A Review of Literatture
Hatred in the Hallways (2001, p.6). is a study on the status of students who are homosexual in the United States that was conducted by Human Rights Watch. This study “estimates that the number of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender youth in the United States has ranged from just over 1 percent to just fewer than 9 percent, with the best estimates at 5 to 6 percent of the total population.” The statistics are not reliable because of the varying definitions concerning the issue of focus. Hatred in the Hallways (2001, pp. 4-6) defines students who are gay “as those who are attracted to a person of the same sex. Females who are attracted to other females are considered to be lesbians. Bisexual individuals, on the other hand, are attracted to both sexes. Transgender individuals’ identity or behavior falls outside of stereotypical gender norms.”
There are about “two million to eight million parents in the United States who are gay or lesbian’ (Hatred in the Hallways, 2001, p. 8). Their children are not more likely to be gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender. Unfortunately, Hatred in the Hallways (2001, p. 8) indicates that these children are also subjected to harassment and violence because of their parents’ sexual orientation. In the United State, there is limited tolerance of individuals who do not conform to traditional sex roles. In fact, attacks on individuals who define their sexual orientation differently than expected continue in all areas of this country (Larue, 1999, p. 1) to include school settings.
It is important to examine the school experience of gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender individuals. Many youth, who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transsexual, are then subjected to negative experiences. The developmental consequence can be social, emotional, and academic risk status. This paper presents the relevant historical background, past and contemporary stereotypes, and critical education issues relating to these groups of students.
Homosexuality is not a modern creation. There are suggestions that this condition was present during ancient biblical times. Genesis, chapter 19, verse 5, describes how the men of the city of Sodom requested that Lot present to them the two male angels that were staying with him so that the group “could have sex with them.” In Ancient Egypt, documentation has been found within the pyramids that suggest homosexuality. As an example, “ Niankhkhnum and Khnumhotep (c. 2450 BCE), two royal officials of the Old Kingdom, are buried in a single tomb. Although each was married with children, reliefs in their joint tomb show them kissing and embracing in a way usually reserved for married couples” (Halsall, n.d., p.1). The Encyclopedia of Homosexuality (Russian Gay History, n.d.) describes Medieval Russia as a setting that was apparently very tolerant of homosexuality. As an example, “there is evidence of homosexual love in some of the lives of the saints from Kievan Rus dating to the 11th century.” In addition, the reference notes, “foreign visitors to Muscovite Russia in the 16th and 17th centuries repeatedly expressed their amazement at the open displays of homosexual affection among men of every class.”
According to Halsall (1997), by the end of the 19th century there were clearly homosexual subcultures in a large number of American and European cities. During World War II, homosexuals were targeted along with Jews for oppression by Hitler’s regime. Steakley (1974, p.1) describes how the pink triangle that has been widely adopted by individuals and gay organizations around the world as a symbol of gay visibility and gay resistance was originally used by the Nazis to identify homosexual prisoners in German concentration camps.
Individuals who are gay are intensely intertwined in the history of the United States. Halsall (n.d.) identifies as gay such Americans as Amelia Earhart, Margaret Meade, Stark Young, Andy Warhol, Alvin Ailey, Liberace, Leonard Bernstein, Stephen Foster, and Aaron Copeland. These individuals can serve as role models for all youth. However, the fact of their sexual orientation is often omitted from their biographies or noted by teachers within the curriculum. Role models assume a position of importance particularly for youth who are in the adolescence stage of development.
Adolescence as a Period of Change
The nature of adolescence can provide a salient developmental context within which to examine issues of homosexual behavior. Speak (2002) describe the period as a time when “the relatively uniform growth of childhood is suddenly altered by an increase in the velocity of growth.” During this period, hormonal, physical, and emotional changes occur that may be experienced as both joyful and confusing events. Erikson (1950) describes adolescence as a period of developmental concern with Identity versus Identity Confusion. He depicts adolescence as a struggle to develop a personal identity and an attempt to avoid role diffusion. Identify is established, according to Erikson, as adolescents frame their identity through their interaction with others.
A true story from the middle school teaching experience of the author of this article illustrates Erikson’s beliefs and the effect of the peer group on a person’s identity. One fall day during the morning entrance time, Retony, a ninth grader, walked into school wearing women’s spike heeled shoes, lipstick, eye shadow, bleached blond hair, and a woman’s blouse with his slacks. Prior to this, Retony had dressed as was typical of youth during that era. He never gave any indication of an interest in wearing women’s apparel. Retony was accompanied to school by his mother. His appearance generated much ridicule from peers and comments from teachers. As a result of his dress, the principal sent him home for that day to change his attire. In retrospect, one could describe Retony’s behavior as an attempt to establish his identity.
