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June 30, 2015 2

The Time Is Now: Bringing LGBT Topics into the Classroom

Wikicommons/InSapphoWeTrust from Los Angeles, California, USA

Wikicommons/InSapphoWeTrust from Los Ange­les, Cal­i­for­nia, USA

Over the past few years, our coun­try has made enor­mous strides on mar­riage equal­ity and as of June 26, 2015, mar­riage equal­ity is the law of the land in all 50 states. On that day, the Supreme Court of the United States held that that the 14th Amend­ment requires a state to license a mar­riage between two peo­ple of the same sex and to rec­og­nize mar­riages law­fully per­formed in other juris­dic­tions. Sixty-one per­cent of Amer­i­cans sup­port mar­riage equality.

Has our coun­try reached the tip­ping point?  Are we ready to bring LGBT top­ics into our cur­ricu­lum and classrooms?

Con­sider the num­bers. Accord­ing to the 2010 Cen­sus, there are approx­i­mately 594,000 same-sex cou­ple house­holds liv­ing in the U.S. and more than 125,000 of those house­holds include nearly 220,000 chil­dren under age 18.  Fur­ther, there are as many as 6 mil­lion Amer­i­can chil­dren and adults who have an LGBT par­ent. With the Supreme Court rul­ing, all U.S. res­i­dents live in a state with mar­riage equality.

In addi­tion to the chil­dren of same-sex cou­ples attend­ing our schools, there are stu­dents who them­selves iden­tify as les­bian, gay, trans­gen­der and bisex­ual and/or who don’t con­form to tra­di­tional gen­der norms. Many of these stu­dents suf­fer teas­ing, bul­ly­ing, harass­ment, vio­lence and inter­nal­ized oppres­sion that can lead to risky behav­ior and even sui­cide. Almost half of all ele­men­tary stu­dents say they hear com­ments like “that’s so gay” or “you’re so gay” from other kids at school and 75% of LGBT mid­dle and high school stu­dents report being ver­bally harassed because of their sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion. The good news is that these stu­dents also report bet­ter school expe­ri­ences when pro-active sup­ports and resources are in place.

There are gay and les­bian edu­ca­tors in our schools but many don’t feel safe to be “out” to their stu­dents and the school com­mu­nity. LGBT teach­ers do not have the same priv­i­lege that het­ero­sex­ual teach­ers have to talk about their partners/spouses and other core aspects of their lives and the school cli­mate can be down­right hos­tile towards them. There have been recent cases of teach­ers get­ting fired because of their sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion. Some states have laws that pro­hibit dis­crim­i­na­tion on the basis of sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion and gen­der iden­tity but most do not. Fed­eral leg­is­la­tion (ENDA) has been pro­posed to address this prob­lem but it has stalled in Con­gress. Even teach­ers in states with legal pro­tec­tions aren’t nec­es­sar­ily com­fort­able com­ing out because admin­is­tra­tors can find ways to fire them.

For chil­dren and teenagers, just know­ing a gay teacher can be a pow­er­ful expe­ri­ence; it gives them the oppor­tu­nity to know, admire and care about some­one who is LGBT.

Given that our schools are pop­u­lated with chil­dren of same-sex fam­ily house­holds, LGBT stu­dents and gay and les­bian teach­ers, it is time to bring this topic into our nation’s schools and class­rooms in a com­pre­hen­sive way.  It is an oppor­tu­nity to expand young people’s con­cepts of fam­ily, dis­cuss mar­riage equal­ity, infuse the cur­ricu­lum with LGBT peo­ple and their his­tory and accom­plish­ments and address bias-based bul­ly­ing for kids who iden­tify as LGBT or are per­ceived as such.

For young chil­dren, fam­ily is cen­tral to the cur­ricu­lum; there­fore, dis­cussing same-sex house­hold fam­i­lies should be inte­gral to the con­ver­sa­tion. This “nor­mal­izes” instead of mar­gin­al­izes chil­dren in same-sex house­holds.  Chil­dren in those fam­i­lies need to feel com­fort­able talk­ing about their own fam­i­lies and when those fam­i­lies are not rep­re­sented in class­rooms, teach­ers can share their sto­ries through children’s books and discussions.

As chil­dren move into upper ele­men­tary and mid­dle school, teach­ers can incor­po­rate con­ver­sa­tions about gen­der, gen­der norms, kinds of fam­i­lies and LGBT peo­ple and iden­tity. Stu­dents can be taught about mar­riage equal­ity and the road to the Supreme Court ruling.

Bul­ly­ing, espe­cially identity-based bul­ly­ing for LGBT or gen­der non-conforming stu­dents, should be dis­cussed not only when an inci­dent occurs but reg­u­larly. Children’s lit­er­a­ture con­tin­ues to be a pos­i­tive way to under­stand and empathize with LGBT peo­ple and families.

