Academic journal article Professional School Counseling

The Role of School Counselors in Addressing Sexual Orientation in Schools

Academic journal article Professional School Counseling

The Role of School Counselors in Addressing Sexual Orientation in Schools

Article excerpt

Issues of sexual orientation are relevant to multiple levels of the school community, including students, school professionals, and schools as institutions. School counselors, with their developmental training, systems perspective, and commitment to diversity, are unique& positioned to be leaders in efforts not only to provide support for students engaged in the process of recognizing and accepting their own sexual identities, but also to promote more sophisticated dialogue about issues of sexual orientation in schools. This article presents a three-tiered action plan that will provide school counselors with tools necessary to address the issue of sexual orientation in their schools.


Over the past few decades, awareness of the diversity of sexual orientations has been consistently increasing across various spheres of society, including schools. Several defining characteristics of school counselors, including their training in child and adolescent development, their systems perspective, and their commitment to diversity, distinguish them as potential leaders in addressing the issue of sexual orientation in schools. Sexual orientation is defined as an enduring emotional, romantic, and sexual attraction that can range from exclusive homosexuality to exclusive heterosexuality and includes various forms of bisexuality (American Psychological Association, 1998).

In the school counseling literature, explorations of sexual orientation have been somewhat limited in frequency. Professional School Counseling published a special issue on sexual orientation in schools in 1998. More recent literature includes articles on the legal obligations to protect gay and lesbian students (McFarland & Dupois, 2001) and on systemic anti-oppression strategies for school counselors (Chen-Hayes, 2001). In light of the substantial changes that have occurred in both society's understandings of sexual orientation as well as the role of the school counselor over the past few decades, it is time to renew the conversation about issues that face gay, lesbian, and bisexual students in schools, and the implications these issues have for the practice of school counselors. The focus of this article is on issues of sexual orientation among middle and high school students and implications for school counselors at those levels. The significant differences in developmental level between elementary and secondary school students require a separate discussion of strategies and interventions that would be suitable for elementary students.

While this article focuses on issues of diversity of sexual orientation, it does not specifically address issues related to gender identity. However, much of our discussion is relevant to transgender and gender-variant youth because of the link between heterosexism, that is, the devaluing of non-heterosexual identities (Herek, 2007), and sexism, the punishment of nonconformity to traditional gender norms (Kite, 2001). Though there is an overlap between lesbian/gay/bisexual youth and gender-variant youth insofar as both groups bear the negative social consequences of transgressing gender norms (Herek, 1992), transgender youth contend with a unique set of challenges (e.g., the process of gender transition) that require a specific focus and are beyond the scope of the current discussion. As a result, this article often refers to the LGB (lesbian, gay, bisexual) community, instead of the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) community, in an effort to avoid the sweeping assumption that transgender individuals face the same issues as lesbians, gay men, or bisexual individuals.

After an overview of the current social context visa-vis sexual orientation, this article articulates the relevance of sexual orientation issues in school communities and focuses on the opportunities and responsibilities for action on the part of school counselors.


The 1973 decision by the American Psychiatric Association (APA) to remove "homosexuality" as a disorder from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, 2nd Ed. …

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