The John Dewey Project on Progressive Education:  Monograph Series                Home Page
Progressive Perspectives
Vol. 4, No. 1                         John Dewey Project on Progressive Education                      Spring 2002
College of Education and Social Services, University of Vermont

Who’s Safe In School:
Supporting Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Questioning Students

In this volume:
From the Director
Who's Safe in School? Contradictions and Inconsistencies in Federal Educational Policy
Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Questioning Youth in Vermont Schools
Book Review- Queering Elementary Education: Advancing the Dialogue about Sexualities in Schooling
Film Review- It's Elementary: Talking About Gay Issues in Schools
Film Review- Out of the Past: The Struggle for Gay and Lesbian Rights in America
Film Review- Speak UP!
Fourteen Recommendations to Principals, Teachers, and Administrators on Supporting LGBTQ Youth

From the Director
     In this issue of Progressive Perspectives, we highlight an important and timely issue for educators, school administrators, community members, and parents, as we take a look at issues facing students who identify as lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgender, or questioning (LGBTQ). Our lead article, "Who's Safe in School? Contradictions and Inconsistencies in Federal Educational Policy" takes a critical look at recent policy guidelines summarized in Protecting Students from Harassment and Hate Crimes: A Guide for Schools, prepared by the U.S Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights and the National Association of Attorneys General.  It is a well-researched and thorough assessment of the impact of the Guide on schools, and documents what we need to do to further ensure the safety and well being of all students.
     Closer to home, Sarah Page takes a look at the experience of LGBTQ students in Vermont schools.  While we can all be proud that Vermont takes the lead nationally in legislation that supports equal rights for all citizens, regardless of sexual orientation, we still have work to do to ensure that all students have the right to attend school without fear of harassment or violence. Ironically, the passage of HB847, guaranteeing the rights of civil union to same-sex couples, did result in a very uncivil backlash that certainly affected LGBTQ students in Vermont schools.  In the face of the heated politics surrounding civil unions, many educators are uncertain how best to respond to increasing incidents of harassing speech, violence and threats of violence.  We hope that this publication provides you with legal, moral, and practical tools to combat anti-gay bias. In addition, we hope that the resource section, with its book reviews, film reviews, organizations and web sites proves useful to you in your efforts to create and sustain safe school environments.  Many thanks to Sarah Page, Dewey Project Office Manager and graduate student in the Educational Studies Program at UVM, for the work she did to compile and check out these resources.

Kathleen Kesson, Director
John Dewey Project on Progressive Education

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Who's Safe in School? Contradictions and Inconsistencies in Federal Educational Policy
     By Joan Doyle


“Matthew (whose older brother is gay) was repeatedly attacked by other students, who taunted him as a ‘queer,’ a ‘fag,’ and a ‘bitch.’  Administrators claimed that they could not protect Matthew from his peers, urged him to remain quiet on the gay issues ‘for his own good,’ and even suggested that he join the football team to prove to them and his peers that he ‘was not a little fag.’” (American Civil Liberties Union, 2000)
     Control of sexuality in the United States is often considered in the realm of archaic legal statutes that outlaw homosexuality or prohibit certain sexual acts.  The influence of these laws dwindles when considering the cumulative impact of an atmosphere of compulsory heterosexuality that is imposed on students by our nation’s schools along with the active suppression of other sexualities.  A hidden curriculum establishes national standards for appropriate sexuality and assigns heterosexuality to the apex in the hierarchy of power. These power inequalities marginalize and often stigmatize people who are (or are perceived to be) lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and/or questioning (LGBTQ). Consequently,  our nation’s schools are unjust and unsafe learning environments for many students.
     Educational reform efforts have been noticeably quiet regarding the impact of compulsory heterosexuality in schools.  Multicultural education and diversity training have minimally addressed issues of sexual orientation, but comprehensive changes to policies or to classroom teaching have yet to occur.  One recent policy guideline that does include sexual orientation is Protecting Students from Harassment and Hate Crimes: A Guide for Schools, prepared by the U.S. Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights and the National Association of Attorneys General (1999).  The goal of this Guide is “ensuring that students throughout our nation are able to attend school safely, free from all forms of harassment”  (p. i).  This goal addresses the need for schools to create safe and supportive environments that “promote tolerance, sensitivity to others’ views, and cooperative interaction among students” (p. 8).  The Guide focuses on establishing guidelines that deter and respond to harassment and hate crimes based on race, color, national origin, sex, and disability… and may also be of assistance in protecting students from harassment “based on sexual orientation, religion, or other grounds that are covered by state or local laws” (p. i).
     In this article, I examine the effect of the Guide on schools and its recommended anti-bias policies to minimize harassment and hate crimes.  The focus of this paper is limited to sexual orientation as a protected category (Jenness & Broad, 1997) in anti-bias policies and legislation.  The focus on sexual orientation is intended solely to limit the scope of this paper and not in any way to negate the continued need to address bias on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, gender, and disability; nor is it meant to ignore the necessity to address the connections that exist among and between the various groups.  In an attempt to broaden categories and to open up connections between groups, I use the term lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning (LGBTQ) people instead of only gay and lesbian.  It is important to remember that while I specifically address LGBTQ students, there are often students who are perceived to be LGBTQ who do not identify themselves in that manner who are subject to harassment and discrimination.  Additionally, in using the term sexual orientation, I refer to the wide range of possible sexual expressions and identities attempting to bypass the heterosexual / homosexual dichotomy.
     In my examination of the Guide, I present an analysis of the Guide’s discussion of school safety and the impact of hate crimes and harassment based on sexual orientation.  Within this analysis, I examine the many conflicting messages presented in the Guide, which maintains the hegemony of heterosexuality while appearing to broaden the discussion regarding sexual orientation in schools.  As part of this analysis, I briefly describe the legal matrix that underlines some of the Guide’s recommendations.  Finally, descriptions of schooling experiences by LGBTQ students woven into the text reveal the everyday reality of the issues described in the guide. As a teacher who is a lesbian, I often hear stories from LGBTQ students, parents, and teachers of the daily injustices encountered in schools that do not acknowledge our existence.  The inclusion of these real life experiences is critical to making LGBTQ voices be heard.
After the verbal harassment escalated to physical harassment without any acknowledgment or repercussion from school administrators, Tres’s classmates followed her from school and threatened her with a gun, saying they didn’t like that she was gay. She left school, despite being the president of her class and the editor of the yearbook (Tres, personal communication, May 1996).
Conflicting  Messages in the Guide

