Students — some of whom may be dealing with their own feelings about relationships, sex, love, and identity in volatile ways — are likely to respond “energetically to these issues.
Many students tend to use the topic of homophobia as a vehicle to ask all kinds of questions about sex, probably because there are few avenues available for them to explore safely this general topic.
There are always some students who express very strong homophobic feelings. Some of this is the energy of youth as well as bravado expressed as a means of seeking support from peers.
Other students probably think the very same things but have been socialized to submerge some outward expressions of hostile prejudiced beliefs. In both cases, it is important for students to be able to vent a full range of emotions within acceptable parameters.
Only by airing their gut reactions can they move into a different level of discussion, which allows for change. It is also important to note that the absence of negative reactions does not necessarily indicate the absence of negative feelings.
Some students might manifest their attitudes in a number of ways — defensiveness, yelling, name-calling, obstructiveness, arguing, and withdrawal.
Such hostility can be a symptom of a host of emotions such as anger and fear — often a result of the negative stereotypes and other misinformation they have been taught.
These issues may strike too close to home and elicit powerful emotional responses.
Sometimes more sympathetic students will intervene, and a lively dialogue will then ensue. Sometimes the best thing an educator can do is just to listen.
Before beginning any discussion of homophobia, however, the educator should set clearly defined limits or guidelines for discussion. These could include the following:
- All questions and opinions are appropriate to share.
- People need to respect all ideas, with no attacks or blame.
- Speak from personal experience; avoid generalizations; do not attempt to speak for others; Use “I statements.
- Share air time. Take turns speaking; listen respectfully with no interruptions.
- Respect people,s right not to participate in the discussion.
- Be open to change some of your assumptions or opinions on the topic.
- Anonymity must be respected. People can share information about this discussion with others outside the class only if class members, names and other identifying characteristics are not used.
- If students are engaging in anti-gay harassment or violence anywhere on school premises, they should be disciplined in the same way that students are disciplined for any other hate-motivated act.
- Hang educational posters around campus, to enlighten people about homophobia.
- Provide school assemblies on the topic of homophobia and other forms of oppression.
- Organize “Diversity Days in which students attend a variety of workshops dealing with the various forms of oppression (e.g. homophobia, racism, sexism and sexual harassment, classism, ageism, anti-Semitism, and others).
- Sometimes, when students call one another homophobic epithets at school, the educator can use these occasions as educational opportunities in the classroom to dispel myths and stereotypes, to provide factual information concerning the historical genesis of these words, or to incorporate LGBT issue in the context of other forms of oppression.
- Often, it is appropriate to “interrupt a homophobic remark at school or other places.
Name It, Claim It, Stop It
Kevin Berrill, former Director of the Anti-Violence Project of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, and Daryl Cummings-Wilson devised a three-phase model to empower people in the face of homophobic remarks.
Their method can be used in stopping the whole range of name-calling in certain school situations and other public settings — when you hear anti-LGBT remarks in school hallways, on a bus, in a restaurant, other general public areas.
It is used not necessarily as an “educational opportunity (i.e. teaching another person) as much as it is a way of maintaining your own integrity in standing up against harassment. It can be used in situations in which there is a low risk to your personal safety.
The three phases can be summarized as follows: “Name It, “Claim It, “Stop It. In Phase I, you name the behavior you observe (“That is harassment). In Phase 2, state how it makes you and others feel (“I don,t like that.
The other members of this class [people in this hallway, other people on this bus, in this restaurant, on this street] don,t like that). In Phase 3, tell what you want to happen (“So stop it!).
Following this sequence, you need not get involved in a dialogue or argument. You stated your concern and can leave the situation with your integrity intact.