The Coming Out
Gays & Lesbians
In Your Schools
Diversity in the
Working the Web
Three Rs of Web Quests
Using Web Quest
In Your Classroom
Gay & Lesbian
Issues in Education
Advocates for Youth:
LGBT People & Events:
Equality for All
Because They Don't
Look Like You
Web Quest: LGBT
Issues in Our
Literature& Our Lives
Religion & Culture
Ethic Issues &
ABCs of Diversity &
Intro to Bullying
Violence & Safety
Bye Bye Bullying
All Things Queer:
No Bullying Proposal
Caucus on Social
Theory & Art Education
Show Me Science
SIECUS Mini Book:
Talk About Sex
Harassment in Schools
GAY CALIFORNIA TEACHER FIRED
His Same Sex Wedding Ceremony
turned into an
for a gay Catholic
high school teacher
in the suburban
sprawl of Southern
California after a
published photos of
his big, gay wedding
St. Lucy’s Priory
High School in
Glendora sacked the
teacher Ken Bencomo
shortly after he
tied the knot with
his partner of some
reports the Los
Bencomo, 45, and his
were among the first
gay couples who got
at the San
Office after the US
the way for gay
marriage in The
Bencomo taught at
the all-girls high
school for 17 years.
His lawyer Patrick
McGarrigle, told the
Times that school
officials knew about
roughly 10 of those
years. Bencomo had
brought Persky to
school events and
presented him as his
partner at times
during those years.
officials were less
than pleased when
photos of Bencomo’s
appeared in the
Inland Valley Daily
Bulletin. On July
12, Bencomo was told
that the private
school would not
renew his contract
for the school year
beginning this fall.
to the wedding, the
photos and the
Yahoo: Catholic HS Teacher Fired After His Big Gay
Huff Post: Gay Teacher Fired After Getting Married to His Partner
Are They At Risk?
Remember the Briggs
Initiative, the 1978 California ballot proposition
that would have banned gay and lesbian teachers from
working in public schools? The Initiative
failed with flying colors, becoming one of the few
ballot victories for LGBT rights during the 1970s.
Or make that any decade, for that matter. The
idea that people would want to root out gay teachers
from public schools is a pretty scary proposition.
And though you might think that the sentiment died
in 1978 along with the Briggs Initiative, think
A poll was
recently taken by a national research organization
surveying Republican attitudes on a number of
issues, among them the question of whether openly
gay teachers should be allowed to teach in public
schools. A whopping 73 percent of Republicans
surveyed said that gay people should not be allowed
to teach in public schools. And all of a
sudden it feels like the 1970s again.
Huffington Post: Should Gay
Teachers Come Out to Their
St Louis School Teacher Fired
for Being Gay
Should Gay Educators Come Out in
Teacher Fired After Marrying Her
NEA GLBT Caucus
Fearing Openly Gay Teachers
Wikipedia: Briggs Initiative
Anniston Star: Bill to Protect
Blog: Can Openly Gay Teachers
Work in Public Schools?
Huffington Post: Gay Teacher
Wears "Out" T-Shirt
GOP Senator: Gays Shouldn't Be
Sex Education in Alabama
EDUCATION AND CURRCILUM
LGBT Students in the Classroom
this. Lindsey is sitting
in her 4th grade class on the
first day of school, and
everyone is sharing stories
about their families. When it’s
Lindsey’s turn she tells the
class that she has two moms
because they are lesbians. The
class is confused and Megan asks
“What is a Lesbian?” What do you
do as a teacher? DO you answer
the question or ignore it and
change the subject? How do you
answer this without overstepping
your ethical boundaries? When
discussing the inclusion of LGBT
it is important to understand
the diversity in a classroom.
There may be students in your
class that are already
struggling with understanding
their own sexual orientation.
One report indicated that
lesbian, gay, and bisexual
students first come to
realization of their sexual
orientation at age 10.
When you put that age into
perspective, that child is in
the 3rd or 4th grade. People
fear the unknown. They fear what
they are unfamiliar with. On the
issue of homophobia, Kevin
Jennings, executive director of
the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight
Education Network states, “ If
you really want a long-term
solution to homophobia, you’d
better start when kids are
young, and start teaching very
There are different reasons
why incorporating LGBT
issues in the classroom may come result in negative results
rather than positive. It may not be the best to bring these
issues up with children that are 8 or 9, even though some
may already be experiencing a feeling of attraction towards
the same sex, and not understand why they feel that way.
Teachers could feel great discomfort in speaking about this
subject in the classroom. Many parents feel that
curriculum into the classroom, may cause their child to
choose a gay lifestyle. When a teacher raises gay and
lesbian issues in the classroom, some students respond with
intellectual curiosity, but often the consequences are less
positive. Some students: become embarrassed and
uncomfortable, become hostile, or even question the
teacher's sexuality. A lot of times students tend to make
homophobic accusations against other students in the class
or against other students and staff within the school.
