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Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at www.petermdewitt.com. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

By Peter DeWitt — December 26, 2011 3 min read
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As of September 20th, 2011, the federal government ended the military’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT) Policy. Although the repeal was initiated in 2010, it took months for the policy to officially end. Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell prohibited any homosexual or bisexual person from disclosing his or her sexual orientation while serving in the United States armed forces. If those members disclosed their orientation, they would be discharged from the military.

Although DADT may have ended in the military it is still an issue that exists in public schools around North America. Students as well as teachers and staff do not feel that they have the freedom to disclose their sexual orientation to others in school. Mostly, because they feel that the disclosure will open them up to a great deal of discrimination.

Many heterosexual staff share stories about their families while they sit around the table in the faculty room. They discuss their children and what they did on the weekend. Only those LGBT faculty, staff and students who are fortunate enough to be in an inclusive school feel comfortable sharing stories from their personal lives. LGBT staff do not always have the same opportunities to share stories about their families because of unwritten DADT policies within a school. “It’s ok to be gay, just do not talk about it too much.”

The reality is that we have students who are dying by suicide around the country, many of them because they were gay and were harassed and abused in the school system or college campus. These students lacked the proper support to help them negotiate their way through a difficult personal time.

Inclusive administrators know that they have to protect all students within their school system, and it does not matter whether they share the same views as their students. The public school system is a place where all ideas and values converge and should be respected. There are many administrators who support same-sex couples who attend the prom or Gay-Straight Alliances (GSA) within their schools.

Unfortunately, there are also administrators and staff who turn a “blind eye” to the bullying and harassment of LGBT students, which helps perpetuate the issue. These students get bullied, harassed and abused frequently and do not feel that they have a supportive adult that they can turn to for help.

The harassment and bullying of LGBT students happens for a variety of reasons, and lack of exposure is one of them. Many heterosexual students are not exposed to LGBT students or topics, so that lack of understanding causes issues between both groups of students. Every student, whether gay or straight, deserves a place in school.

Unfortunately, many schools shy away from exploring tough topics because of the fear that they will receive community pushback. In addition, without a supportive administrator this lack of compassion for LGBT students will continue.

When school staff make statements such as, “why do gay people always have to talk about their sexuality,” they are perpetuating the issue of DADT in their school systems. There should not be a “chosen” group that gets free reign of a school. All groups should be accepted, which creates an inclusive school system (DeWitt, Dignity for All, 2012).

Schools are supposed to be a place where all students can learn. They need to be a place where students can explore who they are and find their strengths and work on their weaknesses. All groups should be accepted so that they can flourish and become contributing members of society. Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell ended in our armed forces and it needs to end in our school systems.

Peter’s book Dignity for All: Safeguarding LGBT Students (Corwin Press) will be released March 2012.

For more information on creating an inclusive school visit GLSEN.

The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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