Monday, November 4, 2013

It's Okay to be Gay! (Or lesbian, or bisexual, or transgender, or straight...)

Both The Gay, Lesbian, & Straight Education Network ( and Safe Spaces: Making Schools an Communities Welcoming to LGBT Youth focus on the need of educators to create curricula that harness the history of homosexual, bisexual, and transgender people and help to debunk the stigma that is associated with being gay.   In Safe Spaces, Annemarie Vaccaro, Gerri August, and Megan S. Kennedy argue that meaningful curriculum entails validating the experiences of LGBT youth by not marginalizing them through skirting tough topics, but rather, "interrupting heteronormative beliefs and attitudes".  Both GLSEN and Safe Spaces show how LBGT youth need to be reflected in curriculum and teaching though "mirrors," or images of people just like them, and "windows," an outside glimpse into their world and a way for others to look in.

According to the authors, "Most educators don't set out to marginalize LGBT youth. They simply follow paths of least resistance."   All too often, the norm that is presented is a typical heterosexual model of love and affection through literature, projects, and history.  What frequently leads to suicide among LGBT youth is a strong feeling of isolation from societal norms.  The authors suggest that by "normalizing" LGBT literary and historical figures and having regular conversations about "atypical" families, marginalized students may begin to feel more reflected in the mirror of their school's culture.  For me, it was poignant to see that a Spanish teacher's correction on a lesbian student's reference to her girlfriend, or "novia" to boyfriend, or "novio" shattered that student's sense of safety and identity in that class.   It is so easy to inadvertently inflect harm on our impressionable students, particularly those who are already marginalized and often, bullied.  After reading this article and perusing the GLSEN website, I will make it a priority to be even more proactive in incorporating prominent LBGT Hispanic figures into my curriculum in relevant, not "tacked on" ways.  

One of the sample lessons provided on GLSEN is a literary and historical analysis of the Mexican artist Frieda Kahlo, a proud bisexual woman.   I plan to seek out more poetry and stories to use, and I will also be sure to incorporate less traditional families in assessments.   For example, "Paula went to the mall with her mothers."   Sometimes, the smallest sentence can spark productive conversation.  I also love the idea of using an exercise like this to point out the normalcy of having gay relatives and friends, as the authors suggest.   Megan Boler suggest that "to make up for years of invisibility, classrooms should over-represent the experiences of those who have been excluded or erased from history."  I get the sense that there are many more in-the-closet homosexual, bisexual, and transgender students in our school than those who are out.  For all of the strides that Norton has made in the right direction by fostering professional development for faculty, a Gay Straight Alliance, and Anti-Bullying policies and posters and signs, in my opinion, we still have a ways to go.

1 comment:

  1. Amy, there is so much great stuff that has been done with Frieda! There is even a really great movie that you may be able to use in class. If we do as Boler says and over-represent the experiences of those who have been excluded or erased from history, what other groups should we be over-representing? Just a thought.