If You Have To Teach Anything, Why Would You EVER Choose Hate?

“The highest result of education is tolerance”-~-Hellen Keller

Schools are meant to teach tolerance.  Meant to provide safe learning environments for all students.  Meant to give young people a place where they can grow, not just academically, but as people.

In such an ideal version of a school, there is no room for hatred.  But in the real world, the one you and I get to live in, hatred is all around us.  Racism, sexism, religious-based hatred, it doesn’t matter-~-the fact is that kids and teens deal with hate on a daily basis.

But there’s a big difference between the kinds of intolerance I just named, and homophobia, and that difference is why things like Day of Silence are so important: a kid being teased for being an ethnic minority does not risk the same kind of intolerance when he goes home.  But a kid being teased for being gay might.  And when students lack a support system either at home or at school, this leads to cases of isolation, and has been linked in several cases to suicide or attempted suicide.

Do Schools Have a Responsibility to Promote LGBTQ Rights?

Some people would argue that, because there is a demographic that considers homosexuality offensive, it has no place in schools.  In a recent case, a student was punished for wearing a shirt to school that referenced homosexuality, and was asked to change his clothes-~-on the basis that it was of a sexual nature.  While THIS is absurd, the reality is that some people ARE uncomfortable with homosexuality; some people consider it offensive to their religions, others are simply put off by it.

Here’s the thing: if schools are going to tolerate HETEROSEXUALITY, then they have to tolerate homosexuality.  I may not have LIKED that people at my high school had a PDA problem or that there were always couples clogging up the halls, but the fact is, heterosexuality is very present in schools-~-and if that is the case, then schools do NOT have a right to preference heterosexuality over homosexuality.

On top of that, schools have an obligation to provide a safe learning environment for students, regardless of their race, sex, gender, sexual orientation, etc.  When students are bullied for their sexuality, it creates a hostile learning environment wherein students are less likely to perform well AND experience a sense of isolation that puts them at risk for things like depression.

An Active Stance on Bullying

A lot of the problem rests in the fact that schools are often unwilling to take an active stance on bullying when it comes to LGBTQ students.  If there were a series of bullying incidents centered on race in the US today, schools would jump at the opportunity to teach students about the evils of racism; why is this not necessarily the same with homophobia?  There are a couple of reasons.  First, it is sometimes harder to tell when bullying is based on sexual orientation, because unless explicit references are made to the person’s sexuality, the link may not be clear…it’s not like race or gender where it is readily apparent.  Second, LGBTQ students who are used to facing hostile attitudes both at school and beyond the school walls are less likely to bring bullying to the attention of school officials, which means that the school can get away with pretending that LGBTQ students are not being bullied.  On top of that, students who are fighting this battle at home are less likely to appeal to parents for help, leaving them without a real means to recourse.

There are a lot of things that schools could be-~-and in some cases, are-~-doing.  First, teachers should probably be much more aware of what is going on in classrooms.  The Safe Space program is a great way for teachers to signal to LGBTQ students that they are in a friendly environment and that they can approach the teacher about problems they might be having.  Second, schools can support the formation of organizations like the Gay Straight Alliance, which works to foster dialogue and raise awareness about issues gay students have in schools.

But the most important thing is that schools stop implicitly permitting bullying in their schools.  The case I mentioned earlier (where the student was asked to change his shirt) has actually been taken on by Lambda Legal, an organization that works to advocate for LGBTQ rights in schools.  Some experts are arguing that by refusing to let a shirt that recognizes or expresses an aspect of the student’s identity-~-a shirt with a message calling for equality, mind you-~-that the school is implicitly allowing bullying by trying to silence a student’s identity expression.  Schools need to be called out on this and they need to be sensitized to the right of students to have and to express their identity.

The National Day of Silence is April 20 this year.  If you are a high school or college student in the United States, register at dayofsilence.org and be counted among those who are willing to give up their voice for ONE day to help get the voices of LGBTQ students across America heard from here on out.

What are you doing to end the silence?

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~ by Randi Saunders on April 11, 2012.

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