Erikson believed puberty provides a crisis for adolescents seeking to form a personal identity. Accordingly, a healthy establishment of identity leads to a successful resolution of this crisis. Teachers can set an appropriate stage that allows others to respect the choices of students who are of a different sexual orientation.
Past and Contemporary Stereotypes
Unfortunately, students who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender are often subjected to negative name-calling. Women are labeled as “dykes” when they appear to cross-traditional female sex roles. Men are called “faggots” for the same reasons. Hatred in the Hallways (2001, pp. 4-5) identifies the term “femme” as a “pejorative used to refer to gay men who do not conform to traditional notions of maleness.” The term “queer” was originally intended as a “slur to refer to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender persons. However, the term has “been reclaimed by this group of people as an expression of pride in their sexual orientation and gender identity.”
Negative verbal attacks have been the reason for many lawsuits initiated on behalf of students who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender. Wong (2003, pp. 1-2) describes a claim for damages “in excess of $100,000” brought by Mark Shaposhnikov, who is the father of a 12 year old male student in the Pacifica School District. Peers physically and verbally abused the student who is a competitive ballroom dancer. The father says the abuse occurred because the student, who gets all A’s, “wore nice clothes and appeared on TV doing the tango and cha-cha” (Wong, 2001, p. 2). The abuse was based on a perception that the youth was gay; as such dancing was believed to not traditionally be a male activity. By the end of the year, the abuse had escalated from verbal to physical causing the family to fear for the safety of their child. The lawsuit claims that educators did nothing to stop the abuse. A similar lawsuit was brought against the Laguna Salada Union Elementary School by the mother of a 12-year-old boy. The second suit alleged the same type of harassment by peers, teachers, and administrators that was based upon the perception of the youth as gay. In this latter lawsuit, the district paid the family a total of “$160,000 and agreed to offer sensitivity training” (Wong, 2003, p.1) to district personnel. Unfortunately, in this country, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth face a greater risk of bullying than any other student group (Report, 2001, p.1)
Another stereotype concerns intimate behavior that is perceived to be associated with heterogeneous couples. Mardesich (2001, pp.1-2) describes how Matthew Grierson, a student who attended Brigham Young University, was expelled for “holding his boyfriend’s hand as they walked through a shopping mall.” This same student was “already on probation for kissing another man on campus” which is an action that he denies. According to Gierson, the university’s “honor code prohibits homosexual conduct but doesn’t specify what the prohibition means.” Grierson’s accuses the university of double standards, as it is more lenient with “straight couples and encourages them to hold hands.” Another male student at the same university was suspended for “kissing a man on the couch of his dormitory, receiving flowers from men, talking about dates with men, and spending hours in gay Internet chat rooms” (Mardesich (2001, p. 5). These accusations were made by the individual’s roommates. Our society perceives these behaviors as not appropriate when occurring between same sex couples.
Homosexuality as an Expression of Culture
Nieto (2004) defines culture as the “values, traditions, social and political relationships, and worldview created, shared, and transformed by a group of people bound together by a common history, geographic location, language, social class, religion, or other shared identity.” This last element of culture can include sexual orientation. Nieto (p. 147) goes on to describe how power interacts with culture as the dominating group negatively view groups such as students who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender. She feels that the difference between the groups is strongly rooted in a sense of power rather than to any “inherent goodness or rightness in the group values themselves.”
Phinney (1996) identifies three aspects of ethnicity that have implications for issues concerning students with a different sexual orientation. These elements include cultural values, ethnic group membership, and minority group status. Ethnic identity is another means of referring to ethnic group membership. According to Phinney (1996, p. 922) ethnic identity “includes a sense of membership in an ethnic group and the attitudes and feelings associated with that membership.” Sexual orientation, as an identity, can be similarly defined to include the emotional aspect of affiliating with likeminded individuals.
The third element, ethnicity as minority status, also has relevance to issues of sexual orientation. Phinney (1996) defines this as “the struggle to gain equality, recognition, and acceptance within a predominantly European society.” The national controversy over same sex marriages bears witness to the continuing attempts of individuals of different sexual orientation to seek legitimacy for their life choices. Phinney (1996, p. 92), describing the work of Gaines and Reed, emphasized the “psychological outcomes of belonging to an oppressed group.” The experience of negative stereotypes and the detrimental effect on self-esteem are examples of harmful outcomes. However, on a societal level, there is an obligation to provide safe passage as youth move from childhood through adolescence. Safety is often an elusive concept for youth who declare their homosexuality during their school experience.