Negative results could come about when
LGBT issues are raised in the
CREATING A SAFE LEARNING
Reducing Homophobia in the Classroom
Everyone is entitled to a safe
learning environment, no matter what your sexual orientation
is. I think it is important to let the
LGBT students know that we
care, and that they are not alone. It is the duty of a
teacher to keep order and command respect for everyone in
their classroom, and I am sure many people sincerely would
like to create a safer environment for
LGBT students. There are ten
suggestions that were compiled by Youth Pride, Inc. that
would help with reducing homophobia in your environment:
1. Make no assumption about
2. Having something
gay-related visible in your office or classroom.
3. Support, normalize and
validate student’s feelings about their sexuality.
4. Do not advise youth to come
out to parents, family and friends as they need to come out
at their own safe place.
5. Guarantee confidentiality
6. Challenge homophobia.
7. Combat heterosexism in your
8. Learn about and refer to
9. Encourage school
administrators to adopt and enforce anti-discrimination
policies for their schools or school systems which include
10. Provide role models.
It is important to incorporate
this suggestion into the school. LGBT students need to be
protected and I think the best way to start that is by
educating their classmates and peers on what it means to be
LGBT. “Opening these conversations with young children gives
us an opportunity to prevent prejudice, discrimination, and
violence and to support the lives of all children just as
An estimated 6 to 11 percent
of school children have gay or lesbian parents, and another
5 to 9 percent will at some point realize that they are
homosexual. Even with these statistics, schools are still
hesitant to include gay or lesbian curriculum into the
school. The fact remains that in the present 21st century,
gay and lesbians no longer represent a taboo. Students are
choosing to come out while still in school, and they are
expecting to be accepted. No matter what a student’s sexual
preference is, they deserve to be able to come to school and
feel like they are safe. Whether or not it is the teacher’s
or school’s responsibility to educate students on LGBT
issues, is still to be decided. But in the meantime it is of
utmost importance that these students are treated with
respect and equality.
WikiBooks: Diversity, Education
Edutopia: How to Cover LGBT
Issues in the Classroom
LA Times: How to Teach LGBT
Issues in the First Grade
TEACHERS IN PUBLIC SCHOOLS
Question: Can openly homosexual teachers work in public schools?
below are various responses submitted by visitors to the weblog,
Answers.Com. The collection of comments is presented here
Why does it matter? I am currently in school majoring in Elementary
Education and I have had gay teachers and coaches for that matter. Gays
and lesbians do not get this degree so that they can prey on children,
which is what most christian, straight people think. I find that to be
very sick! I think it is sick that a christian would think that of
another person. I have never heard of a gay or lesbian child molestor.
It has always been a straight married man/woman or a straight man
period. Plus, what about those so called "hot" female teachers who prey
on young boys? That is sick too! Why is it that so many "good" straight
people think gays and lesbians are the perverts or deviants when clearly
it is their own kind? I guess that is a way to take the focus off of
them. They use the bible to hide behind too.
Being a gay or lesbian is never a choice or a decision that one has to
sit and think about making. This is how they are born into this world by
straight parents who raised them in a straight world. Nobody can be
influenced to be a gay or lesbian. They have the same dreams and goals
as anyone else in this world. To have a good job that they are happy
with, have partner and a family of their own, own a small home and have
a happy life. Is that to much to ask for? Why do they always have to be
targeted with such hateful behaviors that hurt them and their families?
What happened to live and let live? People need to start focusing on
more important matters at hand like the state of our economy, the
homeless and foster children, and most of all our education system.
Gays and lesbians are always forced to be in the closet, when closet are
for clothes, not people and their lives. How would straight people feel
if they were forced to live a lie all the time or always hide who they
are? I think they would feel just as bad as many gays and lesbians do. I
will never ever expect that from anyone. I find it to be a horrible way
to treat other human beings.
Yes, two gay teachers teach at my school and it doesn't matter whether
they are gay or not just as long as they get the job done in the best
A person's sexuality should not influence whether or not that person has
the ability to teach. Students are taught by a wide range of Professors
- of different nationalities and creeds. A person who is there to teach
you a subject in school is not there to teach you the ways of being
Homosexual. Students, with very young spirits and unchallenged minds,
are sometimes easily influenced, and at others quite 'hard headed'. Yet
I do not believe anyone can be 'influenced' to 'be' homosexual. It is a
decision, and if a person is at a an age of which he/she chooses such a
lifestyle -it is a sole decision. If a homosexual teacher pursues and
wishes for a student to become homosexual that is a different story.
He/She is crossing the Teacher/Student boundary. However, being
homosexual does not suggest that one can not do his/her job of teaching.
An openly gay teacher can teach math or science or English just as well
(or badly even) as an openly straight teacher. Just as a straight
teacher is not likely to be preying on their opposite gender students
(though a few do) the fact a teacher is gay is no indication they're any
more likely to do so with their same gender students. Being gay,
especially if open about it, is no more a problem for a teacher than any
Well, almost. One BIG problem they face is the fear and prejudice of
parent who choose to think being gay means uncontrolled sexual depravity
and that their son or daughter must not be in the vicinity of the
teacher. Their often openly hostile views and desire to cause all manner
of trouble for the (otherwise just as qualified as any other) teacher
can be seen as a very negative influence on the class and the morale of
Still, it doesn't change the fact the gay teacher is just as likely to
be a good teacher as any other in the school. In fact, they may bring a
little more to their class in the way of showing and instilling
compassion, openness to other views and fighting for the "underdog". But
then any good teacher would do that too.
