Term Paper: Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender Students

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Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, & Transgender Students

In today's educational environment, students who happen to be lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT) often find it hard to cope in their learning environment. LGBT students must endure an abnormal amount of stress throughout adolescence and young adulthood. According to Khayatt (1994), it is quite normal for LGBT students to experience harassment, isolation from their social group, the feeling of marginalization, and an inability to speak openly about their sexual/gender orientation. LGBT students have developed a myriad of ways of coping with the pressures of fitting in. Some of these methods have proven to be self-destructive, however. Up to thirty percent of all teenage suicides are believed to be LGBT. When LGBT students are not doing violence to themselves, they often become the target of attacks of others in their peer group. In the following study, I will begin with reviewing some of the significant literature relating to the subject of LGBT students. I will then go on to analyze the theoretical implications that such concepts hold for the educational environment, while also analyzing key educational psychology concepts that have the potential to be employed as a means of empowering both students and educators. Theory only goes so far, however, so a key part of my study will be an examination of the ways in which such theoretical paradigms have been employed effectively in educational environments in the form of programs such as Gay-Straight Alliances (GSAs). Finally, I will draw conclusions from the discussion of these issues that can hopefully be used for constructing a future pedagogical program that addresses the needs of LGBT students and celebrates sexual diversity, rather than stigmatizing it.

Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Students

I. Introduction

In today's educational environment, students who happen to be lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT) often find it hard to cope in their learning environment. Despite the many social and educational advances made in our multicultural era, the vast majority of educational institutions and classrooms still operate out of the assumption that all students are heterosexual. Heterosexist and homophobic thinking tend to be predominate not only in the way the curriculum is designed and presented to students, but in social activities such as the prom, hallway interactions, school sports, extracurricular academic activities, physical education, and class arrangements. While the larger culture seems to have made great strides in accepting sexual minorities in recent years, what with a proliferation of representations of LGBT sexuality in popular culture, it should follow that the school systems would follow and begin to integrate an LGBT positive awareness into the curriculum. This has not been the case; schools are by and large silent on the matter of non-heterosexual identities. According to Khayatt (1994), systematic silence on LGBT matters in schools tends to take on two forms: LGBT-related topics are absent from the curriculum, and information about LGBT sexuality is either distorted or suppressed on an active level. Not only is the subject of LGBT sexuality often ignored altogether in educational environments - as thought it did not exist, there is often not even information available on the subject in the offices of guidance counselors. The subject is frequently omitted from all school curricula - even health classes, where the topic of human sexuality is traditionally dealt with. Where homosexuality is dealt with, it is frequently only shown in a negative light, such as in association with diseases like HIV and AIDS. Furthermore, there is an active refusal on the part of schools to allow LGBT speakers to address students. In some school systems, it is illegal for teachers or any other school employees to speak openly about their own LGBT orientation.

This is all the more remarkable, when nearly half the adult population has reportedly engaged in both homosexual and heterosexual activities (Sears 1991). It has been estimated that up to fifteen percent of the population in the United States is exclusively lesbian or gay. This means that, while homosexuality either has or will personally affect about half of all students' lives, a large minority will come to identify as exclusively gay or lesbian in the course of their lives, if they do not already - to say nothing of the unique situation that transgender students must endure throughout the turbulent period of adolescence and young adulthood. With this in mind, it is thus necessary for educators to begin asking themselves how they might go about addressing this issue, since it affects a significant portion of the student body. In order to dispel the myth that certain sexual and gender identities are "abnormal," it is necessary to break the silence on issues relating to LGBT students.

LGBT students must endure an abnormal amount of stress throughout adolescence and young adulthood. According to Khayatt (1994), it is quite normal for LGBT students to experience harassment, isolation from their social group, the feeling of marginalization, and an inability to speak openly about their sexual/gender orientation. What is more, the consequences of such social pressure can be severe. LGBT teenagers are two to three times more likely to attempt suicide than non-LGBT teenagers. Up to thirty percent of all teenage suicides are believed to be LGBT. A third of all LGBT teenagers claim to have attempted suicide (Sedgwick 1993).

When LGBT students are not doing violence to themselves, they often become the target of attacks of others in their peer group. Homophobic jokes, remarks, and attacks are common (Van de Ven 1995). What is worse, teachers and school administrators tend to condone such expressions of violence towards LGBT students by ignoring them, rather than punishing the offenders.

LGBT students have developed a myriad of ways of coping with the pressures of fitting in. Some of these methods have proven to be self-destructive, however. For example, a common means of coping for gay and lesbian students is to pretend to be heterosexual through dating members of the opposite sex or even joining in with their peers' homophobic remarks and behavior (Smith 2007). By acting in such a fashion, however, LGBT students often do further damage to their self-esteem. Such "passing" can also hinder the development of a student's social skills. Finally, LGBT students hinder the growth of peer relationships by pretending to be something they are not (Zera 1992).

In the following study, I will begin with reviewing some of the significant literature relating to the subject of LGBT students. I will then go on to analyze the theoretical implications that such concepts hold for the educational environment, while also analyzing key educational psychology concepts that have the potential to be employed as a means of empowering both students and educators. Theory only goes so far, however, so a key part of my study will be an examination of the ways in which such theoretical paradigms have been employed effectively in educational environments in the form of programs such as Gay-Straight Alliances (GSAs). Finally, I will draw conclusions from the discussion of these issues that can hopefully be used for constructing a future pedagogical program that addresses the needs of LGBT students and celebrates sexual diversity, rather than stigmatizing it. I hope to show that an educational project that encompasses the needs of all students, regardless of their orientation, is preferable to one that is based on silence and exclusion.

II. Studies on LGBT Students

It was not until the late 1980s and early 1990s that comprehensive studies on LGBT students began to emerge. Aware of the stigmatization that LGBT students commonly face (a stigmatization that ultimately results in suicide, dropping out, low self-esteem, health risks, substance abuse, etc.), Uribe and Harbeck set about instituting and documenting the affects of PROJECT 10, a program at Fairfax High School in Los Angeles targeted towards lesbian, gay, and bisexual teenagers (1992). In their study, Uribe and Harbeck first implemented PROJECT 10 in the 1985-1986 school year. The program was successful enough to be implemented subsequently throughout the Los Angeles Unified School District, and a number of other similar programs have since followed in its wake. In the study, fifty self-identified "homosexual" students were interviewed as a means of clarifying both their experience in educational settings and their special needs. A questionnaire was also circulated among the larger student body as a means of charting the reactions of students to PROJECT 10 as an institutionalized exploration of human sexual expression and emotional attachment. The authors concluded that much damage had been done by the institutionalization of homophobia, which they cited not merely in instances of violence and harassment by fellow students, but by silence on the issue of homosexuality from teachers, counselors, and administrators. In their first survey, Uribe and Harbeck also discovered that many gay male students often experienced their first sexual encounters in a "date rape" scenario, and felt that they did not have anyone at school to whom they could seek counseling on this issue. Lesbian students faced the problem of often being told that their sexual orientation was merely "a… [END OF PREVIEW]

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