This week’s reading, Safe Spaces by Annemarie Vaccaro, Gerri August, and Megan S. Kennedy, deals with LGBT issues in schools. Compared to issues dealing with race or ethnicity, this topic is a bit different; while we can usually determine race by simply looking at a person, we can’t tell someone’s sexual orientation just by looking at them. But even so, students that identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender are facing more and more discrimination and harassment in schools today, especially since more and more are “coming out” and openly identifying as LGBT. Vaccaro, August, and Kennedy address the issue of discrimination of LGBT youth in schools today by giving us ways to present the issue in classrooms. They suggest including representation of LGBT identities and families in their curriculum just as often as heterosexual identities and families, so that students learn to accept both identities as part of the social norm and respect them.
But, as the article explains, teachers are often teaching and reinforcing that identifying as LGBT is not OK – like the teacher that sent a student to the principal for using the word “gay” in class. While he was using it in a harmless way to describe his own family, as the authors state, “the teacher saw this for what it was: a teachable moment. But what did she teach? The message to Marcus and his classmates was that Marcus’ family was shameful, something to be hushed.” The teacher has even stated in the report that “this kind of discussion is not acceptable in my room. I feel that parents should explain things of this nature to their own children in their own way” (95).
While I was reading this article, it reminded me of a video that one of my friends showed me last year that shows the kinds of discrimination and violence that a homosexual person faces in school on a daily basis, but with a twist. The story is told through the eyes of a heterosexual girl living in a world where everyone else is homosexual and her experiences of identifying as a “different” sexuality at school. This video not only gives us insight into the daily experience of a homosexual in our world, but allows heterosexuals to relate to the main character and feel the struggle of having their own sexual identity alienated.
This short film is extremely powerful, and I’ll warn you now – it’s pretty graphic. But even though it’s so heavy emotionally, it’s exceptionally informative and well-written. Ever since I did, it’s helped me to understand the struggles of LGBT kids in school. As future teachers, I really hope you’ll all take the time to watch it.
…Pretty powerful, right? All I can do is just say, “Wow, Is this really reality for LGBT kids at school?”
Unfortunately, the answer is yes.
It really puts the experience of having your own sexuality discriminated against into perspective for heterosexuals. What else amazes me about this is how little support Ashley has at school and at home. Almost everyone discriminates her: her friends, her teachers, even her parents! And to make things worse, the boy that she likes won’t even stand up for her out of his own fear of being alienated. She has so little support that she resorts to suicide as the only answer, a choice that far too many LGBT teens have made.
But what if that teacher that intervened while Ashley was being bullied had taught in his class that being LGBT was OK? Or if her parents had allowed her to be exposed to heterosexuality by letting her walk past the couple down the street? Or if the drama teacher had seen her wishes and decided to cast “Julio” as “Juliet” to fairly represent heterosexuals in society?
In our society, we need to teach that LGBT identities are the normality for many teens, aren’t something to be hidden or ashamed of, and that these students need to be treated with respect. I think the authors of this article would agree with me when I say that if the other students had seen positive representations of her sexuality in school, maybe Ashley wouldn’t have felt forced to take her own life. The same might be true for LGBT kids in our society today if we create safe spaces for them in our schools.