BULLYING? YES! IT'S IN YOUR SCHOOL
Valuable Bullying Prevention Resources
The NEA (National Education
Association) acknowledges that
bullying is a major problem in
today's classrooms and offers
resources and training for
bullying and harassment
prevention in the classroom. In
the January/February edition of
NEA Today Magazine, they state:
bullies have more ways than ever
to devastate their victims. It’s
time to reconsider the role
educators can play in stopping
The NEA article cites
recent events. The New Jersey college freshman who
jumped to his death from the George Washington Bridge in
October isn’t the only young person allegedly driven to
death by bullying. Consider the California teen who
hanged himself from a backyard tree in September or the
Texas 13-year-old who grabbed a gun from his
stepfather’s closet a few weeks later.
These high-profile and
heartbreaking incidents have happened so frequently in
recent months, especially among gay and lesbian
students, that there’s a new word for the phenomenon:
bullicide. And it’s left educators and parents alike
wondering—just what in the world are we doing wrong? How
is it some of our children can be so mean? And others so
despairing? Aren’t these anti-bullying programs, popular
in so many schools, working at all?
It’s possible that what we
think we know about bullying isn’t all we need to know —
it’s also possible that some of the most commonly held
assumptions are misguided or that far too many adults
still don’t believe bullying is a serious problem.
article suggests that many bullying
programs apply a one-size-fits-all
approach to problems on campus. They
train teachers and support professionals
to be watchful and consistent (often at
a high price). But while it’s critically
important for every adult on campus to
recognize and stop bullying, most of
these “top-down” programs look
promising, but don’t go far enough.
The article insists that educators
really have to do this work with
starts with a needs assessment, going
into a school and understanding what are
the major issues. Is it harassment of
gay kids? Is it kids with disabilities?
Who are the harassers? You have to
engage kids in creative ways to work
through those issues: responsive
classroom work, the work where you have
kids sitting in circles and processing
whole-school culture shift needs to
happen. And that takes the commitment
and active involvement of teachers,
counselors, support professionals,
administrators, parents, and students.
It is the kind of work that the
NEA Bullying and Sexual Harassment
Prevention and Intervention Program
has provided (for free) to schools
across the country for more than a
decade. Its cadre of trainers and
curriculum guides helps define both
bullying and its impact, provides
important data and legal information,
and also specifically works to activate
the “bystander” — an oft-untapped
resource in bullying prevention.
NEA Today Article: Bullying!
Does It Get Better?
Common Myths About Bullying
Bullying and School Safety
NEA Report on Status of LGBT
People in Education
NEA Training Program: Safety,
Bias and LGBT Issues
Tips for Dealing with LGBT
Harassment in Schools
LGBT BILL OF RIGHTS
Students' Bill of
The right to fair and accurate information about sexual orientation in
textbooks and other classroom materials.
The right to unbiased
information about the historical and continuing contributions of
lesbian, gay and bisexual people in all subject areas, including art,
literature, science, sports, and history/social studies.
The right to positive role models, both in person and in the curriculum;
the right to accurate information about themselves, free of negative
judgment, and delivered by trained adults who not only inform lesbian,
gay and bisexual students but affirm them.
The right to attend schools free of verbal and physical harassment,
where education, not survival, is the priority.
The right to attend schools where respect and dignity for all students,
including lesbian, gay and bisexual students, is a standard set by the
state Superintendent of Public Instruction, supported by state and local
boards of education, and enforced by every district superintendent,
principal, and classroom teacher.
The right to be included in all support programs that exist to help
teenagers deal with the difficulties of adolescence.
The right to legislators who guarantee and fight for their
constitutional freedoms, rather than legislators who reinforce hatred
The right to a heritage
free of crippling self-hate and unchallenged discrimination.
(From the P.E.R.R.S.O.N.
Project. Adapted by GLAAD/SFBA's Project 21 from Project 10 (Los Angeles
Unified School District) and from the National Education Association's
"Teaching and Counseling Gay & Lesbian Students Action Sheet")
LGBT Concerns in
the Classroom & On Campus
Identifying the roots and causes of bullying and eliminating bullying
behavior has been a critical focal point for schools over the past
several decades. Because it is a common occurrence among school
aged children; and because of its impact on the victims; teachers,
counselors, and administrators take very seriously their role in
providing effective intervention.
Bullies prey on classmates they perceive to be weaker or different. They
target other students because of a myriad of stereotypical features that
they view as odd related to physique, physical appearance, clothing, and
behavior. Many times, students who are perceived to be gay and lesbian,
or who are effeminate or "butch," or who act "sissy" or "tomboyish"
become the victims of naming-calling, harassment,
Counselors and administrators seeking to put a stop to bullying might
consider how often gay and lesbian students
are targeted by bullies and implement programs that include some
sensitivity to that segment of the student population.
Harassment, like bullying, creates a hostile environment whereby the
balance of power is disproportionate. Victims of harassment are
often subjected to inappropriate behavior simply because they are in the
minority role in a particular setting. Perhaps a woman finds
herself alone in an all-male setting. Or perhaps an
African-American finds himself the lone exception in a classroom of
white students. Or perhaps a Buddhist student is the only one of
his kind in a classroom of Christians.
