Opinion Blog

Peter DeWitt's

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

Why Gay Marriage Makes School Leaders Uncomfortable

By Peter DeWitt — March 26, 2013 4 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Why are only some students allowed to have the best school experiences of their lives when others are kicked to the curb?

This week, the Supreme Court will be delving into what marriage means in America. They are looking at Proposition 8, which is a ban on gay marriage in California, and the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which is a law that defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman.

For some people, it’s another story in the media that they hear in the background when they’re making breakfast. For others it is an attack on what they feel is sacred. For the LGBT community, it is a chance to finally get an equal place at the table.

Although this is a big story in the news media, it will be ignored in many schools across the country, which is unfortunate, because this is a perfect time for teachers to put an LGBT topic into their curriculum. After all, schools have gay students and gay parents and they deserve to be welcomed.

If LGBT related topics were encouraged in schools....
• Imagine the discussion.
• Imagine the debate.
• Imagine how LGBT students would feel if they had the support of their peers and the adults around them.

Unfortunately, many educators won’t cover the topic because their school leader won’t support it.

Schools Supporting LGBT Bullying
Over the past few days a story has been unfolding in southern California. According to the ACLU, “Teachers and administrators at a San Bernardino County high school discriminate against gay students by censoring the gay student club, making derogatory remarks about gay people, and imposing gender stereotypes by allegedly forbidding girls from wearing tuxedos to the prom.” The school is Sultana High School.

This story supports a 2011 Gay, Lesbian Straight Education Network (GLSEN) study that says, “The majority of LGBT students are faced with many obstacles in school affecting their academic performance and personal well-being. Results indicated that 8 out of 10 LGBT students (81.9%) experienced harassment at school in the past year because of their sexual orientation, three fifths (63.5%) felt unsafe at school because of their sexual orientation and nearly a third (29.8%) skipped a day of school in the past month because of safety concerns.” (Kosciw)

Many schools lack GSA’s, do not offer books with gay characters, and lack curriculum that has an LGBT focus. This is odd because in the real world, which schools say they are preparing students for, members of the LGBT community surround us all. Whether students watch the news, morning television, search the internet or read newspapers, there are a plethora of LGBT stories. Yet, schools ignore this issue because it makes them uncomfortable.

Is the Public School System Really Public?
Schools should be addressing these news stories, especially given that they are in the news this week. Any social studies class in the country should be addressing these two cases. Whether it’s through a class discussion or a classroom debate, there is no reason why students shouldn’t be discussing it.

Except for of course, if you go to school in Tennessee where the “Don’t Say Gay” bill is being introduced into legislation. In reality, this bill is called the Classroom Protection Act. The bill which is being introduced by Republican State Senator Stacey Campfield, would “prohibit teachers from discussing of any sexuality except heterosexuality in grades K-8.” The bill goes a step further and requires teachers to tell parents if they suspect their child is gay.

Are gay people not part of the public school system? Isn’t the public school system supposed to be a place where all students are accepted? Why are only some students allowed to have the best school experiences of their lives when others are kicked to the curb?

LGBT students, just like any students of diversity should all be able to walk into school and see literature that emulates who they are which will give them something to look forward to. All students should be introduced to role models who can help them negotiate their way through life. Schools should be places of social justice where students can debate these issues in a safe environment.

Why do “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policies still exist in the public school system?

In the End
Gay marriage is in the national spotlight, which is a historic moment for the LGBT community. Unfortunately, there are students who are watching from afar and they cannot participate in the moment because they are afraid of being abused or harassed, which contrary to popular belief, is not a rite of passage. This is real abuse based on hate.

Some schools contribute to this hatred by allowing abuse to happen. Education is supposed to be the great equalizer, and yet there are many marginalized populations we need to stop barring marginalized populations from having a place at the table. The gay marriage debates should tell the public school system that they have to stop ignoring a population that seems to have a voice everywhere else, and if schools want to mirror the real world they should help students gain a better understanding of all the populations that live in it.

Schools need to:
• Have a GSA in every high school and middle school
• Have LGBT-based curriculum
• Offer LGBT related books in the library
• Create school board policies that protect LGBT students and other marginalized populations
• Create school codes of conduct that support LGBT students

School board policies and student codes of conduct are only as good as the paper they are written on if school leaders aren’t doing anything about it. Do something.

Connect with Peter on Twitter

Visit GLSENVisit Teaching Tolerance

DeWitt, Peter (2012) Dignity for All: Safeguarding LGBT Students. Corwin Press. Thousand Oaks, CA.

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.