Friday, April 24, 2009

Combating Homophobia in Schools

This is an extract from an an essay about homophobia in American schools.

Enshrining protection for LGBT youth:

A herculean fight against institutionalized heterosexism and homophobia

“Homosexuality is a sin against mankind; pure evil and wickedness!” “The gay agenda in public education must be squashed at all costs!” These and other similar sentiments colour the viewpoints of the strident opposition, which confronts every effort to introduce LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender) issues into the curricula of American schools. Recurrently, studies show that the experiences of children and adolescents in school directly affect their achievements and general outcomes as adults. It is disconcerting then, to note that throughout the last two decades, right wing, religious conservatives have successfully worked to inflame public prejudices against queer individuals, in an effort to impede the introduction of content regarding LGBT issues in school curricula. This has been to the detriment of queer youth, who suffer an indeterminable amount of harm from verbal and physical harassment. The statistics regarding the challenges faced by these ‘at risk’ youth are compelling and are bolstered by additional studies, which point to widespread heteronormativity, and homophobia in school environments. A survey conducted by the campaigning and lobbying group Stonewall, indicated that teachers were the occupational group who found it most difficult to be open about their sexuality in the workplace. In a pressing effort to mitigate the destructive impacts of institutionalized homophobia , school policies must be reformed to ensure that schools can guarantee every child’s safety, and their attainment of emotional, physical, and educational wellbeing. There is no easy way to achieve this. In this essay, the two main approaches to reform, through platforms of “multiculturalism” and “public health awareness” will be carefully examined, with the premise that, though they are far from unproblematic, they go a far way in advancing the interests of the many disenfranchised LGBT students. Achieving legislative protection for queer pupils will necessitate overcoming heterosexual hegemony, and the homophobia with which it functions simultaneously; this is primarily a battle between queer activists and evangelicals, but it is education policymakers who ultimately need to be convinced.

The homophile movement has come a long was since the founding of the Mattachine Society in 1950. The increased visibility of queer America is undoubtedly attributable to the hard work or advocates in that movement, who have worked to fashion a place queer individuals in the history of America. In a further bid to legitimize the existence of queer people in society, public education has taken its place alongside domestic partnerships initiatives, as a key site for lesbian and gay social reform. The demands of activists, who have long challenged schools to address acts of individual and institutional discrimination against lesbian and gay students and teachers, must be met with exigency. Importantly, the influence of the religious right must never be underestimated; they notoriously mobilize immense public support against pro- (homo) sexuality education by inflaming public fears about an indoctrinating gay agenda, and the potential for molestation of their children by homosexual perverts- considered a redundancy for some. Opponents have created pedagogical videos to advance their own agenda, such as The Gay Agenda, and The Gay Agenda in Public Education. These propagandist videos serve to incense public ignorance, and thwart efforts to create a safe environment for queer identified youth in the school system. These videos cast homosexuals as depraved and diseased individuals who die young, and are clearly designed to sway an uninformed public to oppose lesbian and gay rights and educational reform initiatives. It is imperative that queer advocacy groups work closely with communities to clarify the nature of the desired policy changes, in allaying their fears that one could ever seduce someone into becoming homosexual. The bottom line remains, that no one should ever have to fear going to school because of their sexual orientation, or perceived deviation form normative values.

School administrators must build a culture of tolerance, which leans towards the multicultural approach to policy changes, however problematic. More germane to the larger goal however, it seems best to illustrate the challenges faced by queer youth in academic institutions; this approach may circumvent personal prejudices against queer lifestyles, and instead strike at the humanity of people. Still, given the problems inherent in both the “multicultural” and the “public heath” approaches to educational reform, there is no unproblematic means of achieving the necessary changes. Irvine asks a question that is worth considering: Is it the case that some critics would oppose school reforms no matter what elegant conceptual frameworks might be crafted? I am inclined to answer that question affirmatively, sensing that the conservative right will not relent in its efforts to sustain heterosexual hegemony, despite the apparent negative consequences on queer youth. Regardless, the plight of queer youth across America, who in many places are not guaranteed protection from harassment, because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, demands that pro-sexuality education advocates are equally indefatigable in their efforts. History has shown that political backlash is an inevitable response to the advancement of queer rights in America, and must never become a deterrent against continued advocacy.


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