    Protecting Students from Harassment and Hate Crimes: A Guide for Schools, prepared by the Office of Civil Rights (U.S. Department of Education) and the Bias Crimes Task Force Subcommittee of the National Attorneys General, provides a tentative first step in presenting recommendations to ensure the safety of LGBTQ students and affirm their right to an education free from threat, intimidation, and violence.  However, despite the intent to reduce all forms of bias, the conflicting messages presented in the Guide thwart the stated goal of creating safe schools for all students.  In the following analysis, I examine the many conflicting messages presented in the Guide to expose the underlying message that protection from discrimination based on sexual orientation is optional and not necessary to protect the civil liberties of all students.
     The stated goal of the Guide is to “provide school administrators and others with practical guidance for developing a comprehensive approach to protecting students from harassment and violence” (p. ii).  As a Guide and not an enforced policy, the intent is to “provide suggestions that school systems may find helpful to address the issue of harassment and violence in the schools and should not be interpreted to mean that … any school department, school district or school [is required] to make use of this Guide” (p. IV).  This introduces the Guide as a framework for schools to protect students from harassment and hate, but one that is optional.  While the Guide does refer to current federal laws requiring action, these laws, like the Guide, are filled with contradictions between what is needed to protect students’ civil rights and maintaining the status quo.

A School District had sexual orientation on its list of categories protected from harassment and discrimination.  However, in the District student handbook and on posters describing the District’s anti-bias policy, sexual orientation was omitted.  When the District was notified of the oversight, the District made no move to correct the omission or to notify students that sexual orientation was indeed a protected category (personal communication, Levitt, October 1997).
School Climate

     The Guide calls for school districts to enforce anti-bias policies “consistently and vigorously,” to ensure that “their efforts to prevent and address bias crimes do not discriminate on the basis of race, national origin, ethnicity, sex, sexual orientation, religion, or disability” (p. 45).  Ironically, despite the call for consistency, the Guide is inconsistent regarding sexual orientation.  In many sections of the Guide, the list of protected categories does not specifically include sexual orientation or it may presume to be covered by statements such as “other forms of diversity.”  In the six Sample School Policies included in Appendix A of the Guide, (one of which is the Vermont Model Anti-Harassment Policy), only two specifically refer to the need to address bias based on sexual orientation.  The inconsistent inclusion of LGBTQ issues limits the impact of the Guide to help create school climates that are safe and supportive for all students.
     The section of the Guide on School Climate states that “by themselves, written anti-harassment policies and complaint procedures will not stop or prevent harassment” (p. 35).  Subsequent information in this section details the broader educational efforts necessary “to establish an environment that respects individual differences and promotes appreciation of racial and cultural diversity” (p. 35).  The inclusion of information addressing the following topics is presented as important in establishing a school climate that deters harassment and supports positive responses to diversity: training school board members, administrators, and staff; educating students about harassment and discrimination; implementing monitoring programs and prevention strategies; and involving parents and community members in anti-harassment efforts (pp. 35-39).  While all of these activities constitute important ingredients to a comprehensive anti-bias policy, the need to address sexual orientation is never mentioned.  Without explicitly identifying sexual orientation and with no reference acknowledging LGBTQ people as members of the school community, fostering a “more positive school climate for all students through routine, open communication” (p. 37) cannot occur.

A heterosexual teacher on a High School Diversity Council that was making plans for a diversity week celebration suggested that it was important that gay and lesbian issues be addressed during diversity week.  When the teacher returned to the next meeting of the Diversity Council, the principal informed her that the diversity week would include only racial and cultural diversity (personal communication, V. Obenshain, September 1997).
Legal Basis for Protection Against Bias Crimes

     The inclusion of descriptions of existing legislation requiring protection from harassment and hate crimes strengthens the impact of the Guide and increases the likelihood that school districts will implement and follow anti-bias policies.  However, federally protected categories for both harassment and hate crimes are not consistently inclusive of all categories of diversity.  Furthermore, schools made ‘safe’ by the fear of lawsuits rather than by the belief that students deserve a safe place to learn cannot create truly safe environments.  State and federal laws influence the creation and adoption of school policy, and consequently form an important part of the discussion of safe schools.  While the complex and extensive legal framework that underlies an analysis of harassment and hate crimes is beyond the scope of this paper, I briefly examine some of the legislation that the Guide mentions as an impetus for creating safe schools.  I focus on hate crimes legislation, Title IX (federal statute), and other significant civil rights rulings, which reveal that, despite its complexity and inadequacy, legislation can still have a positive impact on school policy.
     The legal basis for the prosecution of hate crimes varies from state to state.  Forty-one states and the District of Columbia have enacted some type of law against bias-motivated crimes, but the protected categories vary greatly.  Of these, only 22 state laws refer to hate crimes based on sexual orientation (U. S. Department of Education, 1999, p. 135).  The Guide gives the definition of a hate or bias crime as “an offense against persons or property motivated by hate or bias against a victim based on race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sex, disability, or sexual orientation” (p. 41).  Hate crimes differ from other crimes because their impact extends beyond the victim.  They are often interpreted as symbolic assaults on a group and as such have psychological and emotional impact on the entire community and can create a climate of fear (LAMBDA, 1999a; Karmen, 1992).
     The principal federal hate crimes statute, 18 U.S.C. Section 245 has a limited scope of protection, as it delineates a list of protected categories and protected activities.  The statute, “prohibits the intentional use of force or threat of force against a person because of his or her race, color, religion, or national origin, and because he or she was engaged in a federally protected activity, such as enrolling in or attending any public school or college” (U. S. Department of Education, 1998).  This statute does not assign protected status for the categories of sexual orientation, gender, or disability.

