Public School is Not a Very Queer Place

Public School i Not a Very Queer Place  striatic:Flickr

It is well time for the public school system to integrate LGBT studies into the curriculum. 

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“Multicultural education is a philosophical concept built on the ideals of freedom, justice, equality, equity, and human dignity as acknowledged in various documents, such as the U.S. Declaration of Independence, constitutions of South Africa and the United States, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the United Nations. It affirms our need to prepare students for their responsibilities in an interdependent world. It recognizes the role schools can play in developing the attitudes and values necessary for a democratic society. It values cultural differences and affirms the pluralism that students, their communities, and teachers reflect. It challenges all forms of discrimination in schools and society through the promotion of democratic principles of social justice….” — National Association for Multicultural Education, emphasis added

A few years ago, the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Alliance at a private Boston-area university asked me to give a presentation on LGBT history at one of its weekly meetings. During my introductory remarks, in passing, I used the term “Stonewall,” when a young man raised his hand and asked me,

“What is a ‘Stonewall?’”

I explained that the Stonewall Inn is a small bar located on Christopher Street in Greenwich Village in New York City where, in the early morning hours of June 28, 1969, during a routine police raid, patrons fought back. This event, I continued, is generally credited with igniting the modern movement for LGBT liberation and equality.

The young man thanked me and stated that he is a first-year college student, and although he is gay, he had never heard about Stonewall or anything else associated with LGBT history while in high school. As he said this, I thought to myself that though we have made progress over the years, conditions remain very difficult for LGBT and questioning youth today, because school is still not a very “queer” place to be.

The teacher stated that “even though Andre Gide was a homosexual, he was a good author in spite of it.”

In my own high school years during the 1960s, LGBT topics rarely surfaced, and then only in a negative context. Once my health education teacher talked about the technique of electro-shock treatment for “homosexuals” to alter their sexual desires. In senior English class, the teacher stated that “even though Andre Gide was a homosexual, he was a good author in spite of it.” These references (within the overarching Heterosexual Studies curriculum at my high school), forced me to hide deeper into myself, thereby further damaging my self-esteem and identity.

I consider, therefore, the half-truths, the misinformation, the deletions, the omissions, the distortions, and the overall censorship of LGBT history, literature, and culture in the schools as a form of violence.

I am seeing increasingly an emphasis within the schools on issues related to bullying and harassment prevention. Current prevention strategies include investigation of issues of abuse and unequal power relationships, issues of school climate and school culture, and how these issues within the larger society are reproduced in the schools, among other concerns. Often missing from these strategies, however, are multicultural curricular infusion. Unfortunately, still today educators require courage to counter opposing forces, for example, the current attacks on Ethnic Studies programs currently underway in states like Arizona.

Under the battle cry of “preserving traditional American family values,” conservative and theocratic forces are attempting to prevent multicultural curricula from being instituted in the schools.

Throughout the United States, under the battle cry of “preserving traditional American family values,” conservative and theocratic forces are attempting to prevent multicultural curricula from being instituted in the schools. On the elementary school level related to LGBTQ issues, they are targeting books like And Tango Makes Three, by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell, a lovely true story about two male penguins in the New York City Central Park Zoo raising a baby penguin; also, King and King, by Linda de Haan, about a king meeting his mate, another king. Not so long ago, the Right went after Daddy’s Roommate written and illustrated by Michael Willhoit, about a young boy who spends time with his father and father’s life partner, Frank, following the parents’ divorce, and Gloria Goes to Gay Pride by Lesléa Newman, with illustrations by Russell Crocker, a portrait of young Gloria who lives with her two mommies: Mama Rose, a mechanic, and Mama Grace, a nurse.

