Lesbian and Gay Artists in the Curriculum: A Survey of Art Teachers' Knowledge and Attitudes

By Lampela, Laurel | Studies in Art Education, Winter 2001 | Go to article overview

Lesbian and Gay Artists in the Curriculum: A Survey of Art Teachers' Knowledge and Attitudes


Lampela, Laurel, Studies in Art Education


For centuries information about the sexual identity of artists who were lesbian or gay has been hidden from the average person. Unless one spent time researching the lives of individual artists such as Michelangelo, Caravaggio, Bonheur, and Brooks, one would not know that these artists had romantic attractions for members of the same sex. Speaking from experience, the sexual identity of artists was not overtly discussed in art history classes but assumptions were made that these artists were heterosexual. It wasn't until 1986 that information about many artists who were gay or lesbian was made available in one book.1

Although it has been a slow process, information about historical artists who were lesbian or gay is becoming more visible, as is information about contemporary gay and lesbian artists. This is due, in part, to the scholarship of Ashburn (1996), Boffin and Fraser (1991), Cooper (1994), Hammond (2000), Katz (1993), Smyth (1996), among others, and the concerted efforts of such organizations as the Gay and Lesbian Caucus of the College Art Association, the Alliance of Lesbian and Gay Concerns of the American Association of Museums and the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual Issues Caucus of the National Art Education Association. Each organization is committed to providing greater visibility to the discussion of artists who are lesbian or gay (Lampela, 1995).

The subject of homosexuality is gaining greater acceptance, as evidenced by the inclusion of gay characters in television and the movies and the proliferation of educational materials addressing gay and lesbian issues. The subject of gay rights also showed up in a thread of messages for Getty's ArtsEdNet discussion group in February 2000. Yet Wolfe (1998) noted that the general public's acceptance of lesbians and gays in the U.S. has not occurred. He conducted interviews with 200 people in the suburbs across the country and found that even though Americans were willing to accept almost anything, most middle class Americans were not prepared to accept homosexuality.

HRC, GLAAD, and GLSEN

That is why a number of organizations, including the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), and the Gay, Lesbian, Straight Educators Network (GLSEN), are committed to increasing the public's understanding of lesbian and gay concerns in the context of America's commitment to basic fairness. HRC is a national lesbian and gay political organization committed to protecting Americans from job discrimination based on sexual orientation and including gay people in basic protection under federal laws that are tough on hate crimes. HRC (Human Rights Campaign, 2000) reports on its web site that violent crimes committed against lesbian and gay Americans remain the third highest reported category of hate crimes in this country. GLAAD (Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, 2000) notes on its website that the organization is dedicated to promoting and ensuring fair, accurate, and inclusive representation of individuals and events in all media as a means of eliminating homophobia and discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation. GLAAD reports that negative and unbalanced portrayals of lesbians and gays have decreased. GLAAD works to promote lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender visibility by implementing public education campaigns with positive lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender images.

GLSEN is the nation's largest organization addressing anti-gay bias in the schools and promotes teaching respect for everyone in school by educating teachers and students to recognize homophobia and work to eliminate it. GLSEN publishes a yearly report card identifying schools that protect students and teachers from discrimination and harassment. In a letter to the network, Kevin Jennings (1996), executive director, urged members to keep in mind that putting a human face on the issue was the most important objective. …

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