A female student repeatedly found pornographic literature and obscene notes with graphic and violently anti-lesbian threats placed in her locker.  One handwritten note read, “Die, Die…Dyke bitch, Fuck Off.  We’ll kill you.”  When the student sought help from the school, school officials refused to act to protect her (American Civil Liberties Union [ACLU] Freedom Network, 1998, p. 1).
     Lack of protection against bias crimes based on sexual orientation in school, state, and federal hate crimes policies disregards the alarming statistics collected by the U.S. Justice Department since the establishment of the Hate Crimes Statistics Act (1990).  These statistics reveal that violence against LGBTQ people or people presumed to be gay or lesbian is one of the most rapidly growing forms of hate crime reported in the United States (Jenness & Broad, 1997; Berril, 1992).  According to data collected by the FBI in 1996 in accordance with the Hate Crimes Statistics Act, hate crimes based on race are the most prevalent (62%), followed by those based on religion (16%) and then sexual orientation (12%) (ACLU, 1999).  These statistics do not take into consideration that anti-LGBTQ hate crimes are vastly under-reported and undocumented due to the shame and potential harm to individuals who come out as LGBTQ (LAMBDA, 1999a).  Under the real threat of violence, the absence of clear protection by federal and state legislation is a grave omission.  However, even in this climate of legal ambiguity, school administrators and staff have an obligation to protect all of their students and provide them with a safe place to learn.
     Other federal laws that address crimes motivated by bias are more inclusive and provide for “increased penalties for persons convicted of federal crimes when the victims were selected ‘because of actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, gender, disability, or sexual orientation” (Section 280003 of Public Law 103-332, 28 U.S.C. Section 994).  Other legislation addresses discrimination and civil rights: Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, none of which refer to sexual orientation.  Title IX, part of the Civil Rights Act of 1972 “prohibits schools and students from discriminating on the basis of sex” (Batcheldor, 2000).  The Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause is also often used to reinforce the principle that LGBTQ students have a right to safe schools (Jones, 2000).  In addition to these federal regulations, eleven states (California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Wisconsin) have laws prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
     Despite the ambiguity regarding sexual orientation as a category in need of protection, LGBTQ youth are becoming more vocal about their right to be educated in a safe environment and are holding schools accountable.  This civil right has been the basis for over 20 lawsuits (many still pending), including Pleasant Hill School District, Missouri (2000), Stillwater School District, New York (2000), Somerset Independent Schools, Kentucky (2000), Washoe County School District, Nevada (2000), Morgan Hill Unified School District, California (1998 ); Monroe County School District, Georgia (1999), Fayetteville Public Schools, Arkansas (1998); Salt Lake City School District, Utah (1998); and Kent School District, Washington (1997).  The landmark case referred to as the first-ever federal suit against anti-gay violence in public schools (Gay, Lesbian, & Straight Education Network, 1999) is Nabozny v. Podlesny (1996).  In Nabozny v. Podlesny, the Federal Court of Appeals found “that a gay student could recover [damages] for discrimination based on both sex and sexual orientation under the Equal Protection Clause of the United States Constitution in which the school district officials allegedly failed to protect the student to the same extent that other students were protected from harassment due to the student’s sex and sexual orientation” (p. 19).  James Nabozny had repeatedly informed school administrators of the sustained anti-gay violence directed at him during both middle school and high school.  School administrators had failed to take action to protect Nabozny, instead responding that “boys will be boys” and that “lesbian or gay students should expect abuse because they are gay” (LAMBDA, 1999a).  Because of the Court’s ruling “schools and school administrators as individuals, may be liable for payment of damages when they treat abuse of lesbian or gay students less seriously than other forms of abuse” (LAMBDA, 1999a).
In a middle school, a gay student wrote a “love note” to another male student telling the student of his attraction to him.  The student who received the note reported the incident to the teacher who in turn told the principal.  The gay student was suspended for a day and his parents were called in to discuss their son’s actions.  The reason given for suspension of the gay student was harassment (personal communication, H. Dubowsky, May 1999).
     Recent guidelines (1997) for schools regarding Title IX of the Educational Amendments of 1972, a federal statute that bars sex discrimination including harassment, may encompass sexual harassment directed at gay and lesbian students (Office of Civil Rights, 1997).  Wagner v. Fayetteville (1998) established that same-sex, student-on-student sexual harassment could be considered a violation of Title IX.  In a more recent case, Davis v. Monroe County Board of Education, “Justice Sandra Day O’Connor said lawsuits might be filed against school officials who knowingly ignore student-on-student harassment” (LAMBDA, 1999b).  There are other cases pending that refer to Title IX. However, there are specific limitations to the actions that are covered under this statute.  As mentioned in the Guide, “heckling comments made to students because of their sexual orientation, such as ‘gay students are not welcome here’ does not constitute sexual harassment under Title IX” (p. 18).  The Guide does not state other options for addressing such “heckling comments” directed at LGBTQ students.
     As the result of these court cases, one strong message for school administrators  is that not only are they responsible for establishing a safe climate for all students, including LGBTQ youth, but that they may also be held financially liable for failing to protect LGBTQ youth from students who harass (Pennsylvania Lesbian and Gay Task Force, 1996).  The trend toward legal recourse to hold schools accountable for bias crimes and harassment against LGBTQ students and the resulting large settlement awards (Nabozny was awarded $900,000) might motivate school districts to establish and enforce anti-bias policies that address sexual orientation.  A recent lawsuit filed by a student based on the Title IX guidelines, who says that he was harassed because he is gay, was supported by the United States Attorneys General.  Janet Reno stated that the district “violated the boy’s constitutional rights and failed to provide him the education he deserved under federal law” (Associated Press, 2000).  The student is currently seeking $10.3 million dollars in damages from the school district.

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Impact of the Guide on Schools

     Anti-bias policies in schools establish guidelines for acceptable behavior and ramifications for individuals who commit bias-related crimes and for those charged with ensuring safe school environments.  Although inconsistent, the Guide can help schools establish a minimum level of tolerance and can be used to create an environment where support for LGBTQ students can occur.  Teachers are often hesitant to support LGBTQ students unless the district has guidelines in place that will protect them while they are engaged in what are often perceived as controversial actions.  Teachers (especially LGBTQ teachers who could serve as role models) want to have a defense against attack from political foes, anxious parents, or religious groups (Lipkin, 1995).  Without explicit policies, many teachers are often afraid of the repercussions for supporting LGBTQ students for a range of reasons, including: “fear of dismissal for discussing a morally ‘taboo’ topic; fear of reprisals from parents or religious leaders in the community; fear of being labeled gay or lesbian; not to mention the teachers’ own homophobic ideological moorings” (McLaren, 1995, p. 109).  These reasons are primarily based on fear and misunderstanding rather than a desire to meet the right of all students to learn in a safe environment.  Policies are needed to overcome the climate of fear that pervades schools and to establish basic guidelines for teachers and other school staff.