Likewise, a gay or lesbian person is an easy target for insensitive
heterosexuals who might unwittingly, or even intentionally, create a
hostile or harassing environment through their ongoing homophobic or
heterosexist behavior. Any sensitivity training conducted for staff or
students must surely include the LGBT perspective to be effective.
are at the heart of all professional behavior. Adherence to
is expected from any counselor, teacher or administrator who is regarded
as a professional.
Unethical behavior on the part of the practitioner usually impacts
negatively on the clients, students and consumers of the services
Therefore, any effort to focus on the necessity of ethical standards is
also a sincere act of advocacy on behalf of the individuals who might
otherwise be affected.
Most statements of professional ethics include admonitions to
practitioners who violate confidentiality, engage in inappropriate
relationships, and who are insensitive to the cultural concerns of their
clients. Any understanding of ethical behavior, therefore, must include
the expectation of the professional to avoid insensitive or derogatory
behavior towards gays and lesbians.
Equal opportunity in any setting means that no acts of bias will take
place based on factors related to race, ethnicity, nationality, gender,
age, or sexual orientation. Any discrimination policy that hopes
to be inclusive, or to have any long term credibility with all members
of society, must include sexual orientation. The rights of all
members of society must be protected, and gay and lesbian individuals
should be included in that protection.
(From Michael Lebeau / 2006)
CULTURALLY RELEVANT TEACHING
Conceptual Understanding of Diversity
As an effective teacher in
the 21st Century it is important for educators to have a conceptual
understanding of diversity. This understanding must go beyond just
clarifying differences and begin to develop into a layered, social
justice-oriented multicultural perspective.
This can only be achieved thorough exploration of
historical/political/socio-cultural factors that contribute to America's
various ways of learning and living. Teachers must understand the roles
of power, privilege and oppression and the complicated fashion in which
they permeate our society.
Teachers should process
this information with great care and reflection so that they can make
appropriate and socially just classroom decisions (both curricular and
non-curricular). Teachers who acknowledge the relevancy of various
cultural contributions instill cultural pride in their students and a
sense of personal connection to curriculum.
(From Dr. Barb Beyerbach
& Thurman D. Nassoiy)
LGBT Themes in Literature
Educators should consider incorporating gay, lesbian, bisexual, and
transgender themes into their English Literature classrooms. It is
important to remember that we teach people, and people come in various
shapes and sizes and have various beliefs and lifestyles.
It is inevitable that, at one point or another, students will encounter
these issues within their daily lives: comedians joke about it, rappers
condemn it, and authority figures often chastise it.
How can we be sure that our students, tomorrow's leaders, really
understand it? Is it fair to allow a TV show or a singer, however biased
they may be, to teach them about LGBT issues? Or should it be presented
to them in a controlled, objective environment?
The first step to creating a safe environment in your classroom for LGBT
teenagers is to understand the nature of homophobia.
(From Brooks, Fowler, Leonhardt, Wharton, Williams)
Various Book Lists
Fiction List for
BULLYING IN MIDDLE SCHOOL
Proud But Not
July 16, 2008
Gay at 12: Young Teens Openly
Many Middle Schools Don't Have Policies to Safeguard
Against Anti-Gay Bullies
Sean has felt since the age of 2 or 3 that he was a boy in a girl's
body. Telling his parents at age 11 was difficult but coming out as
transgender among his seventh-grade classmates was like walking into a
When Sean first shared his sexuality with his mother, "She didn't take
it well," he said. "She cried for about a week, but then went on the
Internet and understood it better."
About a month before Sarah's "transition" to Sean, his mother informed
school officials, but no one told teachers or students.
"One day I was Sarah with female pronouns and Monday I was Sean with
male pronouns, without any explanation," said Sean, a pseudonym for the
central New Jersey teen who wants a fresh start in high school this
"I was bullied every day, shoved into lockers, beaten up and made fun
of," said the 14-year-old. "The teachers were standing right there,
saying nothing or just not aware of it."
Things got so bad for Sean that he dropped out of middle school, and his
mother home-schooled him for the remainder of the year.
Like Sean, an increasing number of lesbian, gay, bisexual and
transgender -- LGBT -- children are "coming out" earlier than high
school because of greater cultural acceptance.
But in the immature and sometimes predatory world of middle school,
Jason's experience is not uncommon, according to advocacy groups.
Taunting and bullying often goes unnoticed by teachers, and
administrators have few policies in place to handle it. Only 11 states
have enacted laws to protect schoolchildren from being bullied
specifically because of sexual orientation. At Sean's school there
wasn't even a sex education program, according to his mother.
More Teasing in Middle School
In a 2005 study conducted by Harris Polling, "From Teasing to Torment,"
teachers reported that middle school students were 30 percent more
likely to be teased about their sexual orientation than high school
"There seems to be something about the onset of puberty that makes those
years different," said Kevin Jennings, founder and executive director of
the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network. "Moving from small to
larger schools, cliques and social pecking order are a bigger deal."
