Peter DeWitt is the author of Dignity For All: Safeguarding LGBT Students (Corwin Press, 2012).
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Cowhey (2012) writes, “When it comes to issues of family diversity, teacher self-censorship remains the status quo in many schools. Often this is based on the fear of raising potentially controversial topics.” Cowhey goes on to say, “Do not presume that students live in traditional families with both married heterosexual birth parents. [Teachers should] Name a wide variety of configurations possible in the diversity of human families. (p.13. Rethinking Elementary Education)”
A few months ago Corwin Press published my book Dignity for All: Safeguarding LGBT Students. I wrote the book because during my doctoral research on the same subject, I read a quotation by the Gay, Lesbian Straight Education Network (GLSEN) that stated “84.6% of LGBT students reported being verbally harassed, 40.1% reported being physically harassed and 18.8% reported being physically assaulted at school in the past year because of their sexual orientation. 72.4% heard homophobic remarks frequently or often at school” (2009, p. 26).
Many students are bullied in schools across the country but it happens all too often to our LGBT students. Most students do not want to be defined as gay or straight, just as many adults do not want to be defined that way either. However, all groups need to be protected from bullying and LGBT students should not be left out of those protections, which is why they need to be identified in school board policies and codes of conduct.
Dignity for ALL in Schools
Too often in schools there is a “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” Policy where students are not allowed to be out. We know that students are coming out at a younger age and not allowing students to be who they are is not only unfair, it’s discriminatory. Schools can have an impact on LGBT students by addressing their needs through board policies, curriculum and after-school clubs.
As a school administrator I understand that the number one area that will help address any issue is a school board policy. School board policies give administrators and parents the support they need to make sure that issues are being addressed. School districts need to specifically address the issue of LGBT bullying in their policies and student codes of conduct.
Secondly, curriculum is an important area to address the needs of LGBT students. Teachers introduce new topics to their students, some of which are always controversial. Curriculum that includes LGBT topics is lacking in many schools. Most often educators and administrators do not want to include it out of fear of community pushback. Curriculum allows teachers to engage their students and inspire them to think about their future. It is also an area where they provoke students to think outside of themselves. Age-appropriate curriculum is a way to make sure that schools have a supportive and nurturing environment.
In order to engage our students, we need to talk about topics that spark a good debate. In Social Studies, students can debate gay marriage, equal rights or the former Don’t Ask Don’t Tell Policies that were once found in the military. Debating these issues can provide an educational experience for all students because it is through the open conversation that students can hopefully find some common ground.
Unfortunately, by not debating the issue, teachers and administrators are ignoring the very population of students that walk into their classrooms and the very community that surrounds the school. If we ignore the issue it will not go away. The only way to truly build an inclusive school is to include topics that will prepare students for the greater world.
In the End
Dignity for All means that all students should have the opportunity to have safe and nurturing learning environments. I believe my book provides insight into the plight of LGBT students. I have included vignettes from different LGBT voices around North America. At times you may find my suggestions offensive or too progressive, but I believe that they are suggestions that will help all students feel safe and nurtured in the school community.