A lesbian high school student was caught off guard when her teacher chastised a male student by saying, “Don’t be a fag.” The lesbian student felt that the teacher’s comment was inappropriate and shared it during a meeting of the Gay and Straight Alliance (GSA) at her school. The heterosexual advisor of the GSA was stunned that her colleague had used this slur and confronted the teacher. The teacher responded that she had not realized the impact of her actions and apologized the following day to the class. The lesbian student who reported the slur hoped that her teacher would not figure out that she was the one who had revealed her teacher’s actions (Personal Communication, T. Bartlett, May 1999).
     Despite the conflicting messages regarding sexual orientation, the potential impact of the Guide is significant, as it presents an opening in the public sphere to foster diversity and promote tolerance.  For LGBTQ students who feel that they have little or no recourse to address the daily violence they encounter, the Guide is a positive step as it introduces the possibility of adding sexual orientation to anti-bias policies and discusses the importance of overcoming misconceptions and biases.  “Educators have a tremendous opportunity to reduce or eliminate hate-motivated crimes and violence… (by creating) a school climate where hateful acts are not tolerated” (United States Department of Education, 1998).  While tolerance is an improvement over a climate of discrimination, tolerance is not sufficient to create safe schools.  “Merely tolerating or ‘putting up with’ alternative and dissenting views is insufficient.  For once heard, they can be all too easily dismissed” (Howe, 1997).  Tolerance in and of itself will not bring about a safe and supportive environment for all students.  While policies promoting tolerance can justify disciplining inappropriate student behavior, creating a climate of tolerance does not address the underlying homophobia and heterosexism in our schools and the resulting detrimental effect on LGBTQ youth.   Schools need to create pedagogy “that challenges assumptions… sensitizes students to diversity of sexual expression and allows them to think critically about the ways in which it is linked to privilege, prejudice, and the power of naming (Yescavage & Alexander, 1997).
 “In seventh grade when students realized he was gay, a classmate pushed him to the floor and simulated raping him as other students watched.  Another time, he was knocked into a urinal by one boy while another boy urinated on him” (LAMBDA, 1999a).
     Anti-bias policies and tolerance are just a small part of a larger discussion that addresses the impact of heterosexism and homophobia in schools.  The enforced invisibility of LGBTQ people in schools constitutes a daily climate of subtle and not-so-subtle violence.  “Violence against gay and lesbian youth is… associated with much higher than average rates of suicide, truancy, and dropping out” (Howe, 1997).  Heterosexism, which permeates school culture, is “an ideology that denigrates and stigmatizes any non-heterosexual form of behavior, identity, relationship, or community” (Herek, 1992).  Consequently, students who deviate from the heterosexual norm in any way, whether it be dress, mannerisms, choice of classes, or sexual orientation, are chastised and made to feel like outsiders. They then can become targets of classmates’ hatred, verbal abuse, anger, ridicule, and physical violence.  Shifting from a climate of violence and abuse to creating a supportive climate for LGBTQ students through implementation of comprehensive anti-bias policies and inclusive school curriculums begins to dismantle the norm of heterosexuality and the practice of silencing (Appleby, 1997).  However, to recognize and affirm LGBTQ students and identify the current climate of injustice requires more than inclusive school anti-bias policies and curriculum. Overcoming homophobia, the misunderstanding, fear, or hatred of homosexuality, benefits all students, not just LGBTQ students.  Anti-homophobia education expands concepts of acceptability and can help heterosexual people better understand their own sexualities (Lipkin, 1995).  The impact of acknowledging and recognizing LGBTQ people in schools widens the spectrum of possibilities for all students.  The invisibility of and assumed nonexistence of LGBTQ people in schools affects all students.  Unks (1995) describes the invisibility of LGBTQ students in a “typical” secondary school:
Within typical secondary school curriculum homosexuals do not exist… The lesson is clear: homosexuals do nothing of consequence.  The absence from the curriculum of valid information about homosexuality cuts both ways: heterosexual students are given no reason not to hate homosexuals, while homosexual students are given no reason not to hate themselves.  Both groups suffer a loss for they are denied important information about a significant group of human beings (p. 5).
     This climate of invisibility and self-hate for LGBTQ students means that an incredible amount of energy is directed at resisting and opposing the heterosexual hegemony.  While the resiliency of LGBTQ youth is beginning to be documented, the public health risks of LGBTQ youth are better known.  LGBTQ youth are often engaged in risky behavior such as performing poorly academically, dropping out of school, engaging in substance abuse, running away from home, or committing suicide (Unks, 1995).  These consequences can be partly attributed to the current school climate that is unsafe and unsupportive of LGBTQ students.
     Finding and building supportive groups and communities is often difficult for LGBTQ students because of the culture of silence.  To join together as allies, LGBTQ students have to overcome the shame and stigmatization that being perceived as LGBTQ often entails, the real threat of violent repercussions, and a generally unsupportive home climate.  Despite these extraordinary challenges, LGBTQ students are coming out and speaking out in greater numbers, as they join with a long tradition of honoring difference rather than reinforcing the hegemony of sameness.  The challenges of the school situation for LGBTQ youth today “are similar to the situation for students of color, the poor, women and students with disabilities…thirty to forty years ago (and still sometimes today)” (Pohan & Bailey, 1997).  Like these groups, LGBTQ students are building on the progress of civil and human rights movements and insisting on their rights.  However, unlike students of different races, ethnicities, and religions who usually can depend on a supportive home environment to counter society’s discrimination, LGBTQ students frequently find their families hostile.
“My school has a gay/straight alliance and we put up signs around the school. These signs have to be approved and signed by the principal. He has approved signs that say, ‘Homosexuality is not a choice’ and ‘Homosexuality: it cannot be changed.’ However, the other day he refused to allow us to put up a sign that said ‘Homosexuality: it is natural.’ His reasons were that some parents do not agree with the statement and he will receive a lot of complaints.  Later he told my gay/straight alliance advisor that because the statement is only an opinion, it cannot be put up.  Then a week later he would not allow a sign that said ‘Homosexuality: it is normal’ to be put up” (Chris cited in Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network, n.d.).

 I have argued in this article that Protecting Students from Harassment and Hate Crimes: A Guide for Schools presents critical but insufficient steps towards creating safe schools for all students. While the Guide proposes recommendations that, if implemented, may help to increase tolerance and awareness of LGBTQ students, it presents limited educational reform efforts that do not truly embrace the diversity in our schools.  The contradictions in the Guide result in a framework that does not adequately address the need to create a safe and nurturing school climate for LGBTQ students.  Anti-bias policies that include sexual orientation are a significant but insufficient step to establish safe schools because they protect LGBTQ students while also reinforcing their marginalization and stigmatization.  Without transforming the covert curriculum that reinforces heterosexual hegemony, LGBTQ students will not be able to exercise their right to attend schools that are safe and free from all forms of harassment and discrimination.  While implementation of the recommendations in the Guide might afford LGBTQ students some minimal protection, there is a long struggle ahead to create schools that are truly safe for LGBTQ students.
     In the Introduction to the Guide, it states that “our schools owe our students a safe environment that is conducive to learning and that affords all students an equal opportunity to achieve higher educational standards” (US Department of Education, 1999).  As the anecdotes from students presented in this article show, schools are not safe places for LGBTQ students.  These glimpses into the lives of LGBTQ students in schools show the many ways they daily face harassment and discrimination.  These stories reveal the range of individuals who create the unsafe school climate for LGBTQ students: administrators, teachers, other students, and community members.
     Working together, administrators, teachers, students and community members can create safe, nurturing schools where distinct perspectives of students from many backgrounds are listened to, respected, and celebrated.  In school communities founded on the premise of justice and equality, the possibilities for all students are expanded, fostering both recognition and celebration of LGBTQ students. Reform efforts such as inclusive multicultural education, participatory democracy, and emancipatorypedagogy can incorporate these qualities and transform schools to create communities that affirm differences.
     Transforming education to include LGBTQ students will create possibilities for all students and affirm the diversity that exists within and between individuals across and between boundaries of race, class, gender, religion, disabilities, and sexual orientation.  LGBTQ students have a right to a school climate that is not only free from violence, but is a safe place for them to develop to the full range of their potential.  It is time for all individuals involved in schools from students to teachers, parents to community members, and from administrators to the Secretary of Education to take leadership in eradicating the discrimination and nonrecognition of LGBTQ students in their communities and to create safe schools for all students.

