November 5, 2010

LGBT and Education


A man named Clint McCance recently wrote a series of anti-gay epithets on his Facebook profile. Is this newsworthy in itself? Not really.

What is newsworthy, however, is the fact that McCance is VP of the Midland School District in Arkansas. That’s right; a man who likes “that fags can’t procreate” and “enjoy[s] the fact that they often give each other aids and die” is managing the education of children.

If you wonder why so many schools are hostile places for LGBT youth, look no further than anti-gay school officials. While a large component of anti-gay sentiment is undoubtedly student-driven, if school administrators and teachers were more sympathetic to the unique challenges facing LGBT students, it’s likely that schools would become more tolerant from the top down.

Is anything being done about this? The answer is “kind of.” Soon after taking office, President Obama named Kevin Jennings, founder of the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), director of the Office of Safe and Drug Free Schools. While this is a good start, the recent LGBT teen suicides suggest that there is much work to be done.

What can you do to help make our public schools safe, welcoming environments? If you don’t work in education, one of the most important things you can do is vote in local elections for LGBT friendly school board and superintendent candidates. I realize this post comes, like, three days late, but keep in mind for future elections that local official can sometimes have huge impacts on the lives of LGBT teens.

If you are a teacher, coming out is one of the best things you can do. Mark Kleinschmidt, the Mayor of Chapel Hill, recently spoke to Blue Devils United about his experience as an openly gay public figure. Kleinschmidt said that one of the biggest regrets of his life was not coming out to his students when he taught high school social studies. Not only do openly gay teachers have the ability to change attitudes by promoting tolerance, but they also serve as crucial role models for LGBT youth. Openly gay teachers are becoming increasingly commonplace, and some have even formed networks, like the Proud Apple Social Club in Chapel Hill.

And don’t even try to tell me that teachers, regardless of sexuality, should keep their private lives out of the classroom. If your elderly Spanish teacher can ramble endlessly about his grandchildren, there’s no reason your English teacher can’t talk about her wife.

4 comments:

  1. Great post matt! It is really important that we bring this issue into focus. Hopefully this post will spawn conversation.

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  2. That's cool about the founder of GLSEN being named as the director of safe schools in Obama's adminstration! Thanks for pointing this out. :D

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  3. Love the picture, Matt. And your post is 100% spot-on. Teachers/administrators make a huge difference. I'm proud to say that I know several teachers at my high school who don't tolerate hate speech of any kind in their classrooms or in the hall way, etc. On the flip side, though, a good friend of mine was reprimanded by her teacher for participating in the Day of Silence. It's amazing how much power the teacher has to dictate the environment of his or her classroom. You can bet that students feel safe in the classroom of the teacher who doesn't tolerate hate speech and is sort of out but that the other classroom is not such a positive space for ANY student, regardless of how they identify.

    Lastly, to add to Megan, above, the founder of GLSEN Phoenix, who was recently named to the national board, is a Duke Alumna!!

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  4. So - I think there actually is a degree to which teachers need to keep their private lives outside the classroom. At least parts of it. Frankly, TMI knows no boundaries with respect to gender, sexuality, or expressions thereof.

    That having been said, I think we with the privilege of teaching do have a responsibility to make sure our *public* lives are as affirming as possible to our students. That absolutely includes eradicating hate speech in all its forms - intentional or not, subtle or not, delivered through ignorance or not.

    Given that, and given the notion that there are a spectrum of people who want to be supportive irrespective of their own personal sexuality or gender expression, what's an ally to do in the absence of being able to truly know the fullness of what our students are experiencing?

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