By Alaya Scarlett and Ines Villarreal Senzatimore
Despite all of the improvements that have been made, homophobia is still an issue in schools. To this day, schools struggle with verbal and physical abuse targeted towards LGBT students. This issue needs to be recognized and stopped. It is vital for schools to take action in advocating for the acceptance of LGBT students.
Mercury News recently reported that there were homophobic slurs targeted at a male football player at Wilcox High School, in Santa Clara, California. These slurs, regarding his sexuality, were not uncommon for him. The physical threats that he received during this incident were a great concern to the family and school. In response to this, the school authorized the Santa Clara Police Department to investigate the matter independently, in order to determine if a real crime had been committed. While many are thankful for the actions the school took to handle this situation, it is evident that there should have been efforts to reduce homophobia on campus, before situations like this get out of hand.
In order to reduce homophobia within schools, schools should educate students on LGBT issues, which would help to reduce the spread of misinformation regarding LGBT topics, as well as reduce homophobia. Schools can do so by incorporating queer history into lessons, offering comprehensive human sexuality courses, and by providing resources and safe places for LGBT students.
Queer history is often overlooked and disregarded when it comes to the history curriculum in schools. For example, US News states that six states, Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Texas, have laws prohibiting the “promotion of homosexuality,” which “prohibit schools from teaching lesbian, gay or bisexual people or topics in a positive light in health or sexual education classes.”
Only four states, California, Colorado, New Jersey and Illinois, require the teaching of LGBT history. In an article on LGBT education from US News, Christian Fuscarino, executive director of Garden State Equality, an advocacy group, believes that teaching LGBT history is important because “Our youth deserve to see how diverse American history truly is — and how they can be a part of it one day, too.”
The erasure of queer history is not only detrimental to history as a whole, but it also impacts all the LGBT students who do not get the representation they deserve. Looking up to historical figures who share the same identity as LGBT students will not only educate them, but it will also give them a sense of inspiration and belonging. Furthermore, the incorporation of queer history in the school’s curriculum will help to educate people with homophobic views about the importance of the LGBT community, because it shows them that queer individuals have always existed and have always had a place in society.
In addition to queer history, schools should have comprehensive sex education courses. These courses cover a wide range of topics, one of them being sexual orientation and gender. This information is extremely important and can help students to understand and appreciate their own identities.
Moreover, it can even contribute to decreasing homophobia. According to the Century Foundation, “Increased knowledge about LGBT people leads to lower levels of discomfort toward this community, and thus can reduce anti-LGBT discrimination.”
Planned Parenthood Federation of America and the Human Rights Campaign Foundation conducted a research in which LGBT youth discussed their experience with sex education. The research showed that sex education if there was any, was limited and focused primarily on heterosexual relationships between cisgender people. Furthermore, the research showed that in efforts to learn more about sexual health, many students found their information online, from sources that were neither age-appropriate nor medically accurate.
Queer history and comprehensive sex education are both extremely important and play a role in decreasing homophobia; however, they will not completely erase the stigma surrounding the LGBT community, which is why safe spaces and LGBT resources are essential in schools.
Safe spaces are places where LGBT individuals can gather and communicate in an area that is safe to them – which means that there won’t be any physical or verbal harassment. Places like this are extremely significant in schools, where homophobia is not uncommon.
By creating these spaces, schools would be able to decrease the poor treatment of LGBT students. Reuters reports that evidence suggests that “school-based practices, such as identification of ‘safe spaces’ have the potential to prevent victimization and related health consequences among LGBTQ youth.”
The incorporation of safe spaces and clubs would be extremely beneficial. LGBT students would be able to feel safe and supported at school, which allows them to do better in school, and also results in a lower chance of suicide or substance abuse.
Additionally, providing LGBT resources within schools will lessen the homophobia that many students face by educating non-LGBT students as well. Summit Denali High School offers the QSA club (Queer Straight/Student Alliance), which allows students to talk freely about their experiences, as well as important topics regarding the LGBT community. Sabrina Lee, a sophomore at Summit Public School: Denali, says that QSA is “a space where allies can come and learn about LGBT people in a space that’s led by LGBT people.” Everybody there is on equal ground because everybody is there to learn.
Some people argue that these measures are unnecessary because parents should be able to decide how to teach their kids about LGBT issues, not schools. Reason spoke to parents, like Fatima Shah, who opposed the incorporation of LGBT education. Shah, the mother of a 10-year-old daughter, believes that schools do not have the right to teach their students about LGBT issues. She says that the incorporation of LGBT education in schools does not respect their ethos as a community. She states that they do not send their children to school to “learn about LGBT,” they send them to school to “learn maths, science, and English.”
This displays an example of how many parents are uneducated on the importance of LGBT issues and why they do have a place in schools. In an article by The Guardian, Russell Hobby, a parent, asked, “Do I have a right to determine what my children learn and believe by controlling their access to other viewpoints and sources of information?”
Many parents agree with Hobby, expressing that it is wrong for a child to be restricted from learning about “safe and legal values and other perspectives on the world.” Homophobia is not an excuse to prevent people from making their own decisions or beliefs, therefore children should learn about LGBT issues and perspectives.
All across the world, homophobia in schools is an issue. The Victoria State Government Department of Education states that, “Research in Australia found that 61 percent of same-sex attracted young people have experienced verbal abuse and 18 percent have experienced physical abuse, on the basis of their sexuality. When asked where they were when this took place, 80 percent said it was at school.” This statistic is simply unacceptable. It is not productive for students to come to a learning environment with the fear of getting harassed because of their sexuality.
While acknowledging the progress that society has made towards acceptance, it is still very clear that homophobia is an issue. Schools are simply not doing enough to help with this. In order to lessen homophobia, and create a safe learning environment, schools need to integrate queer history, offer comprehensive sex education courses, and provide resources for LGBT students. All of these factors are vital in the contribution towards a brighter future for LGBT youth.
FEATURED IMAGE (at top of post): Public schools in Illinois must include LGBT history in their curriculum starting in 2020. PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images
A student offers perspective on homophobia at Denali
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