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        Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, 42 U.S.C.A § 12134 et seq.
        Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 34 C.F.R. Part 100.
        Title IX of the Educational Amendments of 1972, 20 U.S.C.A. § 1681 et seq.
        Unks, G. (1995). Thinking about the gay teen. In G. Unks (Ed.), The gay teen: Educational practice and theory for lesbian, gay, and bisexual adolescents (pp. 3-12) New York:  Routledge.
        U.S. Department of Education, Safe and Drug-Free Schools Program. (1998). Preventing youth hate crime- A manual for schools and communities. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office. Retrieved on May 12, 1999 from the World Wide Web: OESE/SDFS.
         U.S. Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights and National Association of Attorneys General. (1999). Protecting students from harassment and hate crime: A guide for schools. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office.
    Yescavage, K. & Alexander, J. (1997). The Pedagogy of marking: Addressing sexual orientation in the classroom. Feminist Teacher 2(1), 113-122.

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Joan Doyle has taught for over 11 years and received her Masters in Language, Literacy, and Sociocultural Studies at the University of New Mexico. While in Albuquerque she helped start a chapter of the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN). She currently resides in Northampton, MA where she volunteers with Pride Zone, a drop-in center for LGBTQ youth.

Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Questioning Youth in Vermont Schools
    By Sarah Page

    Vermont leads the nation in its legislative efforts to protect and support  Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Questioning (LGBTQ) citizens and students. Through its legislative initiatives, youth support agencies, educational initiatives about LGBTQ issues, documentation of risks LGBTQ youth encounter, and alliances within schools, Vermont has been confronting homophobia and has tried to create safer learning environments for all Vermont students. Following is a brief description of these efforts.
     Many of the initiatives that protect LGBTQ citizens may not be directed towards its youth. However, acknowledging and protecting LGBTQ as whole persons, deserving of the same rights and same protections under the law as heterosexual persons, is a positive step. Vermont is one of only eleven states with laws prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation in private employment (American Civil Liberties Union, 2001). Vermont’s “Hate Crimes Law”-which included “sexual orientation” as a protected category-was passed in 1989 (Hate-motivated Crimes, 1989). In 1999 it was amended to include “gender identity” as a category (Hate-motivated Crimes, 1999). Vermont is one of only 27 states to include “sexual orientation” in the definitions of hate-motivated crimes (Human Rights Campaign, 2002). Vermont repealed its sodomy laws in 1978, one of twenty-six states that have repealed their laws (American Civil Liberties Union, 2001a). Vermont is the only state with legislation that grants same-sex couples all the legal rights of marriage (Civil Unions); while more than twenty five other states have specifically banned same-sex marriages (American Civil Liberties Union, 2001b), Vermont has created same-sex marriage with a new name.
     Despite such progress in the larger social arena, Vermont students are continuously harassed in school, and are at disproportionately high risk of suicide and other risky behaviors (Vermont Department of Health [VDH], 1998). The Civil Unions debate clearly demonstrated bigotry and hatred with the plethora of offensive bumper stickers (such as “Kill Fags Not Deer”), signs (Take Back Vermont) and advertisements. According to Outright Vermont,  LGBTQ students are being verbally harassed in schools on a regular basis (Personal communication, 2001). Can there be any doubt that students are at risk because of bigotry and fear? Lawful protections are positive, necessary, and courageous steps towards supporting these students. Having taken risks to change societal attitudes towards LGBTQ persons, we must now continue that support in the time of conservative backlash.
     Vermont  amended its Education Statutes in 1993 to explicitly state that harassment, “constitutes a form of discrimination. It means verbal or physical conduct based on a student’s race, creed, color, national origin, marital status, sex, sexual orientation or disability and which has the purpose or effect of substantially interfering with a student’s educational performance or creating an intimidating, hostile or offensive environment” (Vermont Statutes, Title 16, 1993). The inclusion of sexual orientation is important. The statute explicitly defines “sexual orientation” as a category. While the U.S. Department of Education recommends inclusion of “sexual orientation” it is up to individual school districts or states to do so.
     During the 2000 legislative session, Vermont continued its tradition of supporting all students by passing An Act Relating to Supporting Safe Learning Environments in Vermont Schools Act 113 (H. 270). It states that “school boards must adopt comprehensive discipline plans that include more than the standard discipline policies. Such plans must also include the school’s approach to classroom management; how the school will provide information and training on conflict resolution; procedures for informing students and parents about the discipline policies and notifying and working with parents about student misconduct; how to respond to significant disruptions such as bomb threats; how staff will receive training on maintaining a safe, orderly, civil, and positive learning environment (Act 113 (H. 270). As prescribed, the Vermont Department of Education (2001) has posted a Model Student Harassment Prevention Policy on its web site. This law was passed after incidents of hazing in the state. It strengthens the commitment to creating safe learning environments for all students.
     The larger issue is, however, how do we protect students with or without laws? It is up to the teachers, staff, and administrators to support and defend all students despite fear of retaliation by homophobic parents. Stopping name calling, changing language, and supporting the student who is harassed is what we need to do for all minority students or victims of hate.  Supporting minority students or any student being harassed is the right thing to do. The former Vermont State Department of Education commissioner David Wolk (2000) pledged to:

do everything within my power to honor and respect the diversity within our communities and schools, and particularly to ensure such respect for all children, regardless of their individual differences based upon ability, gender, religion, ethnicity, race or sexual orientation.
    Commissioner Wolk (2001) re-emphasized this commitment in last year’s final address by stating, “all of our schools must be havens of mutual respect.” This is certainly a positive statement of assuring the safety of all Vermont students. Now we need actions that reflect the words. One hopes the issue of Vermont’s LGBTQ teens will be consistently included in all safe schools initiatives and is not neglected or considered too controversial. It remains to be seen how the new commissioner will respond.
     Another positive feature of Vermont is the willingness since 1995 to monitor risks faced by LGBTQ teens in Vermont schools by specifying same sex partners in the Youth Risk Behavior Survey conducted every two years by the Vermont Department of Heath. This is an explicit acknowledgement that Vermont has LGBTQ teens.
     Vermont has a statewide organization, Outright Vermont, that “fosters sensitivity and understanding of issues facing gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and questioning youth.” Outright Vermont “challenges stereotypes and prejudice, creating an environment in which all young people can realize their full potential, free from the weight of hate and fear”(Outright Vermont, 2000).
     A few schools have active gay/straight alliances. These are student-led extra-curricular groups. The existence and stability of these groups depend on the willingness of “out” students to initiate school support. It is an ironic feature of our education system that a group of students most at risk for alcohol and drug abuse, dropping out, and suicide are expected to create, demand, and support their own support group. In a discussion with a seventh grader who attends a public middle school about why she chose to investigate Outright Vermont as part of her home economics class rather than the large social service agencies her classmates had chosen, she stated, “somebody’s got to do it, how else are they going to learn about these issues otherwise?”(personal interview, 2001). Is expecting a twelve-year-old to teach about  issues of diversity and acceptance really the answer? While it is admirable, inspiring, and indicative of the maturity of this child, what does it say about the community’s role in our schools?
     Despite these promising actions, legislation, and changes made in Vermont, the problems persist. For example, during the Civil Union debates in 2000, Outright Vermont was specifically targeted by a right wing group, Who Would Have Thought, Inc.. Outright Vermont was accused of “teaching kids to be gay” (Who Would Have Thought, 2000).  The group sent a flier to thousands of Vermont households stating that Outright Vermont was distributing safe sex pamphlets in Vermont schools. These pamphlets were actually from the Vermont Department of Health and are explicit.
     Initially the Department of Education responded by posting the truth about Outright Vermont on its web site but damage was done to both Outright Vermont and to the climate of safety. How does one have a healthy identity if the one organization “to foster sensitivity” is under attack? What message does it send when the organization that provides resources to LGBTQ teens is forced to defend itself rather than to serve the needs of LGBTQ youth?  It is clear the focus of Who Would Have Thought, Inc. was to do exactly what it did, to create a climate of fear.
     In a mailing by Who Would Have Thought, Inc. (2000) they congratulated their members on confronting the “Myths of Homosexuality, exposing Outright Vermont, and exposing the Vermont Department of Education’s school curriculum”(p.1). How does one teach tolerance in a climate of intolerance? Despite its withdrawal of financial support of Outright Vermont, one can hope that the Vermont Department of Education continues in its mission of supporting all students and working towards a climate of acceptance. Through community support, volunteers, and committed staff, Outright Vermont has continued in its mission of supporting young people to reach their full potential.
     The statistics on Vermont LGBTQ youth reflect the research conducted elsewhere.  As Paul Gibson (1994) states in his summary of research on youth suicide, LGBTQ youth are “two to three times more likely to attempt suicide than other young people” (p. 15). The Youth Risk Behavior Survey conducted by the Vermont Department of Health has similar statistics. In 1997, of the 3 to 5 % of students in Vermont schools who had same gender sexual partners, 34% had attempted suicide in the past year while 12% of those engaging in heterosexual sex had attempted suicide (VDH, 1998). We need to focus on supporting LGBTQ youth, not on debating their “faults.”  What is incredibly alarming is that 29% of students who were sexually involved with same gender partners had been threatened or injured with a weapon at school (VDH, 1998). Equally as alarming, 18% of these students had skipped school because of feeling unsafe in school or en route to school during the 30 days prior to the survey (VDH, 1998)! Of their heterosexually active counterparts, 10% had been threatened or injured at school and only 6% of those had skipped school because of feeling unsafe (VDH, 1998). Those abstaining had the least risk with only 4% having been threatened or injured with a weapon at school and 2% skipping school out of fear (VDH, 1998). None of these students should have to feel fear.  Additionally, lesbian, gay, and bisexually identified students are more likely to have smoked marijuana, used other drugs, cigarettes, and alcohol (VDH, 1998). All of these statistics are too high.
     Another factor that is particularly distressing is that students hear antigay epithets every day in every Vermont school according to the Educator’s Survey conducted by Outright Vermont (1994). Additionally, last year on the University of Vermont campus, posters advertising the LGBTQ alliance were defamed with slogans such as “die faggot die” and “kill all the queers.” In November of 2000, UVM issued a warning to all students to be read in all classrooms denouncing the incidents of harassment. No institution is immune.
     This is the real situation in Vermont schools. It is our responsibility to create a just, safe learning environment both legally and because it is the right thing to do. We need to praise Vermont legislators and schoolteachers, Outright Vermont, and all those individuals who have supported and continue to support LGBTQ students. Vermont is clearly working to protect its students but the statistics indicate that it is not sufficient. It is a beginning. We must continue to defend and publicly support LGBTQ students, teachers, parents, and administrators. We must be allies as many of our neighbors, friends, and colleagues were during the debates and controversy over the Civil Union’s bill and subsequent elections. We must be willing to stand up for what we believe and we must, in our everyday behavior, consider how our actions affect all students.
     We must stop name-calling and bigotry. This requires taking risks. Every lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgendered person in this state takes a risk each and every time they identify themselves as LGBTQ. If we are to support youth to be fully democratic citizens in a society without hatred or fear, we must take risks ourselves. Whether gay or straight, every time we stop a fag joke or include in our discussions all forms of bigotry, we are role models. Every small step makes a difference in the life of one LGBTQ person.
     At the same time one hopes that LGBTQ youth know there are many queer adults out there who have gone before them. There are many queer adults who are “out” in all aspects of their lives, who continue to advocate, not apologize, for being lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or questioning. We are not ashamed; we are not evil; we are not sinners. We are humans living in a pluralistic democracy who happen to be queer. I am one of these.


    American Civil Liberties Union. (2001). National Perspective: Municipal and State Laws Prohibiting Sexual Orientation Job Discrimination [On-line]. Available:
    American Civil Liberties Union. (2001a). ‘Crime’ and Punishment in America [On-line]. Available:
    American Civil Liberties Union. (2001b). Statewide Anti-Gay Marriage Laws [On-line]. Available:
    Gibson, P. (1994). Gay male and lesbian youth suicide. In G. Remafedi (Ed.) Death by denial: Studies of suicide in gay and lesbian teenagers (pp. 15-68). Boston: Alyson Publications.
     Hate-Motivated Crimes, Vermont Statutes : Title 13 Crimes and Criminal Procedure : Part 1 Crimes : Chapter 31. Discriminations: § 1455. Hate-motivated crimes. (1989 & Supp. 1999).
    Human Rights Campaign. (2002). Local Law Enforcement Enhancement Act [On-line]. Available:
    Outright Vermont. (2000). Outright Vermont Pamphlet. Burlington, VT: Outright Vermont.
    Outright Vermont. (1994). Vermont educator’s survey: Working with gay, lesbian, and questioning youth and addressing issues in the classroom. Burlington, VT: Outright Vermont.
     Vermont Department of Health Office of Alcohol and Drug Abuse Programs. (1998). Nuggets, news, notes, and findings form the office of alcohol and drug abuse programs. Vermont: Author.
     Vermont Department of Education. (2001). Model student harassment prevention policy. [On-line]. Available:
     Vermont Statutes : Title 16 Education : Part 1 Administration : Chapter 1. Administration Generally : Subchapter 1. General Provisions: § 11. Classifications and definitions (26)a. (1993).
     Who Would Have Thought, Inc. (Nov. 28, 2000). Newsletter. Vermont: Author.
     Wolk, D. (2001). State of Education Speech 2001  [On-line].
     Wolk, D. (2000). State of Education Speech  [On-line]. Available:

