YOUR ART IS GAY AND RETARDED: Eliminating Discriminating Speech against Homosexual and Intellectually Disabled Students in the Secondary Arts Education Classroom

By Payne, Brian M. | Art Education, September 2010 | Go to article overview

YOUR ART IS GAY AND RETARDED: Eliminating Discriminating Speech against Homosexual and Intellectually Disabled Students in the Secondary Arts Education Classroom


Payne, Brian M., Art Education


Issues of gender, race, sexual orientation, and intellectual disability are taboo among teens, as they are consumed with their own strudle for identity and often unable to view the struggles of those around them who may not fit into the social majority in the overwhelming ecosystem of high school peer groups.

It is important for educators to reveal an ethos of appreciation for those students that may be of the social minority, as bullying can manifest itself as both physical and verbal abuse.Teachers have shown an inability to identify bullying behavior (Bradshaw, Sawyer: & O'Brennan, 2007). Leff, Kupersmrdt Patterson, and Power ( 1 999) found that teachers were more aware of bullying behavior in younger students than in adolescents. With homophobia acting as the most damaging prejudice against students who are homosexual or perceived as homosexual, students at the secondary level are more prone to verbal abuse by their peers, whereas physical abuse is more recognizable by administrators orteachers (van Wormer & McKinney, 2003).

Living in a conservative, predominately Protestant community with a population just over 20,000, and with 90% of those people classified as Caucasian (U.S. Census Bureau, 2000), I teach in a school where there is certainly a lack of diversity. Students of a different race, religion, culture, or sexual orientation are contrasted greatly against the White suburban middle class status quo of the student body I knew the interests of the underrepresented students were most likely ignored and that a proactive approach was needed to ensure they felt secure in my classroom.

According to Rostow, 97% of anti-gay slurs are condoned by educators while profanity and racist terms are reprimanded almost instantly (as cited in Eisemann, 2000, ?, (28). Another study conducted by the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) found that 90% of students heard anti-gay slang at school, with teachers just as guilty as the students for using slang (as cited in van Wormer & McKinney, 2003, p. 4 1 0). With students spending as much time at school as they do at home, teachers are just as much of a role model as their parents or guardians. However, with teachers ignoring or even engaging in slang, this dictates to the students that verbal abuse toward homosexuals and the intellectually disabled is acceptable at school.

Appropriate Terminology

Even before teaching my first day of high school and having spent ample time around my teenage cousin and her friends, I was well aware of the misuse of words such as "gay" and "retarded." Rasmussen (2004) refers to such terms as "catachreses" or the use of a word or expression in a different context from what it was originally intended, Essentially, these catachreses are used as descriptors applied to existing terms in situations where a proper term does not exist (Rasmussen, 2004). Overheard at the local coffee shop or mall, the catachreses for homosexuality and intellectual disabilities are used in a derogatory context when referring to something or someone that isn't acceptable, Acting a in a goofy way could result in someone being called a "retard." Even an unlikable pair of shoes has somehow taken a sexual orientation and become "gay."

Not wanting a classroom where homosexual and inteilectualiy disabled students feft marginalized by their peers through the misuse of diction and knowing I would probably have to endure an entire school year filled with correcting negative speech, I sought to create an environment where students learned to accept one another despite differences that may separate mainstream ideology from the foreign. Aside from teaching students the elements and principles of art, it is essential to prepare them for their role as a member of a productive society outside of high school.

I posted the following disclaimer under the "Class Expectations" on the front page of my Art I syllabus I gave my students the first day of class:

I expect each student to be able to work in an environment that is void of any slurs or derogatory comments that demean another studentThis includes comments pertaining to their style of dress, race, gender or sexual orientation. …

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