ERIC Identifier: ED377257
Publication Date: 1994-10-00
Author: Schwartz, Wendy
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Urban Education New York NY.
Improving the School Experience for Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual
Students. ERIC Digest No. 101.
Interest in meeting the needs of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered
youth is growing, largely as a result of three general trends: (1)
acknowledgment by educators that all identifiable groups of students need
support unique to their situation; (2) the increasing number of students
declaring their homosexuality; and (3) increasing victimization of lesbians and
gays. Among the supporting arguments is that educators have a social
responsibility to provide an environment that supports the ability of all
students--including lesbians and gays--to learn and that is free from physical
and psychological abuse (Sears, 1987).
Lesbian and gay student initiatives to date have been in urban areas, where
these students feel most free to be visible and to request services, and where
opposition to support is least likely. Also, cities have gay and lesbian service
organizations for adults that include youth programs or that lobby boards of
education to implement programs.
BARRIERS TO EDUCATION
Studies have shown that gay and
lesbian students are far more likely to have been abused or otherwise
victimized, abuse substances, prostitute themselves, attempt suicide, and be
homeless, than straight youth (Uribe & Harbeck, 1992). Many fear violence
and harassment from their peers, and constant anxiety inhibits their ability to
learn. Some try to make themselves invisible in school so their homosexuality
will not be detected, and as a result, limit their learning experiences. Even
gay students without such severe problems have a more difficult adolescence than
straight students because they feel even more confined by the pressure to
conform, and believe that an essential part of them is being dismissed, despised
or deleted from school life (Khayatt, 1994).
Although these factors may cause poor school performance and high dropout
rates, lesbian and gay students "are perhaps the most underserved students in
the entire educational system...discrimination often interfere[s] with their
personal and academic development" (Uribe, 1994, p. 112).
Homophobia also negatively affects straight students' education in ways that
transcend simply the effects of hating. Fear of being considered gay can drive
them to embrace narrowly defined and limiting sex roles. The decision about
whether to participate in sports--real guys must; real girls won't--is a prime
example (Grayson, 1987).
OPPOSITION TO EDUCATION INITIATIVES
Many policy makers
oppose presenting homosexuality in a positive way, or even mentioning it at all,
in school. Locally, groups have been quite effective in stopping school efforts
to teach positively about homosexuality, or even to provide information about
it. The most publicized example is the successful campaign against the New York
City Rainbow Curriculum for elementary grades. Around the country, an increasing
number of school board candidates are emphasizing their opposition to education
on homosexuality in their campaigns.
Laws and regulations that prohibit discrimination
against specific groups not only provide penalties for violators, but also
dignify the existence of those groups and suggest that the climate is not
sympathetic to people who express bigotry in even legally protected ways. There
have been some government initiatives to protect the rights of lesbian and gay
students (and sometimes teachers) in particular, a sampling of which is provided
below. Some school districts and schools have developed specific policies, but
local antidiscrimination legislation and policies that protect gays overall also
protect gay students.
At the Federal level, activity has largely consisted of court decisions,
which have generally been narrow, and apply only to districts in which the court
is located. An early decision in Rhode Island (Fricke v. Lynch, 1980) can be
considered one of the most radical: it allowed two men to attend their senior
prom as a couple (Dutile, 1986).
A Wisconsin law, the first statewide legislation of its kind, mandates that
every public school district adopt and disseminate a policy prohibiting bias,
stereotyping, and harassment. Nevertheless, state support for lesbian and gay
students has been limited to workshops for counselors and distribution of a
pamphlet describing the policy and materials from private organizations.
Massachusetts has established the only statewide Commission on Gay and
Lesbian Youth. Its first report reviewed the lives of Massachusetts lesbian and
gay adolescents and presented a comprehensive set of recommendations that became
the basis of the Massachusetts Department of Education's Safe Schools Program
for Gay and Lesbian Students, which includes workshops for school people and
students (Governor's Commission, 1993).
One of the seven Los Angeles Unified School District commissions is devoted
to gay and lesbian education. It makes recommendations to the Board of Education
on meeting the needs of lesbian and gay students.
Urban schools around the country have implemented
many different types of programs both to help lesbian and gay students feel
included and respected and to educate other students about homosexuality and the
achievements of gays throughout history.
Groups help lesbian and gay students, both
those who are out and those who do not publicly acknowledge their orientation,
overcome their fear and isolation, and encourage them to remain in school
(Lipkin, 1992). Their services include counseling, peer support, health
information (including safer sex), and referrals. Since some teens are estranged
from their families, housing and legal services may also be provided. Some
groups work with families and do antibias training with teachers. Groups can be
funded by the government and/or private sources, and work city-wide (e.g.,
Hetrick-Martin Institute, New York; Project 10, Los Angeles; University of
Minnesota Youth and AIDS Project, St. Paul) or in a single school (Project 10
East, Rindge and Latin School, Cambridge). The Bridges Project is a national
network of groups serving lesbian and gay youth.
