On the Monday evening of April 2, Warner’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer (LGBTQ) and Allies Special Interest Group screened the film It’s Elementary, shining light on how educators can address LGBTQ issues in the classroom. Throughout the movie and into the panel discussion, I began thinking about this idea of ‘teaching’ students about LGBTQ issues. As a Warner student, this topic was addressed in a number of my classes and in one case, a few of my fellow students asked the question, ‘Why do we need to bring this up with children?’ Beyond my own beliefs about social justice, eradication of oppression, tolerance and promotion of diversity, this question is important to deconstruct on a different level. This question is worded in such a way as to suggest that children are too young to learn about ‘sexuality.’ First, this implies that the heterosexuality that is reinforced in schools is not a ‘sexuality,’ yet somehow only homosexuality is a sexualized term. Second, the implication with this statement is that children are living independent of homosexuality and it is this implication that I challenge here.
Given reports that ten percent of the population will identify as LGBTQ, this means that one in every ten students in your classroom, one in every ten teachers, one in every ten administrators and staff and one in every ten people you meet on the street will in some way be a member of the queer community. So, if every one in ten students are queer, then does homosexuality not already exist in the classroom? This denial or simplistic view of children as asexual is not only inaccurate but is an erasure of the experiences of these queer students in particular. How can you as a teacher ignore ten percent of your students? Not only will ten percent of students be queer, but given the increase in gay and lesbian adoptions and family planning options, students who are heterosexual could be coming from a queer-headed household as well. Whether one wants to admit it or not, queer individuals and families have a growing presence in our schools.
It’s Elementary demonstrated that students, even in elementary school, are familiar with the topic of homosexuality and especially with the misinformation and stereotypes that the media portrays. In the film, students referenced afternoon talk shows and popular movies as their source of information about homosexuality. In terms of homosexuality in schools, even elementary students mentioned the ways in which words such ‘gay’ are used in a derogatory manner in the hallways on a regular basis. Therefore, students are very familiar with the topic and it is this permeation of anti-gay language in the hallways that especially makes it a school issue. Some may attempt to argue that ‘sexuality’ is a private matter, but when hateful speech is used to bully peers in the school environment, it becomes a school matter that educators have a responsibility to address.
At the panel discussion after the film screening, a panelist made the point that school administrators can sometimes demonstrate this denial of queer issues by implying that those issues do not exist here. This denial is a huge disservice to queer students, particularly those who are at risk for depression or dropping out of school. The avoidance of taboo topics in general places students at risk, all for the sake of adult and parent comfort. Some parents, administrators, and teachers seem to forget this concept that ten percent of the population is a part of the LGBTQ community. Therefore, the truth is that students are here and they are queer. So, we can either admit that they exist or contribute to the deafening silence of oppression.