Some school administrators, school board members, and other staff and faculty have been true leaders in addressing issues of safety for LGBT students and staff.
Others, however, may not share this enthusiasm or be downright hostile to your efforts.
Many times they have either totally rejected any proposal, if one needs to be submitted, or have needed to be convinced of its merits.
Many have failed to appreciate the safety issues involved; others have simply feared the disapproval of the community or other monitoring bodies.
Some have not seen homophobia as a form of prejudice or have been unaware of its existence.
E. Van Seasholes, the principal of Newton South High School, said, “If you don’t believe that each and every student deserves our very best efforts, then you don,t belong in teaching.
At the Equity for Gay and Lesbian Students Conference: Progress and Promise in Our School held in Cambridge, Mass. in 1994, administrators, superintendents, and principals discussed different strategies groups interested in working on LGBT issues can implement to get support from their administrators. The panel suggested that groups emphasize that supporting LGBT students is simply one more way administrators help all students.
They suggested putting the fight against anti-LGBT prejudice and discrimination into the context of the school, score values (e.g. fostering an appreciation of diversity).
One can emphasize that providing a safe environment for LGBT students is integral to providing a safe school environment for all students and to help students learn and live in a society filled with diversity.
Finally, they stressed the need to distinguish for administrators the difference between “supporting gay and lesbian youth and “promoting homosexuality.
The following strategies may be useful in overcoming resistance to you work
- Contact the superintendent or school administrator early in the process, give them regular updates on the progress of the work, invite them to planning meetings, and solicit their input directly and as frequently as possible.
- Give administrators background materials, including the answers to commonly asked questions/concerns covering LGBT issues to make it easier for them to respond to concerns addressed to them, and easier for them to be allies.
- Plan an educational presentation for the School Committee on issues facing LGBT students. Consider including testimony from students who have witnessed or have been victimized by homophobic harassment of violence. Present them with letters of support from students, teachers, parents, and community members.
- Submit copies of the Governor,s Commission Report, and Board of Education,s Recommendations on the Support and Safety of Gay and Lesbian Youth. The Commission report, Making Schools Safe for Gay and Lesbian Students is filled with information about LGBT youth and explains in detail why schools must address theses issues.
- Document incidences of anti-LGBT discrimination such as homophobic slurs and graffiti, etc. If positive changes have occurred, describe these improvements. Survey students on their attitudes on LGBT issues, and solicit written testimonies from students detailing the problems some of them are facing.
- Invite speakers from the Massachusetts Department of Education,s Safe Schools Program for Gay and Lesbian Students, members of PFLAG (Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays), other teachers and administrators, or outside workshop consultants who have had success addressing the issues in other communities to address your faculty, administrators and student body.
- Encourage resistant administrators, teachers, and other staff to attend a Regional Workshop sponsored by the Massachusetts Department of Education,s Safe Schools Program for Gay and Lesbian Students.
- The second Recommendation issued by the Massachusetts Board of Education states that “Schools are encouraged to offer training to school personnel in violence and suicide prevention. If students are being harassed or victimized, school professionals should be equipped with the knowledge necessary to protect LGBT students from harassment and violence by other students. Teachers and school personnel should be trained to intervene effectively when any student is harassed or threatened by other students. Experienced members of the campus community or outside consultants can facilitate these workshops.
- Plan a LGBT and S (Straight) study group for teachers to learn more about homophobia and heterosexism.
- Submit letters of support for your work from community members, leaders, and organizations, from students, teachers, administrators, and parents. Ask supporters to telephone and register their support.
- Provide evidence of the success of these programs in other schools in your area and/or in other parts of the state.
- Relate your interest in dealing with homophobia to other forms of oppression that are being addressed by your school such as racism, classism, anti-Semitism, and sexism.
- Let the administration and staff know of possible legal repercussions of harassment of students on the basis of actual or perceived sexual orientation. Refer to the new “Gay and Lesbian Student Rights Law. Use statistical and anecdotal information related to anti-LGBT harassment, violence, homelessness, and increased risk of drop out and suicide. If necessary, contact a legal advisor.
- Circulate a petition to parents, students, and teachers asking that the issues be addressed by your school.
- Work and vote for school board members taking pro-LGBT positions.
Some teachers and administrators have expressed difficulty in separating their personal beliefs about homosexuality and bisexuality from their professional responsibilities.
Educators have a responsibility to teach all students, including LGBT students. An educator who feels that homosexuality/bisexuality is morally wrong, must nevertheless not let this interfere with their professional duties and obligations to all their students.
Remind educators who profess a difficulty with separating their job from their moral beliefs, that they have, no doubt had to do this on other occasions. Most teachers encounter students they don,t particularly like for one reason or another.
They have had to put those feelings aside and this is true, as well, for students whose sexual orientation/identity makes them uncomfortable.
Also, look at your own feelings on the issue. Homophobia is pervasive throughout our society, and no one is completely immune from its corrosive effects, whether that be heterosexual allies or lesbians, gay males, bisexuals, and transgendered people.
Be realistic and try to acknowledge how you have internalized and have been limited by society,s negative notions of LGBT people. By becoming aware of and acknowledging your own feelings, you can be better prepared to move forward.