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Sarah Page is completing her Master’s Degree in Educational Studies at the University of Vermont. Her research focus has been centered around  LGBTQ youth in schools and Queer theory. She is currently the business manager for the John Dewey Project.


National Organizations
Advocates for Youth: Dedicated to creating programs and promoting  policies which help young people make informed and responsible decisions about their sexual and reproductive health: provides training, information and advocacy to youth serving organizations, policy makers, and the media in the U.S. and internationally.   (202) 347-5700 
1025 Vermont NW, Washington, DC 20005
American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU): The goal of the ACLU Lesbian and Gay Rights Project is equal treatment and equal dignity for lesbians, gay men and bisexuals. That means even-handed treatment by the government, protection from discrimination in jobs, housing, hotels, restaurants and other public places, and fair and equal treatment for lesbian and gay couples and families.
National Youth Advocacy Coalition (NYAC): Lobbies for legislative protection against discrimination for sexual minority youth, publishes an excellent news magazine regarding sexual minority concerns. (202) 319-7596 
1711 Connecticut Ave NW, Suite 206 
Washington, DC 20009
P.E.R.S.O.N. Project (Public Information Regarding Sexual Orientation Nationally): Provides action alerts, an organizing manual and curriculum information. 
(510) 601-8883 (Resources and National News) 
586-62nd St., Oakland, CA 94609-1245
Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN): The only national organization working to end anti-gay bias in schools.     (212) 727-0135 
121 W. 27th St. Suite 804, New York, NY 10001
Gay/Straight Alliances: A student guide from Massachusetts Department of Education- includes typical goals and sample rules of GSA's and 10 easy steps for starting a GSA at your school.
Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD): Analyzes textbooks and mass media for anti-gay bias and advocates for fair treatment of sexual minorities in media. Lambda Legal Education and Defense Fund (LLDEF): Provides legal advice and support for people experiencing sexual-orientation-based harassment and other discrimination. (212) 995-8585 
666 Broadway, Suite 1200 
New York, NY 10012-2317
Resource List for the Parents of GLBTQ Youth
PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays): National Homepage provides support, education, and advocacy. Distributes excellent brochures. Local chapters meet monthly. For parents, siblings, and friends and for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender youth and adults, too. Share concerns, ask questions, good people. 
 1101-14th ST NW, Suite 1030 
Washington, DC 20005 (202) 638-4200
Vermont Chapters: Burlington: (802) 863-4285 
              White River Junction: (802) 296-2383
Vermont Organizations
Outright Vermont: A statewide education and advocacy organization. They offer support services and resources for GLBTQA (Ally) youth 22 years old and under. 
Toll-free 800-glb-chat or in Burlington 865-9677 
P.O. Box 5235, Burlington, VT  05402
UVM-Free to Be (SGA): An SGA club to provide safe space for UVM LGBTQ students. 
(802) 656-0699 
Billings Center, B163, Burlington, VT 05405
Out in the Mountains: A newspaper for the LGBTQ Vermont community.   (802) 434-6468 
PO Box 1078, Richmond VT 05477
UVM-LGBTQA Services: Provides resources and information to meet the needs of LGBTQA students, staff and faculty at UVM.   (802)565-8637 
461 Main St., Burlington, VT 05405
R.U.1.2?: An LGBTQ community center for cultural, educational and artistic events.   (802) 860-7812 
PO Box 5248, Burlington, VT 05402
Vermont Department of Education:
SafeSpace: A resource and referral line for victims of same-sex domestic violence.    (802) 863-0003 
PO Box 158, Burlington, VT 05402 
Vermont_NEA: GLB Educators and their Allies. 
(802) 645-9630    P.O. Box 156, West Pawlet VT 05775
Vermont Human Rights Commission:  Provides training and information on civil rights laws and conducts investigations.   (802) 828-2480 
135 State Street, Drawer 3, Montpelier, VT 05633
Resource List for GLBTQ Youth
OASIS Gay Youth Magazine Online: Features over 50 young columnists ranging in age from 13 to their mid-20's.
Youth Assistance Organization (YAO or YOUTH.ORG)
This organization was formed to provide for the needs of queer youth; the need for a rare opportunity to express themselves, to know they are not alone, and to interact with others who have already accepted their sexuality.
!OutProud! The National Coalition for Gay, Lesbian & Bisexual Youth: Provides advocacy, resources and support to LGB youth and agencies that work for them. 
369-B Third Street, Suite 362 
San Rafael, CA 94901-3581 
(415) 499-0993
YOUTH 13-17 and YOUTH 17-21: two online conversation groups offer peer support for often very isolated lgbtq and supportive youth. Age policy strictly enforced and the groups are not a dating service.
Youth Resource: Support for lesbian, gay, bisexual, & transgender youth.

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Book Review

Queering Elementary Education: Advancing the Dialogue about Sexualities in Schooling
Edited by William J. Letts IV and James T. Sears (1999) ISBN # 0-8476-9369-4
Reviewed by Sarah Page
      Queering Elementary Education is unique because as it's title suggests it does not apologize for the stance that it takes, nor does it wallow in the problems of being homosexual in a heterosexist society. It is a book all educators should read whether they are elementary school teachers, administrators, or college professors. It challenges assumptions about how we view education and how we view caring for children. Edited by William J. Letts IV and James T. Sears, it offers many perspectives on the various aspects of elementary education and the myriad ways it is heterosexist.
     In the first chapter James T. Sears proposes several ideas that appear throughout the book: speaking the unspoken by teaching about queer issues in elementary school, homosexuality as part of the human condition, and asserting that heterosexism and homophobia are acquired or learned beliefs. Bickmore asks, “why discuss sexuality in elementary school?” and answers “given the amount of (mis)information about gender relations and sexuality that flows freely these days in public spaces, media and peer groups, elementary educators could not prevent children from acquiring sexual information even if they wanted to do so”(p. 15). These concepts as well as others are discussed in various ways throughout the book.
     The book is divided into five sections: foundational issues, children’s sexual and social development, curriculum, family, and educators and their allies. The tone of the book is forthright and determined. It does not focus on the many problems  faced by queers but rather offers overall insight that can be garnered from a new view of education from the queer perspective. While it does not ignore the overwhelming statistics, it is looking for the means to effect change. It addresses the issue of how young we inculcate our children with prejudice and misinformation. Many of the contributors make the link between gender and sexual stereotypes. The connections to racial and ethnic difference are also identified.
     By far what makes this book so important is the overall challenge to the ways in which we enact heterosexism, genderism and homophobia within our teaching methods, views, choice of subject matter, choice of reading matter and portrayal of family. Reading it will challenge even those among us who have read it all before.

