Homosexuality in Education

Teaching about homosexuality has been a contentious issue in schools and universities. In the 1990s, the issue gained momentum as homosexuality evolved from its deviant status in many sectors of the culture, and researchers started approaching the issue from an intellectual perspective. Lesbians and gays have become more vocal and political, and schools have responded by introducing the subject into the curriculum.

Several controversial events stand out in the history of homosexuality in education. In the early 1990s, New York City's school chancellor was fired, largely due to the institution of the Rainbow Curriculum, which taught lesbian and gay topics. In the 1990s in Salt Lake City, Utah, the school board banned all after-school activities rather than having to allow a gay and lesbian youth group to meet in a school. The issue landed Auburn University of Alabama in the state supreme court after the student senate announced its decision to end funding to a gay campus group.

Until the mid-1970s, homosexuality in education was either absent or defined as deviant. Few scholars researched the topic, other than sociologists or psychologists interested in deviancy. A 1932 book by Willard Waller, The Sociology of Teaching, suggested that homosexuality was contagious, so gay teachers should not be allowed to enter a classroom and contaminate students. He also accused gay teachers of falling in love with their students. Waller encouraged principals to avoid hiring teachers with gay mannerisms as well as to fire teachers who were discovered to be gay.

Waller's writings about homosexuality as a disease were based on his opinion rather than on empirical evidence. He had no data to back up his claims about homosexual teachers developing crushes on students. His remarks about identifying gay mannerisms were also not backed up by any evidence, and he overlooked lesbians, focusing only on male gays. Yet, because his book employed sociological methods to research education, his text was considered a landmark study and has remained a classic.

The prevailing attitudes about homosexuality in education remained negative into the 1970s. In 1971, M.V. Fromhart described homosexuality as a variation of sexual identity confusion that required therapeutic treatment. R. Bauer and J. Stein (1973) suggested that gays have confused identities, possessing effeminate qualities such as a fragile carriage and an inability to behave assertively. Z. DeFries (1976) pegged lesbian students with ambiguous identities, as well.

In 1973, the American Psychological Association removed homosexuality from its list of mental disorders. The APA's decision reflected changing attitudes about the rights of gays. By that time, almost 1,000 gay and lesbian organizations had been formed. Researchers began to examine lesbian and gay people from a nondeviant perspective. Research in the academic arena mirrored and advanced alternative ways to think about gays.

The majority of research about gays falls under the groupings of normalcy and assimilation. Researchers come from multiple fields, not only sociology and psychology. Three main categories of research implement the idea of normalcy in homosexuality studies in education: issues of visibility, studies of the campus climate and studies about improving education for gays.

Visibility refers to the presentation of gay people and topics as part of society and educational systems. The research about visibility promotes the advancement of gay issues in education. For example, a 1992 book edited by K.M. Harbeck, Coming Out of the Classroom Closet, contains multidimensional research that proves that gay teachers and students have always existed but were afraid to reveal their sexual orientation. He suggests how to address their needs. Another study by R.A. Rhoads (1994–95) analyzes a two-year long study about the struggle of gay men who come out of the closet on campus.

Studies about the organizational climate for lesbians and gays on college campuses are widespread. The studies interview gay students and gay teachers to learn about their experiences of acceptance and discrimination. The results of most studies in the 1980s and 1990s revealed hostility toward gay and lesbian populations in colleges and universities. The studies contended that mental stress and harassment were common.

Numerous research studies address methods of improving the plight of gays and lesbians at school. For example, D.A. Grayson (1987) suggests changing public policy and increasing support services for gays at schools. V. Uribe (1995) reviews the effects of an existing outreach program for gay youth at a high school. J. T. Sears (1987) calls upon schools to increase teaching of sexual diversity to all students.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

A Content Analysis Exploring Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Topics in Foundations of Education Textbooks
Macgillivray, Ian K.; Jennings, Todd.
Journal of Teacher Education, Vol. 59, No. 2, March-April 2008
PEER-REVIEWED PERIODICAL
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
Getting Queer: Teacher Education, Gender Studies, and the Cross-Disciplinary Quest for Queer Pedagogies
Whitlock, Reta Ugena.
Issues in Teacher Education, Vol. 19, No. 2, Fall 2010
PEER-REVIEWED PERIODICAL
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
Recognizing and Utilizing Queer Pedagogy: A Call for Teacher Education to Reconsider the Knowledge Base on Sexual Orientation for Teacher Education Programs
Zacko-Smith, Jeffrey D.; Smith, G. Pritchy.
Multicultural Education, Vol. 18, No. 1, Fall 2010
PEER-REVIEWED PERIODICAL
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
Social Inequality on the College Campus: A Consideration of Homosexuality
Lance, Larry M.
College Student Journal, Vol. 42, No. 3, September 2008
Invisible Students, Missing Programs and Policies: Taking Responsibility for the Safety and Academic Success of the LGBT Population
Windmeyer, Shane L.
University Business, Vol. 15, No. 6, June 2012
Creating a Positive Climate for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Youths
Barber, Heather; Krane, Vikki.
JOPERD--The Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance, Vol. 78, No. 7, September 2007
PEER-REVIEWED PERIODICAL
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
Working with LGBT International Students
Katz, Eve.
International Educator, Vol. 17, No. 6, November/December 2008
LGBT Educators' Perceptions of School Climate: Administrators' Attitudes and District Policies Can Make Significant Contributions to Creating Safe Environments for LGBT Educators
Wright, Tiffany E.
Phi Delta Kappan, Vol. 91, No. 8, May 2010
Build a Curriculum That Includes Everyone: Ensuring That Schools Are More Accepting of LGBT Students and Issues Requires More Than Passing Mentions of Diversity in Sex Education Classes
McGarry, Robert.
Phi Delta Kappan, Vol. 94, No. 5, February 2013
Children's Literature Studies: Cases and Discussions
Linda C. Salem.
Libraries Unlimited, 2006
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 8 Literature with GLBTQ Characters, Themes, and Content"
Serving LGBT Students: Examining the Spiritual, Religious, and Social Justice Implications for an African American School Administrator
Reed, Latish; Johnson, Les T.
The Journal of Negro Education, Vol. 79, No. 3, Summer 2010
PEER-REVIEWED PERIODICAL
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
New York's Harvey Milk School: A Viable Alternative
Bethard, Rebecca.
Journal of Law and Education, Vol. 33, No. 3, July 2004
Queer Theory in Education
William F. Pinar.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1998
Thinking Queer: Sexuality, Culture, and Education
Susan Talburt; Shirley R. Steinberg.
Peter Lang, 2000
Queer Life and School Culture: Troubling Genders
Morris, Marla.
Multicultural Education, Vol. 12, No. 3, Spring 2005
PEER-REVIEWED PERIODICAL
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
Gay and Lesbian Students in Catholic High Schools: A Qualitative Study of Alumni Narratives
Maher, Michael J.
Catholic Education, Vol. 10, No. 4, June 2007
PEER-REVIEWED PERIODICAL
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
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