Most children are aware of their sexuality between the ages of 8 and 11,
according to Jennings, but are told they are "too young" to know their
"That makes it even harder for them," he said. "People don't believe
In the last year, the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network has
seen a "huge surge of interest" in addressing anti-LGBT bullying in
middle schools. Much of it has been a reaction to the February killing
of openly gay student Lawrence King. The 15-year-old was shot twice in
the head by a classmate in California.
In 2007, students from 520 middle schools participated in a Day of
Silence to raise awareness about sexual orientation. After King's 2008
murder, 1,046 middle schools participated in a vigil.
Today, the network sponsors about 110 gay-straight alliances -- or GSA
clubs to support lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students --
nationwide. But that number, compared with 3,000 such clubs at the high
school level, may still not be enough.
Josh Rivero enrolled in a virtual high school after he was repeatedly
threatened at his Brevard County, Fla., middle school after trying to
start a GSA club.
"The conversation [about his sexuality] started in eighth grade, but
since elementary school he'd been called a fag," said his mother, Lisa
By middle school, Josh's grades began to drop and his stress level
soared. One classmate bullied Josh in cyberspace, sending homophobic
messages and calling him names on the school's MySpace page.
"The school did nothing," said Lisa Rivero, who sought help and later
began a local chapter of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and
Gays, or PFLAG, where she now serves as president.
The threats soon became physical and Josh's mother, at the suggestion of
the school's principal, reluctantly filed a temporary restraining order
against her son's tormentor.
"He had a right to go to school and get an education without being
bullied," she said. "We had no issues with him being gay. What we had
the most difficulty with was accepting our fear that we knew our son
would be a target."
Rivero said students need support, but teachers also need training. "It
starts with teachers in the classroom," she said. "A lot of them stepped
up and intervened, but there were other teachers who looked up at him
and said, 'What do you want me to do?'"
The Riveros lobbied unsuccessfully for a Florida law to outlaw sexual
orientation bullying. As his mother sought support, so did Josh, now 16
and in high school, forming a GSA at his school.
Students 'Take Control'
Josh "took control" of the situation, his mom says.
Indeed, it is the students themselves who are emboldened to make their
schools more comfortable for all those with differences.
Leah Matz of St. Peter, Minn., first came out as a lesbian at the age of
12 in the seventh grade where she says gay issues were talked about in
"hushed tones." The taunts began after she pioneered the first GSA.
"The harassment started right away," said Leah, now 15. "They were
hollering derogatory terms, then it escalated to physical harassment. I
was tripped, pushed and spit on by both boys and girls."
The GSA grew in numbers, but so did the taunts. Her breaking point came
when she found the words "Dykes Suck" painted on her locker.
Club members organized a rally against bullying and homophobia, selling
T-shirts that read "Stop hate, just love." Leah called the press and got
television and newspaper coverage of the event.
Not all reaction was positive: Leah was criticized in a letter to the
editor in the local newspaper for "recruiting" students into the "gay
But she says this is a school safety issue, and most of the members of
her GSA are not gay, but "straight allies." "Students feel more
comfortable now in schools because of GSA," said Matz. "Because of our
efforts we are stronger people and face our adversaries."
Leah's mother, Kathy Chalhoub, had no problem with her daughter's
sexuality. "I feel really fortunate to have a child who felt free to
come to me," she said. "My fear was for her."
"There's always a blessing in every curse and what Leah has gone through
has had such good come from it."
But experts say many middle school administrators have no policies in
place when it comes to sexual orientation bullying.
"I never dealt with this as a middle school principal in the 1990s,"
said John Norig, director of program development for the National
Association of Secondary School Principals, which is beginning to
address the issue. But even progressive schools with strong anti-gay
harassment policies said coming out is particularly hard in middle
"I still don't believe it's safe for 11- to 14-year olds to come out
without support," Alison Boggs, principal at Casey Middle School in
Boulder, Colo., told ABCNews.com. She has seen one or two students a
year come out.
"About 98 percent of the kids are questioning at this age," she said.
"Many are not coming out right away and some are not gay."
But for those few who feel strong enough to come out, the school sends
them to a counselor so they feel "supported and accepted" at the school.
Doing 'Whatever It Takes
The Boulder school starts each year explaining to students that all
categories of harassment are forbidden. When incidents occur, they are
dealt with swiftly and individually.
"We do whatever it takes," said Boggs. "We can't let it go and assume we
did it in class and everyone heard it."
"Like other forms of sexual harassment, once they are educated, kids do
pretty well and will stop if we make it clear," said Boggs. "In this age
group, they are still forming their identity, and they may be sure, but
not all that sure," she said. "But they are feeling safer to express
Jody Huckaby, national president of Parents, Families and Friends of
Lesbians and Gays, agrees, but said, "There's so much more work to be
done to create a safe environment for these kids."
Even in families with parental acceptance, there is a great need for
support and education and information for other family members,
neighbors and the community, said parents and advocates. And now, many
children who have been raised in same-sex families are entering
elementary and middle school.
"When Bobby shows up with two mommies, sexual orientation presents
itself at earlier and earlier ages," said Huckaby. "The work to develop
curricula has to be done earlier.
It's a reality that gay people exist and it's easier and easier for kids
to develop a language around the fact that they are different."