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Film Review

It’s Elementary: Talking About Gay Issues in School
Directed by Debra Chasnoff
Distributed by New Day Films (
Reviewed by Kathleen Kesson
    Many elementary and middle grades teachers would like to address gay and lesbian issues in the classroom, but are confused about whether and how to approach this sensitive topic.  In this award-winning film, we see many concrete examples of classroom activities, faculty meetings, and other school activities where important and meaningful conversations about the issues take place.  This well crafted video and the accompanying viewing guide are carefully designed to open up dialogue among the adults in school communities about one of the most controversial issues facing schools today.  There are many extraordinary, moving scenes, in which the young students, in their own words, show how all of them are affected by anti-gay prejudice, and they make a powerful case for a curriculum that teaches respect for everyone, including lesbians and gay men.  The documentary highlights exceptional schools and courageous leaders who are in the vanguard of creating safe, inclusive schools.  Carolyn B. Sheldon, President of the American School Counselor Association, says of this film, "IT'S ELEMENTARY is essential viewing for parents and educators concerned about preventing violence and prejudice" (video cover).  I have shown it multiple times to pre-service and in-service teachers, and it always evokes tears, laughter, positive reviews, and new understandings about how to enact deeply held commitments to social justice.

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Film Review

Out of the Past: The Struggle for Gay and Lesbian Rights in America
A Jeff Dupre film (winner of the Audience Award at the Sundance Film Festival)
Reviewed by Kathleen Kesson
    I often include, in my multicultural education courses, a unit on gay and lesbian history and current issues.  In the "pre-tests" that I give, I find that few of my teacher education students, many of whom are deeply committed to social justice, have even a rudimentary understanding of gay and lesbian history.  This is not surprising, as the stories of gay and lesbian political figures, writers, artists, and entertainers, not to mention ordinary folks,  are largely untold.  They are most certainly absent from the school curriculum.  This engaging film begins to tell the untold story, from the efforts of Henry Gerber during the 1920's to establish the first gay rights organization in the Unites States, to the story of Bayard Rustin, leader of the Civil Rights movement and close associate of Martin Luther King. Learning this history may be a first important step to becoming a more tolerant society that accepts, even celebrates our incredible human diversity.  This moving film is told through the eyes of Kelli Peterson, a high school student in Salt Lake City, Utah, who is likely to become one of the history makers herself for her courageous and principled actions.  If you don't remember, she was the young woman who dared to start a Gay/Straight Alliance in her public school, provoking a firestorm of protests, legislative battles and national media attention.  Her story provides a modern counterpoint to the many historical human rights battles featured in this film.  It is a film suitable for viewing by high school students, and would be a wonderful educational resource for teachers and administrators who want to support positive identify formation, strong role models, and a deepened sense of history to gay and straight students alike.  This film is an eye-opening and powerful discussion starter.

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Film Review

Speak UP!
Reviewed by Sara Just
    SPEAK UP! is a 30 minute documentary directed by a former UMass student and produced by the Media Education Foundation (MEF), a national non-profit organization located in downtown Northampton, MA. MEF offers a selection of over 40 videos that examine a variety of crucial issues, providing “students, educators, activists and the general public with the necessary tools and vocabulary required to re-examine media images and their influence on how we think about our personal, political, economic and cultural worlds” ( According to MEF, “gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) students and their allies face unique challenges of violence and harassment in schools. SPEAK UP! explores what these students and their allies have done to transform their schools into safer and more welcoming environments. Interviews with students, parents, teachers, administrators and national activists highlight not only the need for transformation, but offer resources and advice for those actively working for change.” Featuring Judy Shepard, Danny and Julie from MTV’s Real World, and Anthony Rapp from RENT, SPEAK UP! is lively and entertaining while providing a hard-hitting argument for school reform. It examines school policy, parent and teacher support, curriculum, student alliances, and grass-roots activism. SPEAK UP! can be ordered at
Sara Just is an English teacher at Amherst Regional High School, where she teaches Gay and Lesbian Literature, Women in Literature, and African American Literature electives. She completed her master’s degree in Social Justice Education at Goddard College, where she wrote a thesis entitled “The Hours Bursting Open: Transforming the High School Classroom with Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Literature,” a document which became the foundation for her Gay and Lesbian Literature class.

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Fourteen Recommendations to Principals, Teachers and Administrators on Supporting Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Questioning Youth (LGBTQ)

1. Get informed about LGBTQ issues. Ask questions. Read about homophobia and the issues faced by youth, families, and other teachers who are LGBTQ.
2. Support teachers, students, and administrators in their attempts to support LGBTQ students.
3. Believe a student when they tell you they are LGBTQ.
4. Confront name-calling, harassment, and slanderous jokes.
5. Use inclusive language.
6. Display LGBTQ-positive signs, pictures, and posters.
7. Insist upon inclusion of LGBTQ persons in diversity presentations, activities, etc..
8. Help create and support Gay/Straight Alliances, support groups, or other organizations for LGBTQ youth.
9. Initiate training on LGBTQ issues for teachers, staff, and administrators including violence prevention and crisis intervention.
10. Be clear about your willingness to support LGBTQ students.
11. Have accurate and positive resources in school libraries for LGBTQ youth.
12. Include LGBTQ issues throughout the curriculum, not just in health class in relation to disease.
13. Create a climate of respect and equity within your classroom.
14. Challenge assumptions. For example, not everyone is heterosexual even if they have not told you otherwise.

    The Massachusetts Governor's Commission on Gay and Lesbian Youth (1994). Making school safe for gay and lesbian youth: Breaking the silence in schools and in families. In G. Remafedi (Ed.),  Death by Denial: Studies of Suicide in Gay and Lesbian Teenagers (pp.151-205). Boston: Alyson Publications, Inc.
     Lipkin, A. (1999). Understanding homosexuality, changing schools: A text for teachers, counselors, and administrators. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.
     Mithcell, L. (Ed.) (1999). Tackling gay issues in school: A Resource module. Bridgeport, CT: GLSEN CT.

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