Frequently Asked Questions
Q. What is the implication of AB 537, the California School Safety and Violence Prevention Act of 2000?
A. In October 1999 Governor Davis signed AB 537, which added sexual orientation to the list of protected categories in the California Education code. Now, along with victims of discrimination based on race, ethnicity, gender, and religion, gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students have a procedure for filing complaints of discrimination based on their sexual orientation and gender identity. How well this will be implemented remains to be seen, and strategies are currently being developed. The California Safe Schools Coalition developed Question and Answer guides for school district officials and administrators. Visit http://www.gsanetwork.org/ for more information.
Q. How do I show support for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered (LGBT) students?
A. For starters, put articles on your bulletin board that deal with LGBT topics. It is a good idea to categorize along the lines of issues rather than identity. For example, instead of a gay bulletin board, have a current events bulletin board that includes some LGBT topics. Instead of an LGBT resource list, have a support services resource list that includes LGBT support services. You will still get the message across, and you're less likely to be criticized. The LGBT students will know if you are a safe person by your demeanor. Include what may be called a "gay presence" whenever it is appropriate. If you are talking about something where it would be appropriate to include the gay minority, do it. These topics might include prejudice, hate crimes, discrimination, family diversity, name-calling, health issues, and contributions of famous gays both past and present. The important thing is to be inclusive and appropriate.
Q. How can I be informed about services for LGBT students?
A. There are not many services for LGBT youth, especially in rural areas. Depending on where you are, there might be a Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) PFLAG group or some type of center. For many young people, there just isn't a possibility of normal socialization until (and if) they go to college. There is a lot of excellent resource information on the Internet (check Resources), and most major bookstores now have at least a small section of LGBT material. The harsh reality is that YOU might be the most positive person in this young person's life, and that doesn't mean that you yourself have to be gay. The most important thing is that you are comfortable with the issue of homosexuality. Some gay people are not, and some nongay people are. LGBT kids are quick to spot your comfort level.
Q. How can I get more comfortable talking about LGBT issues?
A. Learn as much as you can about the subject. Get to know some LGBT people. Studies have shown that interacting with LGBT people is the quickest way to dispel misconceptions about them. Watch the gay characters on T.V. Examine your own biases (Check Model Training). Wear a gay-identified button like a pink triangle and see if you sweat. When you quit sweating, you are getting more comfortable. If you really want to have an adrenaline rush, call up a friend and tell him (and it has to be a him) you're gay or lesbian. Check your physical reactions. This is an especially effective exercise for nongay people, because it lets them know the degree of the stigma and why it is so hard for gay people to come out.
Q. What if I wanted to start a support group?
A. Assuming that you are okay with the subject yourself, the best way to start a group is to have it student-initiated, with you and another teacher. Maybe have a lunch group-- very informal at first. Find out why the students want to have a group. Maybe start with subjects like student harassment or coming out issues. Don't let the group become a gossip session. Your focus should be to provide a safe place for students to discuss issues of concern to them. Hopefully such safe places keep kids from dropping out of school. As long as you meet outside of class you don't have to worry about parent permission.
Q. Would students need parent consent if an LGBT student support group were to meet during school hours?
A. If the student is taken out of class, probably yes. Frequently, support groups where students are taken out of class operate under some kind of umbrella program. Often there is a generic form given to parents indicating that the student has indicted a desire to be part of a student support group that deals with a variety of issues without specifying the type of group. Ideally, we should work toward reconciling the child and parent on this issue. If the group meets at lunch as a club or as a Gay-Straight Alliance, parental consent is not needed.
Q. What if I want to have some books that address LGBT issues and themes in my classroom?
A. BE CAREFUL. Review them first. If they are sexually explicit, do NOT have them around. Be wary of using any gay books unless they have been approved by the American Library Association (check with your school librarian).
Q. I thought the word "queer" was pejorative. Why are gay people using it?
A. This is an attempt by some in the LGBT community to take back the words that have been used against gays. In doing this, the power to use words as oppression is greatly diminished. Generally, the word as a means of identification is used more by the young gay activists rather than by the “older generation.” Like any other possibly pejorative word, context is very important.
Q. What if I do not wish to disclose my lesbian or gay identity?
A. This is the hardest question to answer. The best thing to do is first to examine why you are reluctant to disclose. List your fears and make an honest determination as to which fears are reality based and which are unfounded. Anecdotal stories reveal that the most successful way of “coming out of the closet” is to work the information into an appropriate teaching moment.
Q. I want to know how to “come out” to my students.
A. Check this website for “Tips for Teachers” The most important thing is to disclose in an appropriate fashion. Incorporating the topic rather than making a special announcement seems to be the most effective way of doing it. The process can also be started by putting a news article on the bulletin board, or wearing a pink triangle, or some other visible sign that opens up the subject.
Q. How do I deal with a hostile student, parent, or colleague?
A. Every case differs, but in general the recommendation is to stay calm, tell them you understand their concern, and ask them to put it all in writing. Inform the principal that you have asked for a written statement. When you have this, schedule a meeting, and have someone on your side (like a union or faculty representative) as a witness. It depends on what the hostile party is mad about. Maybe it can be resolved with a common sense discussion. If it can't (like they just plain can't stand you because you're gay) then hopefully your principal can mediate the situation. It is the responsibility of the administrator to uphold policies and laws as they apply to the situation.
Q. Some of the students want to start a club or a Gay-Straight Alliance. How do they do that?
A. Refer to the publications listed in this Web site under Resources. Contact the Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network (GLSEN), and the Gay Straight Alliance Network. Don't let anyone tell you it can't be done. At the same time, be sure that you know all the provisions of the Equal Access Act and are prepared to pursue your rights under that act.
Q. My principal has flat out told me that I cannot discuss LGBT issues. What can I do?
A. It depends. If you are in the Los Angeles Unified School District and a principal tells you that, you can challenge the principal and take it to the District's Educational Equity Compliance office. However, if you are in a school district with no gay-friendly policies and a principal who is scared to death of some vocal parent (the principal has obviously forgotten that public education serves all students and that includes LGBT students, too) then you have to be cautious. In those situations the best thing to do is to try and elicit the discussion from the students themselves. For example, one could do a lesson on name-calling and in the course of the discussion the students would probably list "faggot" as a bad name. Then you could talk about why it is hurtful, emphasizing that we live in a society where it's important that people respect one another. Or, you could do a lesson on different family structures, the theme being what constitutes a "family?" Another idea is that you could talk about civil rights’ movements. Structure your class so that it allows open discussion, and different points of view. When LGBT issues come up, work them into the context of whatever is happening.