Saturday, August 12, 2006

Confronting Classroom Homophobia

The following article from the August 2006 issue of DNA looks at the endemic problem of homophobia in high schools.

This particular article also serves as a timely reminder for me of the importance of a
CPCSM project I’ve been working on for a number of years and which is nearing completion.

Creating Safe Environments for LGBT Students: A Catholic Schools Perspective is a 5-session training program of strategies, resources, and reflections aimed at empowering Catholic high school professionals in their interactions with youth who have either come out as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) or who struggling with questions related to sexual orientation and/or identity.

You could call it a “safe staff” training manual for the Catholic high school context, one that is slated for publication in 2007 by the US-based publishing house, Haworth Press.

The program itself grew out of a series of “safe staff” training workshops developed by CPCSM and implemented in the mid-late 1990s in a number of Catholic high schools in the Archdiocese of St. Paul/Minneapolis.

Over the last two months while I’ve been in Australia, I’ve been reviewing the copyedited manuscript and contacting various publications to seek permission to reprint copyrighted material incorporated into certain sections of the manuscript. The latter task, in particular, is often tedious work. It's also all the more difficult by my being on the other side of the world to certain files, contacts, and resources back in Minneapolis.

Still, the sad reality of homophobia in our schools, so powerfully conveyed in the article below, reminds me of the importance, indeed, the absolute necessity, of a resource – and faith testimony – such as Creating Safe Environments for LGBT Students: A Catholic Schools Perspective.


Teacher’s Pet

By Simon Patience
August 2006 (Issue 79)

Violence, verbal taunts and emotional abuse – just a normal day at the office for gay high school teachers. Simon Patience tells what it’s like on the frontline of schoolyard homophobia.

“Do you think I’m cute, sir?” says Brett, a big kid who’s been baiting me since the beginning of the lesson.

“I do,” butts in his mate, the enthusiastic, monkey-like Adrian. “He’s really cute, don’t you think so, Sir?”

But Lucy, who’s been watching the exchange, twists into a pained grimace and is not impressed. Ädrian, that stuff’s not a turn-on, okay? It’s just gross.”

This little interlude is followed by various denouncements, talk about “that fag” Michael Jackson and “that poof, wannabe black” Eminem.

If the dialogue strikes you as drab, I apologise. I am merely reproducing verbatim what I’ve heard working as an emergency teacher around Melbourne.

We’ve all heard excuses for this crap: the kids are “forging their identities” and they’ll grow out of it. But that doesn’t stop the weary despair that descends when I’m stuck in a room of tough adolescents and I’ve got to listen to it.

Homophobia is something that seems to thrive in schools – particularly in poorer areas. You can hear the same kind of comments in posh schools but there’ll always be a voice or two that pipe up in defence of all things pink. Another factor is the cultural background that the kids come from. From Macedonia to Somalia, they come from places where attitudes to homosexuality are a hell of a lot less liberal than here in the West.

It would take a braver man than me to attempt to tell these kids that what they’re saying is wrong. Reveal any opinion that has a wiff of being pro-fag and you’re likely to incite a horrified reaction; more so than any other topic.

Teenagers don’t like ambiguity. If you express a point of view that’s foreign to them or suggest that the world around them may be more complex than they’re willing to admit, they won’t like you for it. On the contrary, first they’ll snarl at you and then be completely dismissive.

When pop culture inventions like Queer Eye for the Straight Guy and the Scissor Sisters began to infiltrate the mainstream, optimists heralded the coming of a new age. On the other hand, pessimists like me lamented the fact that gayness had been reduced to being the latest fad – one that would be unfashionable in six months. I laughed at articles claiming that teenagers now used the word ‘gay’ to mean ‘cool’ not ‘bad’. They sure as hell weren’t the teenagers in any of the classes I was taking.

Yet, at the same time, I hoped that increased media visibility would mean that kids would be more accepting of something that was no longer a creeping, unseen menace; the way homosexuality seemed when I was at high school.

Maybe we’re never going to see a new age. Perhaps homosexuality is always going to be a sinister shadow that Western adolescents will define themselves against.

If you really wanted to make a difference to the way young people talk and think about poofs and dykes, you’d need a separate subject in the syllabus, one in which teachers could spend a whole lesson, every day, constructing activities and discussions that challenged the pre-conceived ideas that exist in the world.

This is very unlikely. It’s all very well to describe a bad situation. It’s another things to suggest ways of addressing the problem that aren’t far-fetched or impractical. Some schools do have programs that try to teach their students that homophobia is a hateful thing, but for the vast majority of schools and students it’s a complete non-issue.

I think one step in the right direction would be for people who don’t work in schools to be given an accurate picture of the way teenagers think and feel about homosexuality. Society needs to be conscious of the fact that a problem still exists before anything can be done.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi Michael

Thanks for posting my article.

Glad that it was of some use to you!

Simon Patience