Susan Donaldson James,
ABC News Internet Ventures, 2008)
Equality Alabama leads in formation of
Alabama Safe Schools Coalition
Equality Alabama has joined education
advocates in forming the Alabama Safe School Coalition (ASSC). The
ASSC is comprised of organizations and individuals committed to
ensuring for all Alabama public and
private school students a safe learning environment free of
discrimination, harassment, and bullying.
"The data show that existing policies are inadequate to protect
sexual minority youth," observed Equality Alabama
project coordinator Glenda Elliot, leader of the ASSC. Indeed,
in an ongoing survey of current and former Alabama high school
students commissioned by Equality Alabama, 62% of respondents
indicated that they heard homophobic comments at school at least
daily. 51% reported being verbally harassed, 15% being physically
assaulted, and 26% being sexually harassed on account of their
actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.
Shockingly, 72% of respondents indicated that school officials had
corrected the offending students less than half the time or never.
"Because of the
inadequacy of existing policies to address the epidemic of
campus violence," Elliot continued, "the Alabama Safe Schools
Coalition advocates the implementation of comprehensive and
inclusive non-discrimination, anti-bullying, and anti-harassment
policies to protect all students, including sexual minority youth."
You can support safe
schools by participating in the school climate survey, by signing
the safe schools petition, by joining the Alabama Safe Schools
Coalition, or by making a donation to Equality Alabama's safe
schools initiative today. Successful implementation of the proposed
policy changes will require broad-based, statewide support. Your participation is needed!
Alabama Safe Schools Coalition Website
National Safe Schools
GLSEN Safe Space Campaign
Respect for All
It Gets Better
EACH CHILD THAT DIES
Gays and Lesbians in Your Schools
Many of you will ask what an article on lesbian and gay* issues is doing
in this monograph on Multiculturalism. It will seem odd that this often
invisible minority is addressed with issues of ethnic and racial
diversity. However, it is important to look at prejudice broadly, not
just at prejudice directed towards race and gender, etc.
All forms of prejudice are based on ignorance and misconceptions and
there are many misconceptions and much ignorance about gays and
lesbians. If we are to ever effectively eradicate the pain caused by
discrimination, we must recognize that we perpetuate prejudice by only
addressing those issues that are familiar, i.e. race, ethnicity, gender,
and sometimes disability. In so doing, we are effectively saying that
discrimination is in fact acceptable and it is only certain groups that
are to be protected. The deafening silence that pervades the issues
facing lesbian and gay children and adolescents results in leaving these
children to fend for themselves in a hostile and brutalizing
This monograph will attempt to provide you with sufficient information
so that you can begin to make the gay and lesbian young people in your
classrooms sense that perhaps you are not unaware of them, even though
they are largely invisible in society.Much of the information you read
here will challenge many of your beliefs and feelings about this
community. All we ask is that you attempt to read this with an open mind
and most of all an open heart.
* For convenience we will use "gay and lesbian" to include bisexual and
Imagine waking up one morning and living in a world where everywhere you
look, you see no one like you.
--a world where your
family is not like you
relationships are not like yours
--where what you see in
movies, books, and magazines is not reflective of your life
--where if you speak
about yourself you are subject to being brutalized verbally and
--where on Sunday
mornings, many spend much of their time listening to respected
ministers ranting and raving about what a moral pervert you are
--where the country to
which you pledge allegiance denies you the same equal treatment that
is enjoyed by your neighbors.
And if that isn't enough,
imagine dearly loving someone else and having to keep it totally secret
because if you don't you will be punished -- cast out of your home by
your family, ostracized by your friends, perhaps losing your job. This
is the world of the lesbian and gay young person.
IS THIS A SIGNIFICANT ISSUE FOR EDUCATORS?
Yes, because the suicide rate for these kids is 30% higher than for any
other group of youngsters. Not acknowledging the existence of gay and
lesbian students puts educators at risk of having to live with the
question of whether or not they contributed to a young person's suicide
or murder. Educators are in the position of speaking out in ways that
give children and adolescents messages of support. Every time they hear
a derogatory comment about gays and lesbians and let it go unchallenged,
they give a message of non-support. Many an adult lesbian and gay has
stated that they are alive today because one teacher stood up for them
or took an interest in them. One person can make a difference. In the
words of Ellie Weisel, "Take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor,
never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented"
Yes, because according to the Kinsey report in 1948 (Kinsey, 1948)
approximately 10% of 5300 males reported being more or less homosexual.
In 1953 Kinsey et al (Kinsey, 1953) found that in a study of 5,940 white
women, 2 to 6% reported being more or less exclusively lesbian. In 1970
a Psychology Today study of 20,000 readers found that 37% of the males
and 12% of the females had had some same gender contact. Many other
studies continue to find that anywhere from 2 to 35% of men and 3 to 12%
of women have had some homosexual contact.
From these studies it seems clear that all communities in this country
have gay and lesbian people in their midst. It is likewise reasonable to
assume that every school district in the country has lesbian and gay
students, teachers, administrators and other school personnel.
Furthermore, there is a growing number of gay and lesbian parents whose
children attend our schools. The bottom line is that it is impossible
for school administrators to know how many lesbians and gays are in
their schools. Given this impossibility, a reasonable, statistical
assumption for the purposes of planning would be to assume that about
10% of your students, parents, teachers and staff are gay or lesbian.