Critical Education Issues
Regrettably, the more than “two million lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth of school age who live in the United States” are subject to verbal and physical harassment, on a daily basis, that is based upon their sexual orientation. Human Rights Watch (Hatred in the Hallways, 2001, p.1) determined that the abuse comes from “peers and in some cases by teachers and administrators.” Results from the 2001 GLSEN National School Climate Survey (Bauer, 2002, p.4) indicates that “more than 82 percent of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students report verbal, sexual, or physical harassment. More than 90 percent of these students regularly hear anti-gay comments at school; and almost one in four hear these comments from school staff.” Responding to a 1999 CBS poll (Hatred in the Hallways, 2001, p.1), “one third of eleventh grade students said that they knew of incidents of harassment of students who were gay or lesbian. Twenty-eight percent admitted to making antigay remarks themselves. The results of a year long study in the public schools of Des Moines, Iowa indicated that the average high school student heard antigay comments every seven minutes.” What is most shocking is that intervention from teachers to interrupt negative comments rarely occurred.
Consequently, a significant concern is whether or not schools, and school personnel, are effective in their care and concern for the safety and well being of this group of students. As an example, few states include sexual orientation as one of the categories in which students have the right to educational environments that are safe. Bauer (2002, p.1) suggests that there are only nine states with language that protects such students. At least seven states have “prohibitions on the positive depiction of homosexuality, and eight states require the promotion of monogamous heterosexual marriage.” The Maryland Board of Education (Bowler, 2003, p.1) recently voted to explicitly protect gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender students from harassment in the state’s public schools. This decision was reached after a year of debate concerning the issue. The consequence of a state’s failure to protect these student groups is the establishment of a “hostile and dangerous climate” where all types of abuse can go unbridled by school board policies.
Continuously encountering hostile climates at school and within the community can leave gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender students at risk for suicide or other emotional problems. Rutter (2002) conducted research to identify risk of suicide in a nonclinical sample of teenagers who were homosexual, bisexual/questioning, and heterosexual in orientation. Participants were 50 males and 50 females who ranged in age from 17 to 19 years. Of that number, 26 percent identified as homosexual, 24 percent as bisexual/questioning, and 50 percent as heterosexual. Most of the students were European American. However, other ethnic groups were also represented. Participants completed several questionnaires designed to assess their suicide risk. Results indicated that “sexual orientation did not have a significant main effect on suicide risk scores in this sample” (Rutter, 2002, p. 5). Secondly, “sexual orientation had no effect on male participants’ suicide risk scores” (Rutter, 2002, p.5). Finally, the findings suggest youth “who report feeling supported by friends, school staff, or family exhibited less suicidal ideation than those youth without such support” (Rutter, 2002, p.5). The results of this study raises questions concerning the assertion that students who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender are at risk of suicidal behavior. In addition, the results suggest the importance of school support services as means of assisting students who define their sexual identity in a nontraditional manner.
Lock (1999) assessed the emotional, medical, and social behaviors of 1, 769 high school students who were between the ages of 12 and 18 and found different results than the Rutter study. Lock used the Juvenile Wellness and Health survey, which is a self-report instrument. One question on the survey asked respondents to identify their comfort with their sexual orientation. Another question asked whether respondents thought they were homosexual. These two questions were used to determine self-identification with a sexual orientation group. Forty-eight percent of the sample population was females, 59 percent were European American, and most were from families in the upper middle income level. All high school grade levels were represented. Only a small number of this population was unsure of their sexual orientation. Interestingly, results indicated that these students were more likely to be “significantly uncomfortable with their sexual orientation” and to have significantly more overall health risks than their heterosexual peers. The study concluded that “internalized homophobia insofar as it is measured by comfort with sexual orientation seems to be correlated with more psychosocial difficulties and problems in the health domain” (Lock, 1999, p. 9).
A study examined the link between “victimatization at school and health risk behaviors between lesbian, gay, bisexual, and heterosexual youths.” Data obtained from the 1995 Youth Risk Behavior Survey taken in Massachusetts and Vermont was analyzed. Of the 9188 students in the study, 315 students identified as lesbian, gay, or bisexual. Results indicated that the “combined effect of sexual orientation and high levels of at-school victimization was associated with the highest levels of health risk behaviors” (Bontempo, 2003, p.1). Gay, Lesbian, and bisexual students who reported “high levels of at-school victimization also had higher levels of substance use, suicidality, and sexual risk behaviors than their heterosexual peers.” Students, in this group, who reported low levels of at-school victimization, reported levels of substance use, suicidality, and sexual risk behaviors that were similar to heterosexual peers who reported low at-school victimization. The findings suggest that many gay, lesbian, and bisexual youth who experience harassment at school may attempt to escape through at risk health behaviors.
