Evidencing a Need: School Counselors' Experiences with Gay and Lesbian Students

By Fontaine, Janet H. | Professional School Counseling, February 1998 | Go to article overview

Evidencing a Need: School Counselors' Experiences with Gay and Lesbian Students


Fontaine, Janet H., Professional School Counseling


or a variety of reasons, the needs of gay and lesbian students in our nation's schools go largely unnoticed and unmet. Their identity as a minority group is ignored even though in many schools they may be the largest minority. Their status in schools, as in the broader society, can arguably be said to be the unenviable status of most hated group. As one of the few remaining minority groups available who can be victimized with few social consequences, gays and lesbians are fair game for adults, adolescents, and children alike to harass, demean, threaten, and even physically assault. Laws and institutional regulations preclude homosexuals full participation in society-for example, marriage, tax exemptions, health benefits for domestic partners, same-sex couple attendance at school proms. And more subtle forms of culturally sanctioned discrimination are often officially condoned by governmental, religious, and other social institutions.

Homosexuals are probably the most frequent victims of hate crimes, which appear to be on the rise in parts of our nation (Herek, 1989). The consequences of this intimidation by threats and acts of violence take many forms, but perhaps none more subtle than the restriction of behavior options for both heterosexual and homosexual persons alike (Herek, 1989).Antigay harassment serves to enforce rigid standards of gender-appropriate behavior. Both heterosexuals and gays avoid deviating from society's heterosexual sanctioned norms for fear of being labeled as homosexual and thus subjecting themselves to the potential for verbal and physical abuse. Marino (1995) believes no part of the homosexual community suffers more than gay, lesbian, and bisexual adolescents. Their high need for peer group approval, tenuous dependent economic and legal status, and lack of financial independence severely restrict their options for dealing with emotionally and physically threatening environments and persons. Statistics support this vulnerability. One in three adolescent suicides have been attributed to youth dealing with sexual-identity issues (Gibson, 1989). Several studies have documented higher incidences of substance abuse, utilization of psychiatric services, difficulties in school, and running away among homosexual youth (Remafedi, 1987; Remafedi, Farrow, & Deisher, 1991). More than 80% of the gay and lesbian adolescents studied by Remafedi (1987) still in school reported declining academic performance and other school-related problems. Schools, with their documented high incidents of harassment and violence, have been shown to be among the most homophobic institutions in America (Governor's Task Force, 1988; Remafedi, 1987; Unks, 1994). A survey of junior and senior high school students in the state of New York found higher levels of hostility toward gays than toward racial or ethnic minorities (Governor's Task Force, 1988). In a recently published teen interview on the topic of sexuality, a question was posed about how difficult it would be for students to be openly gay or bisexual in their schools (Pratt, 1995). Two poignant responses represent the blatantly anti-gay hostility permeating their institutions: A few years ago, two girls were walking down the hall at my school, holding hands, and they kissed briefly. This mob came and harassed them.A person who witnessed it said that if the people had had rocks in their hands they would have stoned them to death. (p. 5) If my friends found me hugging another dude... that ain't gonna happen.They would slap me. (p.5) Homophobic and intolerant educational environments can only exist with the implicit and/or explicit cooperation of school officials and personnel. Evidence suggests that teachers, counselors, and administrators exhibit distressingly high levels of homophobic attitudes and feelings (Dressler, 1985; Price & Telljohann, 1991; Rudolph, 1988; SavinWilliams,1990; Sears,1992). In a comparison of several studies, Sears (1992) found 8 out of 10 preservice teachers exhibited negative attitudes toward homosexuals. …

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