Safe Spaces: Making Schools and Communities Welcoming to LGBT Youth
Annemarie Vaccaro, Gerri August, and Megan S. Kennedy
The authors of Safe Spaces create the idea that schools and classrooms should be, as anyone would hope, a safe space for all students; especially LGBT students. However, "without the deliberate creation of an inclusive atmosphere, what happens inside classroom walls reproduces the prejudices that exist outside these walls: straightness and gender conformity are assumed; LGBT identity is deviant" (84). I felt the paragraph about teachers and peers ushering the children from their homes and relative protection and insulation of family life makes the reader reconsider just how important it is that we as educators make these children in our schools feel welcome and encourage equality as much as humanly possible within schools and communities. "If our homes are incubators, keeping our children safe as they grow into the patterns of family life, schools are 'outcubators' --places that introduce new ways of thinking and behaving" (84).
When the authors point out the fact that sexual orientation topics are entirely absent from most curriculum in elementary schools, it opened my eyes to how valid and important that statement is. I hate to say it, but while curriculum is based solely around core subjects, I do feel these children should also be learning real life situations, and that includes the situations of gender and sexual orientation that they may not be familiar with, but will be exposed to in their daily life. This entire reading actually made me frequently think of Allan Johnson's piece. I felt the two were so closely related-just on different topics. Both express how great of an influence communication can be, yet how negative and demeaning it can also be in terms of promoting or bullying a certain race or sexual orientation, etc. One of the many ways it very much reminds me of Johnson, is how he brought up the point that we need to "say the words". In this sense, I feel it is important in this day to "say the words", and talk about what many educators avoid with our youth, which is situations and words relevant to LGBTQ. Furthermore related to this idea of Johnson's, the authors reference a PBS television in which the children have two moms, where the children just simply state that they love them both very much, but do not ever address sexual orientation; the words "gay" or "lesbian" are never used. So, just as Johnson argued, avoiding using these terms and beating around the bush as educators or simply avoiding the topic altogether, creates a sort of discrimination: "such a decision kept LGBT people outside the walls of our classrooms and, by extension, outside the canons of polite society" (87).
The authors describe a way a Kindergarten teacher had incorporated such family structures in his lesson on families. This reminded me of a reading class I took here last year at RIC, and our professor was a strong supporter of the LGBT community. When she asked us to incorporate LGBT families into a lesson with our early childhood children, many of the others in my class felt very uncomfortable doing so. While I feel comfortable briefly addressing these topics in my own classroom, and making it known to children that two dads, etc is a completely acceptable family, the other students in class voiced that they felt uncomfortable doing this because of how their students families would react. Many of them felt that the parents of some of the children would feel upset that they would bring this topic into the classroom at such a young age, and that the parents themselves should be the ones addressing and educating these topics to their children. Others felt that their children did not discriminate or bully LGBT children/families, because they either did not know about it or did not think it was abnormal, and did not want the possibility of creating the issue. Again, while I did not mind bringing such books into my classroom (as long as they were developmentally appropriate), I could also somewhat understand where they were coming from, since they worked in some private schools, etc. This reading made me think of that, and made me curious where some of you would stand in this position, and how you feel on the subject of introducing LGBT to your children. The reading also addressed that their educators had these same concerns, and the possible arguments that they could present to concerned parents or those who complain about them introducing the topic.
I liked this reading a lot, because I felt it pointed out a lot of possible situations that could arise, and also a variety of strategies in putting out such situations amongst children, and how educators can ensure that they create a safe and welcoming space for these students. I think this reading is very useful for educators with all types of experience, as many of these subjects are new to the children they are working with.
GLSEN: Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network
I LOVE this website! This is a great resource for educators, and really anyone at that. I love that it has so many resources available for educators to learn about this, how to act on it, how to teach it, and how to provide an inclusive program for youth. The website offers professional development opportunities, support, events, etc in relevance to LGBT. This is definitely a website I will be storing somewhere for future use! I did a little more research on the website, and found an interesting interview with the founder of GLSEN, and the barriers that teachers still face. It's a good read as well if you get a minute :)