Not only are students who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender at risk for emotional or health problems, but also for academic problems because of their tendency to not attend school. In 1997, the Massachusetts Department of Education (Making Boston Schools Safer, 20002, p.1) conducted a Youth Risk Behavior Survey. The results indicated that 22 percent of gay, lesbian, and bisexual students reportedly skip school because of safety concerns. This compares to 4 percent of their peers. Verbal and physical attacks “undermine students’ ability to focus at school,” according to Hatred in the Hallways (2001, p.3). Because gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender students cannot change or stop the abuse, many escape the situation by dropping out of school. This fact can result in a marginalized adult life when the skills and competencies for optimal employment are interrupted. Other such students “try to make themselves invisible within the schools so that their homosexuality is not detected” (Schwartz, 1994, p.1). Being invisible can also interfere with the ability to effectively benefit from learning experiences. Biased attitudes towards students who are homosexual are a double-edged sword that affects the possessor and the object of the belief. According to Schwartz, students who are not gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender can be severely restricted and limited in their sex roles as they attempt to thwart any identification with homosexuality.
Creating Safe School Environments
It is clear that gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender youth are underserved by their schooling experience. All students need assistance in responding positively to the human diversity that they encounter during their academic years and beyond. In particular, assistance has the advantage of facilitating the development of a healthy self-concept for students who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender as it prevents them from viewing their different sexual orientation as deviant. There are strategies that can be employed by schools to facilitate a more positive school experience concerning diversity as related to sexual orientation. Changes are needed in support services to homosexuals, training for school personnel, curricular programs, and national policies.
Gay-Straight Alliance Clubs are increasing being established within schools as a resource for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender students as well as a means of facilitating dialogue between them and their heterosexual peers. The purpose of Gay-Straight Alliances is to “foster a climate of tolerance in schools and communities” concerning sexual orientation and gender identity (Williams, 2003, p.1). Under the Equal Access Act, schools cannot prevent Gay Straight Alliance Clubs from meeting at the school if other student clubs are allowed to meet. However, not all school districts are following the provisions of the Act. Williams (2003, p.2) describes a suit by the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky against the Boyd County Schools in Ashland, Kentucky. The suit was initiated on behalf of seven students who attended high school in that city. This school district suspended all non-academic clubs in an attempt to circumvent a Gay-Straight Alliance Club from meeting. During this period of suspension, non-academic clubs such as “the drama club, student council, cheerleading, and sports teams continued to meet. The Equal Access Act dictates that the Boyd County School District should be found in violation of this Act.
Creating a safe zone is another means of support for students who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender. This can consist of a teacher or counselor with training concerning issues related to these students. The professional responsibilities would include easy accessibility for counseling with an understanding of the need for confidential handling of information that is shared. The Madison Metropolitan School District in Wisconsin, and eight other school districts around the country, are examples of schools that respond to this need by hiring an advocate for homosexual students (Hass, 2001, p.1). Advocates facilitate such resources as gay-straight alliances, guest speakers, and high school support groups. The role of the advocate is to “improve the academic achievement, emotional security, and personal acceptance of students, while being a source of information about homosexuality for staff.” The desired end result is a school climate that is positive and productive for all students but particularly for students who identify themselves as having a different sexual orientation.
Many school districts are establishing schools that target primarily students who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender. These schools are based on the belief that such students prosper academically, socially, and emotionally when they are removed from the hostile climate experienced while attending school with heterosexual students. Walker (n.d., pp. 2-3) describes three schools that are examples of this purpose. The Hetrick-Martin School and the Harvey Milk School in New York City, as well as the Walt Whitman School in Dallas, Texas are settings designed to provide a safe and nurturing environment for students who are primarily gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender. These separate schools have been successful in preventing students from dropping out of school. There has not been a similar level of success in “sending students who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender back to general education environments” where the climate often still needs significant improvement.
An additional resource for students who are gay, bisexual, lesbian, or transgender is access to teachers, who are similar in their sexual orientation, as role models. This is a difficult option as society does not offer support to openly homosexual teachers. As an example, Wendy Weaver, “the most successful coach in the history of Spanish Fork High School was dismissed from her coaching position because she identified herself as a lesbian. In addition, Weaver was informed in writing by her school district that she was not to discuss her sexual orientation with anyone in the school community or face reprimand” (Bennett. n.d.). With the assistance of the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah, Weaver brought a successful suit against her school district. The courts, ruling in Weaver’s favor, said that it was “unjust for Spanish Fork administrators to threaten her job because of her personal life.” Weaver’s experience reveals the struggles that teachers who are gay or lesbian encounter. It is a professionally risky endeavor for educators to bring to the public awareness the facts of their different sexual orientation. For this reason, many individuals may not disclose their homosexuality in order to preserve their source of employment.