In the mid­dle and high school years as stu­dents emerge into ado­les­cence, the con­ver­sa­tions about iden­tity can con­tinue and sto­ries of LGBT peo­ple can be explored and infused into the every­day teach­ing and learn­ing. Read­ing young adult books with LGBT char­ac­ters and inte­grat­ing the accom­plish­ments of LGBT peo­ple into social stud­ies are encour­aged. Dur­ing the teen years, bul­ly­ing around sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion can be bru­tal and teach­ers should max­i­mize oppor­tu­ni­ties to dis­cuss it directly.

In 2011 Cal­i­for­nia passed a law requir­ing edu­ca­tors to teach gay and les­bian his­tory. On the other side, eight states cur­rently have “no promo homo” laws which for­bid teach­ers from dis­cussing LGBT peo­ple and issues in a pos­i­tive light and some pro­hibit dis­cussing the topic at all. Because schools are cen­tral to any com­mu­nity, address­ing LGBT top­ics will make our schools safer and more inclu­sive and will begin to curb the mar­gin­al­iza­tion of LGBT peo­ple for the present and for future generations.

 

 

 

 

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June 22, 2015 1

What Should We Tell Our Children About Charleston?

Credit: Stephen Melkisethian / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Credit: Stephen Melkisethian / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

As we grieve, protest and fur­ther inves­ti­gate the hor­rific mur­der of nine African Amer­i­can parish­ioners at the his­toric Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC, many peo­ple are ask­ing: What should we tell the children?

Par­ents, fam­ily mem­bers and oth­ers are some­times uneasy about dis­cussing issues of vio­lence and injus­tice with chil­dren because they want to pro­tect them from ter­ri­ble and scary top­ics. How­ever, it is impor­tant that chil­dren have a lan­guage for dis­cussing the unfair­ness and injus­tice they see in the world and that as adults, we model that these con­ver­sa­tions are ones we are will­ing to engage in as we assure them that we are work­ing to coun­ter­act injustice.

Except for very young chil­dren, it is impor­tant to raise the issue with chil­dren. It is likely that with online access and the 24/7 hour news cycle, many young peo­ple have already heard about it and may be look­ing for an oppor­tu­nity to learn more. In talk­ing with chil­dren about emo­tion­ally chal­leng­ing top­ics, remem­ber to:

  • Give them the time and space to express their feel­ings (what­ever those feel­ings are) and actively lis­ten with empa­thy and compassion.
  • Find out what they already know, clar­ify any mis­in­for­ma­tion they have and answer their ques­tions. If you don’t know the answer, be hon­est about that and find out the answer together.
  • In an age-appropriate way and using lan­guage they can under­stand, share your own thoughts, feel­ings and spe­cific val­ues about the topic.
  • Give youth infor­ma­tion about what is being done to make things safe and what actions are tak­ing place to coun­ter­act the injustice.

Here are spe­cific talk­ing points you may want to cover with young people:

Words and sym­bols matter

We have heard that the alleged shooter, Dylann Storm Roof, told racist jokes and spewed biased ide­ol­ogy. A con­tem­po­rary of Roof’s said “He made a lot of racist jokes, but you don’t really take them seri­ously like that.” Hate has the poten­tial to esca­late and the Pyra­mid of Hate illus­trates how biased behav­iors and attitudes—when left unchallenged—can lead to more seri­ous acts of dis­crim­i­na­tion and bias-motivated vio­lence such as the one per­pe­trated in Charleston. If those atti­tudes, beliefs and behav­iors were ques­tioned and addressed, per­haps there would have been dif­fer­ent out­comes and those nine lives would not have been taken.

Sym­bols are forms of com­mu­ni­ca­tion that con­vey impor­tant mes­sages to chil­dren about what we value, what is impor­tant and what kind of soci­ety we want to cre­ate. Hate sym­bols, espe­cially when dis­sem­i­nated and per­va­sive, com­mu­ni­cate that hate and bias are accept­able. Roof had patches on his jacket of flags of regimes in South African and Rhode­sia that enforced the vio­lent white minor­ity rule. He was also seen in sev­eral pho­tos with a Con­fed­er­ate flag, which has come to sym­bol­ize racial hatred and big­otry. Iron­i­cally, the flag is still dis­played in South Carolina’s state­house grounds in Colum­bia and activists and elected offi­cials have been press­ing for its removal for years.

Racism is sys­temic and can be overcome

While Roof was not a for­mal mem­ber of a white suprema­cist orga­ni­za­tion, he espoused white supremacy ide­ol­ogy that is preva­lent, online and world­wide. In address­ing this topic with young peo­ple, we need to give them hope and inspi­ra­tion by show­ing them that we have come a long way on issues of race and other social jus­tice issues by push­ing for leg­is­la­tion, edu­cat­ing peo­ple and tak­ing action. At the same time, it is also impor­tant that we con­nect the dots so that young peo­ple under­stand that issues such as school seg­re­ga­tion, racial dis­par­i­ties in the crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem and vot­ing rights are not indi­vid­ual acts but are part of a larger sys­tem and that if soci­etal change is going to take place, the solu­tions also need to be systemic.

