Tuesday, November 4, 2008

LGBT issues in the classroom

"Today was no-name-calling day. Kevin Hennessey celebrated by calling me a 'flaming fag' before the first bell rang."

Today I helped present a group project on the book Totally Joe in my Seminar on Family and Cultural Literacy. Totally Joe is a funny, light-hearted book about a gay 13-year old. It is written by James Howe, who also wrote one of my favorite childhood books, Bunnicula.

I was interested in presenting this book because in the classroom I found my little ones very quick to call each other gay, fag, and homo.

This really bothered me, but I was concerned about having an open discussion with my students because I knew how religious some of my students' families are. Now I regret not dealing with it openly. Especially after watching this video in class.

What do LGBT students need?

According to our group they need
  • friendships from their peers
  • support from teachers and administrators
  • understanding from family members
  • accurate information about sexual orientation and gender identity
For older students, one way to help promote tolerance is to establish Gay Straight Alliances. This is an organization that provides a safe space for students to develop their social skills, get support and information that is age-appropriate, and provide relief from the social and emotional isolation that students might face.

I highly recommend this book for fifth and sixth grade students. It isn't depressing, despite the controversial and emotional issues discussed in the book. I believe it is a great start for open dialogue. Yes, parts of the book may seem a little unrealistic and breezy, and some plot points may seem a little too convenient. But overall, it's refreshing to see this topic published in a non-dramatic, happy manner.

Everybody deserves to love and be loved. This is something we must teach our children so they can show empathy and tolerance towards their peers. We can save kids from so much trauma in middle and high school if we can provide an environment for children when they can feel comfortable and safe enough to just be who they are.

1 comment:

katie said...

I was very inspired by this post to make it a point to encourage openness and acceptance in my classroom when it comes to issues pertaining to sexuality.
I took a class a few semesters ago and my peers read "Totally Joe", while I chose to read a different story. I am now motivated to borrow "Totally Joe" from my classmate and read the story.
I think it is important to educate ourselves about all issues our students may be facing so that we will be better equipped to actively listen to them.