Like all efforts to increase the
multiculturalism in curricula, infusing information about homosexuality can be
done in several ways, as appropriate for grade level (Hart & Parmeter,
1992): portraying lesbians, gays, and bisexuals matter-of-factly; using neutral
language to describe lesbians and gays; identifying lesbians and gays of
accomplishment; gay and lesbian literature courses; and gay studies courses.
School staff is crucial to establishing
and maintaining a climate where lesbian and gay students feel safe and able to
learn. Staff, therefore, may receive training that includes: basic information
and about homosexuality and the needs of gay students, crisis intervention and
violence prevention strategies, and appropriate responses to expressions of
Several gay service organizations offer staff development activities and
materials. The National Education Association (NEA) offers its members
(especially those unfamiliar with homosexuality) two workshops for dealing
sensitively with colleagues and students. NEA also responds to requests from its
locals with referrals on materials, speakers, and additional trainers.
One school especially for lesbian and gay
students has been in operation nearly a decade: the Harvey Milk High School in
New York City, a joint project of the Board of Education and Hetrick-Martin. Its
purpose is to provide a supportive environment for students who were on the
verge of dropping out of traditional school. Another high school, the EAGLES
Center in Los Angeles, has been operating for two years (Project 10 Handbook,
OTHER EDUCATION INITIATIVES
Districts and schools that want
to provide a supportive environment for lesbian and gay students and educate
straight students about homosexuality, without necessarily implementing a
full-scale program and without adding significantly to their budgets, can choose
from the following list of suggestions:
* Include gays and lesbians in non-discrimination policies, and expressions
of homophobia on the list of prohibited behaviors in the school policy manual.
* Offer support and protection for teachers who come out so lesbian and gay
students can have role models and a source of support.
* Give organizations of lesbian and gay students the same privileges as other
groups, and allow same-sex couples to attend events.
* Create an atmosphere where students can feel free to reject sex stereotyped
* Provide anti-bias and violence prevention training that includes
* Include books on homosexuality, both informational and fiction, in the
Dutile, F. N. (1986). Sex, schools, and the law.
Springfield, IL: Thomas.
The Governor's Commission on Gay and Lesbian Youth. (1993). Making schools
safe for gay and lesbian youth. Boston: Author.
Grayson, D. A. (1987, Summer). Emerging equity issues related to
homosexuality in education. Peabody Journal of Education, 64(4), 132-45.
Hart, E. L., & Parmeter, S.-H. (1992). Writing in the margins: A lesbian
and gay inclusive course. In C. M. Hurlbert & S. Totten (Ed.), Social issues
in the English classroom. Urbana: National Council of Teachers of English. (ED
Khayatt, D. (1994). Surviving school as a lesbian student. Gender and
Education, 6(1), 47-61.
Lipkin, A. (1992, Fall). Project 10: Gay and lesbian students find acceptance
in their school community. Teaching Tolerance, 1(2), 25-27.
Project 10 handbook: Addressing lesbian and gay issues in our schools.
(1993). Los Angeles: Friends of Project 10. (ED 337 567).
Sears, J. T. (1987). Peering into the well of loneliness: The responsibility
of educators to gay and lesbian youth. In A. Molnar (Ed.), Social issues and
education: Challenge and responsibility. Alexandria: Association for Supervision
and Curriculum Development. (ED 280 781)
Uribe, V. (1994, Dec.-Jan.) Project 10: A school-based outreach to gay and
lesbian youth. High School Journal, 77(1&2), 108-113.
Uribe, V., & Harbeck, K. M. (1992). Addressing the needs of gay, lesbian,
and bisexual youth. In K. M. Harbeck (Ed.), Coming out of the classroom closet:
Gay and lesbian students, teachers and curricula. New York: Harrington Park
Bridges Project of the American Friends Service Committee, 1501 Cherry
Street, Philadelphia, PA 19102.
Gay and Lesbian High School Curriculum and Staff Development Project, Harvard
University Graduate School of Education, 210 Longfellow Hall, Cambridge, MA
Hetrick-Martin Institute, 2 Astor Place, New York, NY 10003.
Los Angeles County Commission on Human Relations, 320 W. Temple St., Los
Angeles, CA 90012.
National Education Association, Human and Civil Rights Division, 1201 16 St.,
NW, Washington, DC 20036.
Project 10, 7850 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90046.
Project 10 East, 459 Broadway, Cambridge, MA 02138.
Sex Equity Program, Equity and Multicultural Education Section, Wisconsin
Department of Public Instruction, PO Box 7841, Madison, WI 53707.
University of Minnesota Youth and AIDS Project, Wingspan, 100 N. Oxford St.,
St. Paul, MN 55104.