Activism makes a difference

Since the mur­ders last week, there have been protests across the coun­try and in Charleston and Colum­bia, SC specif­i­cally call­ing pub­lic offi­cials to take down the Con­fed­er­ate flag as a first step. On Sun­day, in a mov­ing demon­stra­tion of empa­thy and con­nec­tion, church bells across Charleston tolled for nine min­utes to sym­bol­ize the nine vic­tims. We know that our nation has a long his­tory of activism that has brought about sig­nif­i­cant social change–from mar­riage equal­ity to immi­gra­tion reform and the recent “Black Lives Mat­ter” move­ment. One of the most impor­tant prin­ci­ples we can con­vey to our chil­dren is that their voices and actions make a dif­fer­ence and will help to build a bet­ter world.

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June 19, 2015 0

The Rachel Dolezal Teachable Moment

Abstract Colorful Group Of People Or Workers Or Employees - ConcRachel Dolezal, Pres­i­dent of the Spokane, Wash­ing­ton chap­ter of the NAACP  (National Asso­ci­a­tion for the Advance­ment of Col­ored Peo­ple), made head­lines and became the top trend­ing item on Twit­ter last week when it was dis­cov­ered that she had been pos­ing as Black for many years. In her inter­view on the Today Show, she con­tin­ued to assert: “I iden­tify as Black.” These events have sparked strong emotions—anger, con­fu­sion, sym­pa­thy, shock, curiosity—and have fueled a lively pub­lic con­ver­sa­tion about Black­ness, iden­tity, cul­tural appro­pri­a­tion and what it means to be an ally.  All of these con­cepts are ones we address in anti-bias edu­ca­tion work.

Iden­tity is an extremely impor­tant con­cept for peo­ple to under­stand and grap­ple with, start­ing at a young age. Know­ing who you are, what groups you belong to (race, gen­der and gen­der iden­tity, sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion, reli­gion, etc.), your his­tory and how your fam­ily makes mean­ing of the mul­ti­fac­eted nature of your iden­tity are crit­i­cal for self-esteem devel­op­ment. When we know who we are, we can build bridges with oth­ers with whom we are both sim­i­lar and dif­fer­ent.  The con­cept of race is largely under­stood as socially con­structed rather than solely based on genet­ics and biol­ogy. The racial group to which one belongs is a com­plex set of fac­tors includ­ing phys­i­cal char­ac­ter­is­tics, fam­ily lin­eage and ethnic/cultural upbring­ing. Rachel Dolezal did not grow up Black even though she claims to be Black.

The term cul­tural appro­pri­a­tion has been raised quite a bit in this con­ver­sa­tion. Some peo­ple say that Rachel Dolezal is appro­pri­at­ing Black cul­ture because of her hair style, com­plex­ion, life choices and insis­tence that she’s Black. Cul­tural appro­pri­a­tion is when peo­ple use spe­cific ele­ments of a cul­ture (e.g. ideas, sym­bols, styles) with­out regard for the impact to that cul­ture and it usu­ally hap­pens when a per­son or group exploits the cul­ture of another group, often with lit­tle under­stand­ing of the group’s his­tory, expe­ri­ence and cul­tural norms. Accord­ing to Maisha John­son, it is prob­lem­atic for a vari­ety of rea­sons includ­ing triv­i­al­iz­ing his­tor­i­cal racial oppres­sion, per­pet­u­at­ing stereo­types and let­ting priv­i­leged groups ben­e­fit or profit by using other people’s cul­ture. Is Rachel Dolezal appro­pri­at­ing Black cul­ture or is some­thing else operating?

Based on her pro­fes­sional inter­ests and choices, it seems clear that Rachel Dolezal has a pas­sion for social jus­tice and could have been an ally as a white woman.  There have been exam­ples through­out his­tory of peo­ple out­side a par­tic­u­lar iden­tity group being allies to oth­ers. Count­less white peo­ple have been allies to African Amer­i­cans in the civil rights strug­gles of the 1960’s and today–some even died for the cause.  Dur­ing the Holo­caust, non-Jews helped Jews escape at tremen­dous risk to them­selves. GLSEN spon­sors Ally Week in which straight allies make com­mit­ments to equal­ity for LGBTQ peo­ple.  For more than 10 years, ADL has edu­cated youth and adults across the coun­try to become bet­ter allies and still more works to be done. We need to teach our chil­dren that it is an impor­tant to be an ally, no mat­ter who you are.

What can we learn from this dia­logue and how can we turn it into a teach­able moment for young peo­ple?  Here are some suggestions:

  • Edu­cate youth to explore who they are cul­tur­ally and racially and in all of their com­plex­ity, affirm­ing their iden­tity through books, cur­ricu­lum and all that we expose them to.
  • Point out when you see cul­tural appro­pri­a­tion and high­light why it’s wrong; at the same time. pro­vide young peo­ple with real cul­tural expe­ri­ences with peo­ple from dif­fer­ent groups.
  • Pro­vide exam­ples for and encour­age young peo­ple to use respect­ful ally behav­ior and chal­lenge ally behav­ior that crosses the line into dis­re­spect­ful or unhelpful.
  • Show youth that the world would not have changed with­out allies and that being an ally is a skill devel­oped through prac­tice and hard work.

 

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