For LGBT violence and suicide prevention strategies to have any chance of success, in addition to the establishment and maintenance of campus “Gay/Straight Alliance” groups, on-going staff development, written and enforced anti-discrimination policies, and support services, schools must incorporate and imbed into the curriculum across the academic disciplines and at every level of the educational process, multicultural perspectives, including LGBT, age appropriately from pre-school through university graduate-level programs and courses, from the social sciences and humanities, through the natural sciences and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math). LGBT experiences stand as integral strands in the overall multicultural rainbow, and everyone has a right to information that clarifies and explains our stories.

I was encouraged to see one state, California, leading the way.

I was encouraged to see one state, California, leading the way. The California legislature passed, and Governor Jerry Brown signed into law in 2011, SB48, the first in the nation statute requiring the state Board of Education and local school districts to adopt textbooks and other educational materials in social studies courses that include contributions of LGBT people.

For LGBT and questioning youth, this information can underscore the fact that their feelings and desires are in no way unique, and that others like themselves lead happy and productive lives. This in turn can spare them years of needless alienation, denial, and suffering. For heterosexual students, this can provide the basis for appreciation of human diversity and help to interrupt the chain of bullying and harassment toward LGBT people, for in truth, very few real-life families resemble the mythical “Brady Bunch,” the Andersons in “Father Knows Best,” or the Huxtables of “The Cosby Show.”

No matter how loudly organizers on the political and theocratic Right protest that his is merely a “bedroom issue,” we know that the bedroom is but one of the many places where we write our stories. Therefore, while each October (National LGBT History Month) is a good time to begin the classroom discussions, I ask that our full stories be told throughout the year. For what is true in AIDS education holds true for our history as well: “Silence = Death.”

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For my two-part LGBTQ PowerPoint presentation, go to my blog site at: www.warrenblumenfeld.com. On the right side, click onto “Slide Presentations,” which will take you to LGBTQ History parts 1 and 2. Enjoy!

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Photo:  striatic/Flickr

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About Warren Blumenfeld

Warren J. Blumenfeld, College of Education, University of Massachusetts, Amherst. He is author of Warren’s Words: Smart Commentary on Social Justice (Purple Press); editor of Homophobia: How We All Pay the Price (Beacon Press), and co-editor of Readings for Diversity and Social Justice (Routledge) and Investigating Christian Privilege and Religious Oppression in the United States (Sense).

Comments

  1. Every time I read a new article authored by Warren Blumenfeld, I learn something and cherish the opportunity to grow in intellectual curiosity. Dr. Blumenfeld not only is intimately familiar with his topics of research but builds into each a soul that comes from his own experiences.

    True centers of learning turn to every opportunity to be inclusive. The act of excluding anyone for anything not only limits learning but cannibalizes the very reason schools exist. Nothing is “cut and dried”. Nothing is absolute any more than truth can be consigned to a single text, a single book, a single teacher, author or any other proponent. Learning never stops, and the advance of understanding comes when all things are considered.

    I have lost jobs as I was a Lutheran and later a Roman Catholic. I was denied tenure as I did not confess the values of the school or university with which I was affiliated. New appointments are denied because I write “too much” or without a particular philosophy an institution struggles to disseminate, and of course, now, I am “too old” to be considered even by liberal institutions. To excludes someone because of gender or sexuality is even more absurd as no fetus selects its own gender, and none decide on their own sexuality.

    For more than a millennium, teachers have not talked about the contributions of women. For hundreds of years, people of color were ignored or consigned to a footnote. It is past time to include the contributions of the LGBTQ community as they do make up pillars of this society and are a part of the majesty woven into the fabric of life. Debate, discussion, detailed thinking is what advances a people and a nation so they do not take up arms to down airlines on a hunch that they carry weapons of destruction, as in East Crimea, but wait to sift through all evidence before defining whether or not it is valid to put into the ultimate prize for human consumption. Excellent article Dr. Blumenfeld!

  2. Dr. Arthur Frederick Ide says:

    Timely, articulately presented, cogent and necessary. Another stellar example of mixing humanity into a facet of society most ignore or forget.

  3. Warren J. Blumenfeld says:

    Thank you Dr. Ide for your eloquence in writing and your passion for learning!

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