What are the biggest obstacles you face personally, and your school faces institutionally, in making your class and your community fully welcoming to LGBT students, staff, and families? What can you do about these obstacles?
Tonight we watched the film, It’s Elementary, which is a film about how some schools approach discussing LGBT issues in the classroom. Then, we discussed our impressions of the film and the implications for teaching.
The two most important ideas I will take with me from this film follow:
1) Irrespective of what I or others feel about homosexuality, gay marriage, or LGBT in general, the guiding principal of teaching is that I must validate all of my students. I must foster a safe place for them to learn in my classroom and in my school. This is true whether they are LGBT, straight, black, white, asian, female, male, atheist or religious, rich or poor. My job is to help students foster their own identities, to know that they are respected, and to learn to respect others.
2) Telling my students not to say, “that’s so gay” is a reactive action. It would be more fruitful for me to be proactive, in helping students discuss questions that they have about LGBTQ issues, dismantling harmful stereotypes that they have developed over time, and providing them a safe space to do so. Being proactive should also include more than the “token” LGBT novel we read in an English class. If we only talk about LGBT issues when we are reading LGBT books, then we are making a unspoken statement that LGBT issues only matter to LGBT people.
Some things that will make this type of work difficult for me are:
– I have never talked about these issues in a classroom. I fear my lack of experience will inhibit my ability to foster a positive classroom environment where we are proactive instead of reactive.
– I worry about having the right words to speak to anyone who might disagree with the fact that we need to teach students about LGBTQ issues just as we would support teaching gender issues or racial issues or issues of class.
While my school has made great strides in supporting LGBTQ issues, we still can do better. I hope the year comes when I never hear, “that’s so gay” said once in the hallway. Maybe it will be this year.