Perceptions of Homophobia and Heterosexism in Physical Education

Article excerpt

An important task for any educator is to provide a safe, comfortable learning environment for all students. Unfortunately, areas that are often overlooked when attempting to provide this type of environment are the issues of homophobia and heterosexism, and the potential effects on lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgendered (LGBT) students. While these issues have been addressed within school settings, Morrow and Gill (2003) reported that, at the time of publication of their article, there had been no data-based studies of incidence or effects of homophobia or heterosexism in the public school physical education setting. The authors developed a survey instrument intended to assess the perceptions of physical education teachers and college-age young adults about homophobia and heterosexism in secondary school physical education settings.

Since no tool existed that specifically measured homophobia in physical education, the authors adapted some items for surveys of adolescents from other research, including the Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network school-climate survey. The survey instrument was completed by 82 physical education teachers (phase I) and 77 college students (phase II) in North Carolina. The student sample purposefully included LGBT-identified students and attendees of a local gay pride festival, in addition to a standard sampling from three general university fitness classes.

The beginning of the survey defined heterosexism, homophobia, and inclusive behavior, and included examples of the behavior to clarify and ensure that everyone responded to the same concepts. Heterosexism referred to behavior that assumes all students are heterosexual, such as presuming that all students come from traditional families or date only the opposite sex; homophobia referred to derogatory or dangerous behavior directed at students known or presumed to be LGBT, such as name-calling, physical assault, or property destruction. Inclusive behavior was defined as purposely including diverse populations, including LGBT students. The definitions and examples were repeated throughout the survey, and openended responses were allowed and encouraged. Respondents were asked a series of questions to determine (1) the degree to which they observed or experienced heterosexism and homophobia and (2) whether inclusive behaviors existed and to what degree physical education teachers created a safe environment for LGBT students.

Results indicated that nearly all teachers witnessed heterosexist behavior between students and between students and teachers, with 82 percent witnessing "a lot." Most teachers (61%) indicated witnessing at least some homophobic behavior between students, and about one-third indicated that they had personally experienced "some" or "rare" incidences of homophobic behavior from colleagues or students. Most teachers did not use homophobic remarks or name calling, but half used sexist comments in a homophobic manner or used the term "normal" to imply heterosexual. …