Pobo (1999, pp. 5-6) feels that many individuals who are homosexuals are drawn to the teaching profession. These teachers, according to Pobo, know how it feels to be “given inaccurate information about issues concerning their identity, to be told not to ask questions or read certain texts, and to be isolated from peers.” Pobo describes how such teachers bring “truth where there are lies, books where only blank pages are presented, and inclusion where only isolation is known.” Pobo seems to imply that it is not necessary for teachers who are homosexual to self identify to students in order to be role models. Teachers are terrific role models when students can see, reflected in teachers’ professional behavior, the previously stated values. This suggest that educators who perform their role professionally, fairly, and ethically can be role models for gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender students as well as for all other students.
The greatest area of support for these students is the establishment of school policies that promote equity and respect. Accordingly, schools should “adopt an equity, respect, or anti-bias policy that includes consequences for hate crimes and other bias incidents. Include the policy in school handbooks should reflect the policy and post it in prominent position within the school building” (Responding to Hate at School, n.d.). Utilize means to communicate the anti-bias policy to all members of the school community.
Teacher preparation programs, and in-service training, should emphasize the importance of avoiding anti-biased language particularly concerning students who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender. Daniels, Arredondo, and D’Andrea (n.d.) challenge professionals to engage in actions that demonstrate respect for differences and regard for the value of all human life. Without this perspective, professionals will encounter difficulty in guiding students who look to educators for support and reassurance.
Teachers have a professional responsibility to treat all students humanely and with dignity. In addition, teachers have a similar responsibility to immediately intervene when attitudes, verbal comments, and/or physical action jeopardize the safety of any student. In a 1999 Teaching Tolerance survey (Responding to hate at School, n.d.), “teachers reported hearing biased comments more often from colleagues than from students.” Responding to Hatred in the Schools (n.d.) encourages teachers to assertively respond to any comments that are biased towards culturally diverse groups to include students who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender. Failure to respond in a proactive manner implies approval of anti-gay behavior. John Lewis, a 1960’s civil rights worker, in an address to the third annual conference of GLSEN (Gay, Lesbian and Straight, Education Network), reinforced this same concept. According to Lewis, “humanity has a moral obligation and a mandate to speak out when confronted with biased comments and actions.” Lewis feels that failure to speak out is an act of inhumanity (Elementary Students Targeted at Homosexual Conference, 1999).
Using a curricular focus, schools can assist children in becoming more comfortable with diversity in all its human forms. Anti-homosexuality is a learned response (LaRue, 1999) with roots in “in the classrooms, the church, and the home.” Negative perceptions can lead to “political and social damage as well as physical and mental violence.” Because it is learned, such behavior can be unlearned with assistance from schools and society. With regards to homosexuality, Schwartz (1994) suggests “infusing information into the curriculum according to developmental level of children.” Further, Schwartz suggests using books and other instructional resources that portray lesbians, gays, and bisexuals in a matter of fact manner; use neutral language to describe these groups, and identify individuals of accomplishment who differ in their sexual orientation.” There are numerous children and young adult literature, with a focus on homosexual issues, which can be used as springboard for discussion and as means of building appreciation for diversity.
GLSEN (Elementary Students Targeted at Homosexual Conference, 1999, p.1) proposes the use of early intervention to facilitate acceptance of sexual diversity by targeting elementary school students. This strategy has the advantage of building positive attitudes, towards sexual orientation and gender identity, during the early childhood years period as
it is a period that is more likely to result in long-term elimination of prejudice.
Finally, it is through national and international laws and regulations that justice and non-discrimination towards students who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender can be obtained. Hatred in the Hallways (2001, p. 1) suggest a need for “all school districts to review their nondiscrimination polices for inclusion of protection based on sexual orientation and gender identity.” States need similar legislation that is designed to protect students from harassment and discrimination on the basis of their sexual or gender identity. Hatred in the Hallways is concerned that the United States has never ratified the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. The intent of the group of statures is to protect the rights of children as based upon their status as minors. Article two of the Convention on the Rights of the Child requires parties to ensure children’s rights “without discrimination of any kind, irrespective of children’s parents or legal guardian’s race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national, ethnic or social origin, property, disability, birth or other status.” International law, according to Hatred in the Hallways (2001, p. 13), “guarantees all persons, including children and adolescents, the rights to freedom of expression.” This provides legal protections for students who decide to self-identify according to their sexual orientation.
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