"No one should underestimate the value of teachers' including gay people when they talk with students about cultural diversity. Just hearing the words "homosexuality" or "gay/lesbian/bisexual" in an accepting context sends a powerful message to young people, and creates the potential for a tolerant environment" (Lipkin, 1995, p. 39).
Lately, I have seen many comments on blogs focusing on LGBT topics that accuse the writer of pushing the "gay" agenda. Some of the comments suggest that talking about LGBT issues in a positive light is considered politically correct (PC) as if there is something wrong with that. The anonymous commenters also weave in talk about the Bible and religion. I find it odd that people who post anonymous comments find it so easy to mention religion as if people in the LGBT community lack religion or faith.
I too, have been accused of pushing the gay agenda in the public school system because I wrote a book that provides suggestions on how administrators and teachers can build inclusive environments. I feel it's less about pushing an agenda and more about gaining acceptance and equality. I'm funny like that; I feel that students should be accepted for who they are when they enter the school system. Anything else is unacceptable.
It's not that I only want to discuss gay issues, because there are countless topics we could discuss in the world of education. It's just that the more I learn about different schools across the country, the more I realize that many are not doing a thing to make sure that LGBT students can be safe. Students who are not safe are less engaged in school and that means they are not reaching their full potential.
A few weeks ago President Obama took a strong stance, and many feel a very progressive one, by supporting marriage equality. That not only sends a strong message to opponents of marriage equality, it sends a strong message to LGBT students. They understand that many are fighting for their rights, including the president. We have not had a president make such a statement. He wasn't pushing the gay agenda, he was pushing for equality.
As I look around at my own family and friends, I am surrounded by accepting people who support members of the LGBT community. However, as I enter school communities and hear from educators around the country, I understand that many students do not have this type of support and that needs to change. Schools have always been a microcosm of society at large and we all understand that members of that society are not open-minded, and they have kids that go to the public school system.
Gay Straight Alliances
Recently, the Canadian government announced an amendment to their anti-bullying bill which would no longer allow schools the right to change the name of student clubs (The Star). The Accepting Schools Act allowed schools to prohibit the use of the word gay. In some schools where there were Gay-Straight Alliances, schools were allowed to change the name to the Open Arms Club or the Pride Club. Students felt stifled because some schools would not allow them to form a club with the word "gay" in the title.
In this progressive move by Education Minister Laurel Broten, students will once again be allowed to have a voice in their school system. This voice could change the role of students from passive bystanders to progressive change agents. This is also not an example of pushing an agenda, but it is an example of the Education Minister pushing for all students to gain acceptance. If anything was politically correct, it was the fact that Gay-Straight Alliances were acceptable just as long as those clubs used a different name.
GLSEN and a Powerful Video
The following are two examples of why we should all speak out and find ways to protect our LGBT students. One is a video that was created by the GSA of Leicester High School and the other is the work of the Gay-Lesbian Straight Education Network (GLSEN). One is well-known and the other is not so well-known.
This video by the Leicester High School GSA is just one example of how many students who are bullied feel as they walk into schools. Not all students who are bullied happen to be gay and not all gay students get bullied. However, we know that when adults are not around there is a great deal of harassment that takes place. This video personifies the issue that many students have in school. Sure, not all LGBT youth are in a school that is unsupportive but many LGBT students enter their schools feeling very unsafe and they are looking for one place that will keep them safe. This video shows the power of a GSA.
Secondly, the following is a quotation that changed the way we should all look at LGBT issues.
"84.6% of LGBT students reported being verbally harassed, 40.1% reported being physically harassed and 18.8% reported being physically assaulted at school in the past year because of their sexual orientation. 72.4% heard homophobic remarks, such as "faggot" or "dyke," frequently or often at school" (GLSEN, 2009, p. 26).
Many of you may believe that times have changed in the three years since this was published, but schools are still not a safe place for LGBT students.
By talking about LGBT issues or trying to further work by great organizations like GLSEN, we are not pushing the gay agenda. We are working toward equality that is not only good for all of us, it is highly important to the generations that follow us.