TEACHING POSITIVE VALUES REGARDING HOMOSEXUALITY
IS NOT ABOUT TEACHING SEX
One of the most common beliefs about the lesbian and gay community is
that it is about sex. This is reflected in the focus on the bedroom of
gays and lesbians by media, politicians, religious groups, etc. Even
members of the lesbian and gay community will say that they don't talk
about their personal lives because what they do in the privacy of their
home is nobody else's business, implying that their lives are only about
their sexual behavior.
Talking about sex and sexuality is controversial at best in our schools.
This commonly held attitude that homosexuality is about sex puts it into
a hotly debated controversy in terms of its appropriateness for school
One of the practical implications of this attitude is that often when
presentations re. gays and lesbians are proposed for school-aged young
people, principals will say they have to get permission from parents for
children to attend the sessions. The principals' perception is that a
sex lecture will be given. Asking parental permission to discuss
homosexuality with their children reflects and perpetuates the attitude
that it is about sexuality and usually guarantees that children will not
hear the information they need.
Even in schools where the presentations are allowed, they most often are
confined to high school-aged adolescents. If you believe that
homosexuality is about sex, then you don't have to concern yourself with
it until the children reach puberty. The implication of this is that
children before the age of 12 or 13 receive no education or supportive
messages about homosexuality.
To focus only on sex amongst lesbians and gays is to ignore the wide
range of cultural and emotional elements in the gay and lesbian
community. As with other cultural groups lesbians and gays have their
own literature, poetry, music and art, as well as other aspects of any
Gay and lesbian
teachers and administrators and school personnel must be provided a
safe environment in which to come out of the closet.
The attitude in our school system which requires lesbian and gay
school personnel to be closeted affects their effectiveness, not
only with gay and lesbian youth but with all youth. If for no other
reason, everyone should be concerned about teachers' effectiveness.
This attitude also means that lesbian and gay young people have no
mentors. Gay and lesbian students will often "suspect" that some
teacher is one of them but the teacher's silence and lack of
acknowledgment of their gender orientation leaves the student
totally without role models or mentors. Furthermore, the message
communicated is that being lesbian and gay is so bad that one must
keep totally hidden. Taking this one step further, gay and lesbian
students are often treated badly by their lesbian and gay teachers
who reject any attempts the student may make, in desperation, to
reach out for some understanding.
Many teachers will often explain their decision to be closeted by
saying they need to maintain the "respect" of the parents,
administrators, other teachers, etc. Rather than create bridges with
the accepting members of their school community to form some safety
and protection, they instead shun those people and court the
"respect" of their avowed enemies. This behavior was well documented
in early Nazi Germany when many Jewish people believed that the way
for them to be safe was for them to be invisible or to attempt to
join their enemies. Now, like then, there was no safety for the
German Jews and there will be no safety for American gay and lesbian
teachers unless they begin the long and frightening process of
This implies that non-lesbian, non-gay teachers and administrators
must do their part to make it safe for gay and lesbian teachers and
administrators to be out. They must actively work to make the school
system a safe community for everyone.
Just as they have
learned to not accept racial, ethnic, or gender slurs, all educators
must speak up when lesbians and gays are maligned or discriminated
All too often people sit in small groups and remain silent when they
hear racial, ethnic, anti-women, or homophobic jokes. By this
behavior they participate in some of the most reprehensible forms of
discrimination. Even if they are uncomfortable, frequently listeners
will remain silent or even participate in the conversation in order
to fit in. This most often occurs in small groups where there is no
obvious member of the targeted group present. Because gays and
lesbians so often choose to remain invisible, they are frequently
members of a small group where anti-homosexual remarks are made. To
speak out against the homophobic jokes or comments is tantamount to
admitting one belongs to the community. Lesbians and gays who choose
to remain in the closet are often terrified of being found out. To
sit silently means participating in their own bashing in order to
hide. For non-gay, non-lesbians, the risk of speaking out is of
being believed to be something that has been labeled perverted,
abnormal, evil, sinful, etc.
Teachers have learned to address issues which have to do with race
or gender discrimination. The skills needed are the same. The only
difference is the fear that if they address homophobic remarks they
will be "suspect." Clearly only someone who is lesbian or gay would
speak out against "gay bashing" comments. These fears must be
overcome so that teachers may respond in an educative way to
homophobic behaviors, just as they respond to racist and sexist
Schools must make a
conscious effort to teach the whole truth, including information
about and by gays and lesbians.
It is consistently amazing that when college-aged people are asked
to identify major figures in history who were lesbian or gay, they
draw a complete blank even though they have studied these figures in
high school. A stunning example of this is that although students
know that James Baldwin was African American, they do not know that
he was gay and that a major reason Baldwin left the United States to
live in Europe was because he felt so uncomfortable living in the
U.S. as a gay man. For any high school teacher to teach Baldwin and
not to talk about the issues he faced as a gay man is as
unprofessional as it would be to not mention that he was African
This type of distorted teaching is perhaps one of the most insidious
aspects of the prejudice against the gay and lesbian community that
infects the professionalism of education. Leaving lesbian and gay
issues out of education distorts history, much as leaving out women
and various racial or ethnic groups has distorted history to the
detriment of the whole society.
