Academic journal article Professional School Counseling

Homosexuality: A Blind Spot in the School Mirror

Academic journal article Professional School Counseling

Homosexuality: A Blind Spot in the School Mirror

Article excerpt

A favorite self-esteem activity among elementary school children involves listening to a story about a "very special person" who can be seen by opening a colorful box. One-by-one the children lift the lid, peer inside, and see their own reflections in a mirror glued to the bottom of the empty box. Most children giggle with glee, pride, or self-consciousness. It is fun, and it encourages children to feel good about the person they see in the mirror.

For some children though, the mirror begins to develop a blind spot-a part of themselves that they cannot see or, at best, cannot bring into focus. As these children progress through childhood and adolescence, their schools, families, and communities often collaborate to reinforce the blind spot.The results of this collaboration may range from mild to tragic.

The blind spot is homosexuality-a sexual orientation that appears to be natural for approximately 10% of the population. It is safe to say that the same percentage can be applied to school children; that is, approximately 10% will eventually come to identify themselves as gay or lesbian (Schneider, 1988). When driving an automobile, a blind spot can be very dangerous. When looking at oneself, a blind spot can have serious consequences. This article focuses on the issues and challenges that confront school counselors in working with students who begin to exhibit a homosexual orientation during their school years.

DIFFICULTIES EXPERIENCED

While not all sexual minority youth experience difficulties in growing up, a number of issues frequently confront students who begin to perceive themselves as gay or lesbian. These include identity conflict, feelings of isolation and stigmatization, peer relationship problems, and family disruptions (Friends of Project 10,1989). Each of these difficulties will be discussed in terms of how it may manifest itself, and possibly be aggravated, in the school setting.

Identity Conflict

Growing up is, for all children, a process of discovering who they are in relation to self and others. In a predominantly heterosexual society that constantly and pervasively reinforces heterosexual behavior, it is inevitable that some type of identity conflict will occur for most persons who have a homosexual orientation. It is not always easy to see manifestations of identity conflict in gay and lesbian students, but many homosexual adults who reflect on their childhoods can recall going through such a conflict.Whether manifested or not, there is a sense of being somehow different than the world expects them to be, and this is a source of considerable identity conflict for most homosexual students (Gonsiorek, 1988).

Traditional schooling contributes heavily to the identity conflicts experienced by lesbian and gay youth. Books, films, classroom discussions, guest speakers, and field trips almost always reinforce heterosexual norms and values. Lesbian and gay adults-teachers or other school staff members-most often are closeted, thus depriving gay and lesbian youth of positive role models. Occasional training may be given to counselors regarding gay and lesbian students, but the overall school climate rarely supports positive identity development among these young people.

Feelings of Isolation and Stigmatization

Perhaps the most extreme and most tragic example of the isolation and stigmatization felt by gay and lesbian youth was provided in 1989 when a federal task force conducted a study on youth suicide. Results indicated that suicide is the number one cause of death among lesbian and gay teenagers, and that suicide attempts occur two to three times more often among homosexual teens than among heterosexual teens (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1989). Although much social progress has been made in de-stigmatizing homosexuality, it continues to be feared and misunderstood by many people. While suicide is certainly the extreme case, there is no doubt that feelings of isolation and stigmatization occur for many students who discover their homosexual orientation. …

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