our school.” [If possible, reference school guidelines and policies that support this. Also, if there are out faculty member who want to be referenced as examples of out educators, check with them beforehand.]
- Follow up: “Are there any cases where someone may not want to come out or be visible about a certain part of their identity?”
- Ask students, “How could someone who wanted to come out about their sexual orientation or gender
identity share this part of their identity here at our school? What ways have you seen that people come out? What about with other identities that might require people to ‘come out’ or share?”
- Ask students, “How can we help make our school safe and inclusive for all students to be open about
their identities?” Write their suggestions on the board or on chart paper.