One of the fastest growing areas in publishing is in gay and lesbian
studies. Fortunately that means there are a growing number of books
for teachers, young people, and their families. Every school should
begin to look at this material and start the process of placing age
appropriate material in school libraries. Teachers should make sure
that they encourage pupils to include them in their reports.
IF WE FOLLOW THESE
SUGGESTIONS WILL WE BE ENCOURAGING HOMOSEXUALITY?
A major objection that lies behind many educators' reluctance to discuss
gay and lesbian issues with their students is the belief that young
people may be "recruited" into a lesbian and gay lifestyle. This
reluctance rests on the belief that people make a choice to be gay or
lesbian and that children are vulnerable to being swayed into being
Until very recently, the focus of the research on homosexuality has been
to determine "how did they get that way?" Unfortunately the driving
force behind the research was that after first determining the cause,
the cure would soon follow. This research direction in the 1940's and
50's created an atmosphere of pathology when viewing the homosexual
community that still remains today in many quarters of our society.
Fortunately, beginning in the 1950's with the evolution of organizations
like the Mattachine Society, the Society of One, and the Daughters of
Bilitis, many lesbians and gays challenged that view (Blumenfeld, 1989;
Legg, 1994). They were successful in convincing people like the
psychologist Evelyn Hooker (Hooker, 1965) and others (e.g. Marmor, 1980;
Bayer, 1981), to reevaluate the nature of the research that was being
conducted. This reevaluation successfully rejected the earlier theories
of emotional pathology in homosexual men (early research was focused
exclusively on gay males). However, it did not answer the question of
Today the question of "cause" remains an open question but it clearly
seems that we are moving closer to the answers. The most recent research
by LeVay (1993) and others has opened the door to the issues of biology
and genetics as major contributors to the ideas of gender orientation in
both the homosexual and heterosexual communities. While we don't have
the "real" answer to this question it has become increasingly clear that
neither homosexuality nor heterosexuality is entirely about sexual
behavior and certainly is no more about choice than, for example, height
Continuing to believe in the idea of "choice" leads to continuing to
debate the issues of free will, sin, and morality with groups which see
it as a "choice", and wastes time which could be spent in more
Continuing to believe in the idea of "choice" leads to the perpetuation
of pain, guilt, and anger that parents of gay and lesbian young people
often feel. They are told that they are responsible, e.g. they may be
told to get little Johnny involved in sports to stop his interest in
ballet dancing. The implication is that they can do something about this
or could have done something, i.e. that it is their fault. Educators
have many opportunities to help parents understand that having a child
who is lesbian or gay is not a result of the parents having done
Continuing to believe in the idea of "choice" implies that children or
adolescents who are gay or lesbian decide to be "that way," perhaps
having heard a presentation about homosexuality or perhaps wanting to
"get" their parents somehow. They decide this knowing that they will
place themselves in the most frightening situation imaginable. The
prejudice and discrimination against lesbians and gays that children and
adolescents are exposed to frequently results in school drop outs,
adjustment problems in school and home, homelessness, a variety of other
emotional difficulties, and all too often suicide. The idea that someone
would freely choose this is obviously ludicrous when you stop to
reflect. Gay and lesbian romantic attractions occur in the same way as
opposite gender attractions occur in straight youth, i.e. normal
maturation of the sexual development of the human body. There are NO
differences except in the object of those attractions. In other words,
lesbians and gays and non-gays, non-lesbians are much more similar than
they are different. The one difference is the gender to which they are
Regardless of how gays and lesbians get here, we need to consistently
focus on the fact that they are here and we have to realign the school
curriculum to include them in a positive way.
While the question of "cause" will continue to be open for discussion,
it essentially should only remain in the realm of the pursuit of
knowledge and should have no bearing on the issues we address here in
this paper. John Boswell (1980) in his ground breaking text on
Christianity, Social Tolerance and Homosexuality, states that "the issue
of who is "black" or "colored" or "mulatto" is only vexing to societies
affected by racial prejudice; such differentiations, if present, are
much looser in cultures not concerned to categorize people by skin
color." It is easy to translate this comment of Boswell's into today's
struggle to determine the "cause" of homosexuality.
In summary, these children are your students and the adults are their
parents and your colleagues. They are the class clown, the high school
star athlete, the class valedictorian, the ordinary kid next door, your
neighbor, your sibling, your child, your principal, your teaching
partner. Unfortunately, because of the invisibility, it is often
virtually impossible to identify the lesbian and gay community in your
school. Tragically this invisibility has led to our collective ability
to ignore the problem and failure to design a curriculum that will
address these issues similar to the curriculum that has been developed
to address the issues of other at-risk communities such as ethnic,
racial, female or disabled groups.
Each child that dies by their own hand is a child with loved ones who
are left behind to pick up the pieces of their shattered lives. Each
child that dies by their own hand could have become that adult who found
the cure for cancer. Each child that dies by their own hand could have
been that adult that made world peace possible. Each child that dies by
their own hand may have been that invisible child in your school.
Wiggsy D. Sivertsen, L.C.S.W.
and Terri B. Thames, Ph,D.)