Moving beyond the Safety Zone: A Staff Development Approach to Anti-Heterosexist Education

By Hirschfeld, Scott | Fordham Urban Law Journal, December 2001 | Go to article overview

Moving beyond the Safety Zone: A Staff Development Approach to Anti-Heterosexist Education


Hirschfeld, Scott, Fordham Urban Law Journal


March 1999--A sixteen-year-old Arkansas sophomore reports receiving harassing notes in his locker. One of his teachers recognizes the handwriting as that of a substitute teacher. School administrators do not investigate the substitute's behavior, but instead question the student's sexual orientation and blame him for being too open about his identity. The principal says he has to call the boy's mother because he "complained about a staff member" and suggests that the boy see a therapist. (1)

February 2001--On Valentine's Day, a history teacher in Indiana scratches the printed message off a candy heart, writes the word "fag" on it, and gives it to an eighth-grade boy in front of his fellow students. A month later, the teacher agrees to "retire early." The superintendent refuses to expand the district's harassment and discrimination policies to include sexual orientation. He also declines an offer by a civil rights organization to provide free teacher training on harassment stating, "I don't know how someone in New York understands what goes on in Crown Point, Indiana." (2)

April 2001--Orlando, Florida area students visit their local state representative Allen Trovillion, R-Winter Park, who tells them they are throwing their lives away and causing the downfall of the country: "The Scripture says that no homosexual will see the Kingdom of God, and I can't put it much straighter than that ... God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, and he is going to destroy you and a lot of others." (3)

I. INTRODUCTION

Reports of peer-on-peer harassment against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender ("LGBT") students, though profoundly disturbing, come as no surprise at a time when acts of hatred of all kinds are on the rise. (4) When the perpetrators of bias are adults to whom we entrust our youth, however, the reaction can be no less than astonishment. Most families send their children to school with the supposition that the adult community will protect and nurture their young students. Most schools, in fact, hold up safety and security as their primary goals along with academic achievement. When it comes to the well being of their LGBT students and families, though, too many schools fall short of the mark.

According to a recent National School Climate Survey, 84% of LGBT students hear homophobic remarks like "faggot" or "dyke" at school. More than 23% of LGBT students report hearing homophobic comments from faculty or school staff, and 82% say that faculty or staff never or only sometimes intervene when homophobic remarks are made in their presence. Further, 69% of LGB students and 90% of transgender students report feeling unsafe in their schools. In fact, 31% of LGBT students report having missed at least one day of school in the prior month because they felt unsafe. Since only California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Wisconsin address sexual orientation in their education laws--and only California addresses gender identity--LGBT students often have no recourse when they are victims of anti-LGBT harassment.

Studies examining the personal attitudes of educators toward homosexuality found that 75% of prospective teachers held negative attitudes toward gay and lesbian people. (5) Seventy-seven percent said they would not encourage a class discussion on homosexuality, and 85% opposed integrating gay and lesbian themes into their curricula. (6) Sixty-seven percent of guidance counselors harbored negative feelings toward gay and lesbian students (7) and 20% reported that counseling a student concerning gay issues would not be a gratifying experience. (8)

A recent Gallup poll found that 40% of the respondents oppose hiring LGBT teachers in elementary schools. (9) Even the small minority of educators who feel comfortable addressing LGBT issues face considerable pressure to remain quiet about their viewpoints and their sexual orientations. (10) It comes as no surprise, then, that 40% of students report an absence of teachers and school personnel supportive of LGBT students. …

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