My Anger and My Fear

I am angry, and I am scared.

I forgot they were shooting at us. In the year since I was granted the right to marry whomever I want and the words, “It is so ordered” were tattooed on my heart, I let my guard down and forgot they were shooting at us. It had been nice living in a foolish state of ignorance about the fact strangers want me dead.

I am worried for the kids like me. In the towns small and large, there are queer kids who haven’t said anything to anyone about what they know makes them different, because, somehow, other people know and ridicule them for even a perceived difference. In too many schools, like mine, that ridicule and vitriol go unanswered by the very adults whose job it is to care for and protect these students. I worry for the kids like me who were maybe hopeful that life after school would be better, because they have seen the world will let things get much worse.

I am crushed by the almost immediate straight washing of the reporting and response to this massacre at a gay club. While it is no less saddening to see Republican congresspeople sidestepping any acknowledgement that members of the LGBTQ community were killed in Orlando, it’s not surprising. To see headlines remove the word “gay” in news reporting, though, hurt and surprised. It eased the road to, “We are all Orlando,” which hurt my heart in ways I can only imagine are similar to the hurt my friends of color feel every time someone proclaims, #AllLivesMatter.

I am stung by the fact that this overt act of homohatred also illuminated the institutionalized policies of homophobia that prevented so many survivors, friends, and family of those injured in the attack from donating blood. Compounded by the fact these arcane rules were born out of a health crisis representing one of the most horrible failures of a government to protect its citizens.

All of this is to say keep your thoughts and prayers. Send your words and actions.

If, at some point you let a child or adult in your care say something derogatory about an LGBTQ person, you helped pave a path to queer-identifying kids believing they are less-than.

And then, when they saw someone actually shooting at them in a place that has, throughout history been a symbol of safety and togetherness, they put two and two together and realized the danger they felt in your classroom was much bigger in the wider world.

You may say “We are all Orlando,” but that’s not all we are.
We are the ugly tacit approval of everything that led to the killing of 49 members of my community being shot at a gay club in Orlando last weekend.

Don’t think and pray. Do and say.

That is what I’m feeling.

On Whose Shoulders: @GLSEN

Just when you thought this month’s series of posts was going to focus on singular writers, their individual texts, and how they influenced the writing of Building School 2.0 – bam, the unexpected.

In all seriousness, the good people of GLSEN work tirelessly to compile one of the most helpful, if not stark and sobering, data sets available on the lived experiences of our LQBTQ students.

GLSEN’s National School Climate Survey is one of the most complete accountings how our country and states are progressing in helping students walk through their compulsory school days without hearing being mocked for differences – real or perceived.

Beyond the Survey, though, GLSEN is also acting on its findings. From resources to start and support school-based Gay Straight Alliances to the Day of Silence and Ally Week, GLSEN is building tools and resources for LGBTQ students, teachers, and their allies to foster understanding, conversations, and change within schools so that everyone might have the chance to feel more comfortable in their own humanity.

While the book may only call out GLSEN’s work directly one or two times, the organization’s work toward its mission “…to assure that each member of every school community is valued and respected regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity/expression” embodies the Ethic of Care.

'13 School Climate Survey Infographic

75/365 The Harm We Do to LGBTQ Students in the Classroom is Often Unintended

While we can see the academic identities our students craft and have had crafted for them in our classrooms, we must remember their student selves are not their whole selves anymore than our teacher, administrator, counselor selves are our whole selves.

There are other facets of our students’ identities we must acknowledge even if we cannot know them. One such facet on which schools have historically fallen down is that of sexual orientation of its students and their families.

The schools we need are spaces welcoming of students of all sexual identities.

Acceptable in schools (though arguably still painfully underexamined) are discussions of race, socioeconomic status, and learning differences.

To illustrate the point, consider the last time you heard or participated in a conversatino around race in a school. Perhaps it was within history class, maybe it was a discussion in an English course, or it could have been a variable studied in statistics.

Silenced are conversations drawing on anything other than an opposite-sexed normalizing of sexual identities of students.

In her book Dude, You’re a Fag, C.J. Pascoe examines how schools work to re-enforce heteronormative thinking and the othering of queer youth.

Describing the implicit curriculum, Pascoe describes the classroom of one teacher she studied, Ms. Macallister, as a “shrine to heterosexuality,” and explained Macallister’s use of language rooted in the assumption that all of her students could relate to examples of opposite-sex coupling and ignored relevant examples which might speak to LGBTQ students or their families.

“She instead reinforced, with the help of the students, a narrative of heterosexuality that depends on a similar age of the two partners, involves the state sanction of that relationship, and encourages procreation as central to such a relationship,” Pascoe writes.

Ironic, too, is the fact that many educators would likely claim to be accepting of students of all sexual orientations, even taking on the moniker of ally to signify that their classrooms are safe spaces. The numbers, though, tell a story that perhaps the enacted beliefs in schools are not living up to those espoused by these open-minded teachers. According to the 2011 GLSEN School Climate Survey, “56.9% of students reported hearing homophobic remarks from their teachers or other school staff, and 56.9% of students reported hearing negative remarks about gender expression from teachers or other school staff.” While it’s possible that none of these utterances was made by teachers who considered themselves allies of LGBTQ students, it’s highly unlikely.

Creating a safe space for LGBTQ students means more than a sticker on the door and a showing of a selection of “It Gets Better” youtube videos. It means thinking about the language we use in our classrooms, monitoring and discussing the language students use with one another, and considering the messages sent by the artifacts we use in our teaching.

Many teachers may point to the conservative views of local communities or discomfort or awkwardness around making explicit an effort to shift a normalized belief. The answer to these teachers must be, “Be the adult in the room.”

We must remember that we are often the most powerful force for keeping our students safe in the classroom, that each time we let hurtful or careless language or acts go by un-examined or un-challenged, we indicate tacit agreement. The message of that agreement does not serve our students, no matter their sexual orientation, it speaks and shouts that it is acceptable to other those in our community and suggests some people are worth respecting and others aren’t because we do not care to understand who they are.

For those not ready to walk into the classroom and have a frank and open discussion of sexuality, some need for time and reflection is understandable. The key, though, and the immediate step that must be taken if you are not ready to start tomorrow is to stop doing and saying things that lead any students to feel as though they are less than. That, we can all do today.

33/365 We Need More Heroes

Matt Langdon is doing great work, and more people should know about it. Rather than engage in the anti-bullying conversation as it stands, Langdon and the other members of the Hero Construction Company are re-framing the language and working to help students see themselves of heroes and champions of society. The HCC takes as its guiding language, the work of Dr. Philip Zimbardo of Stanford:

ZimbardoIt’s a conversation we would all do well to take up today – as soon as possible. Lest you think the barrage of anti-bullying legislation and temporarily-increased conversation about how we work to create safe spaces for those students on the margins of our schools has created a culture shift such that we can lay down our worries, there is the story of Portland teen Jadin Bell who died following his suicide attempt weeks ago.

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There is much work to be done, and the consequence of failing to do this work will be the death of other teens who cannot find their way out of the darkness nor recognize those in their lives capable of providing the support they need.

We need more heroes like those Langdon and HCC are working to create, and like New Jersey teen Jacob Rudolph who did more than accept his school’s superlative award for Class Actor when he took the podium, but pronounced he would no longer play the role of “straight Jacob” in hopes of inspiring other LGBT teens across the country who were facing similar struggles. We need heroes like Jacob and like his father, the one holding the camera below and whose text shows his reaction to his son’s speech is one of pride in his son and shame in a culture who would criticize this act of bravery.

We need more heroes.