Last night’s class created discomfort for some when we began talking about LGBT students and issues that they face in schools. Many were quick to defend inclusive actions, and to show that they are accepting. I’d like to share a few moments and talk about them, because these moments really caused me to reflect not only about myself, but the students in our schools, and policies that are / are not in place.
The first quote that resonated with me is:
Our job, as teachers, no matter who our students are or where they are when they come to us, is to start teaching them. We can’t play the blame game regarding whose fault it is that they don’t have the prior knowledge or skills we expect they should have learned in years prior.
While not specific to LGBT students, in general, this quote reinforces the notion that we as teachers must do our job, we must teach. We take the child as they come to us and we teach them, we catch them up as much as we can and we work to help them move ahead. Sometimes I think we get so caught up in what students don’t know, that we miss the point that they are capable learners and that they all have knowledge that they bring with them, even if it may be different from what we expect.
Treaty education: to understand what it means to be a treaty person.
We are all treaty people. White people, First Nations people, people of different ethnicity who live in Canada.
Indeed we are all treaty people, but why is there still such a divide? Why do the dominant group in society only see First Nation people as being treaty people? There is still the notion that First Nation people are not equal to the rest of society.
In our class, it is easy for my classmates to talk about culture and race. This topic does not appear to cause them discomfort. I wonder if this is because our school board has mandated that treaty education be taught to all students. I do believe that it is easier to talk about race as well because LGBT people are still considered to be abnormal, to be the other and to not be normal. This causes panic and fear, where the dominant hetero-normative group maintains their power, dominance and privilege over ‘the other’. It causes discomfort for many people when they are being asked to consider and talk about a group of people still considered to be abnormal, regardless of the progress LGBT people have made.
A classmate share the following story with us:
A girl at school has always been a ‘tomboy’. One day she came up to us and said, “I wish to be called and identified as a boy.” My classmate then went on to talk about this student and his experience in school. While the classmate was talking, she kept referring to the student as “her” even though she had told us that the student wished to be called “him”. I interrupted her story and said, “I understand that the student’s sex is female, but he has told you that he wishes to be known as “him.” Why then in the last 20 sentences that you’ve shared with us, do you keep referring to the student as her?” My classmate was unable to recognize that she was doing this, and kept trying to avoid my question.
I didn’t push any further, because there was tension and I could tell that perhaps she was uncomfortable. While she has said that she and other staff are supporting, the language my classmate was using showed a contradictory stance.
I believe that language is the area to start with when working to respect youth who are expressing their gender in ways that challenge the norm. Do you say, “boys over here, girls over there? Or hey guys?” Think about how this language impacts students who are transgender or those who perform gender outside the norm..
While challenging our thinking, our language and our discourse is disruptive work, it is work that must be done. In recognizing that this not easy, and that it will take time, we will feel uncomfortable. It is hard but necessary work.
Schools are regulated spaces for LGBT students,in that they are expected ti act “straight”, to blend in with the other students, to not outwardly express their sexuality through traditional stereotypes such as being a “flamboyant” boy, as this may indicate that he is gay. While LGBT students are accepted, I question if they really are. Are they able to be themself? Are they able to talk, dress, question openly, or are they told to keep quiet? Do schools integrate without extra effort, stories about LGBT families or kids, or do we make known that we are being inclusive by saying I read a story yesterday, “And Tango Makes Three” or “A Tale of Two Mommies” or “King & King”, where the story talks about LGBT families.
I no longer believe that schools can be an “anti-bullying” school. Schools cannot just be accepting, or tolerant. People and schools have to change, which will take time. Likewise, we can no longer assume that our schools or our classrooms are hetero-normative. Students themselves may be beginning to figure out their orientation or how they identify, some may have LGBT family members or they may know a gay person for example. Discrimination is felt by all, those who are straight and those who are on the LGBT spectrum, within our classrooms and schools by the language and classroom that is created and fostered.
As a member of the LGBT community, I don’t want people to be tolerant of me. I want people to at least accept that I am a human being. I also don’t want my sexuality or my gender to be used against me/ to single out. I want these things to not matter and for you to not worry about them, to worry about who I am.