The “Other” and Surplus Visibility


One of the the articles I am analysing for my masters (into challenging homophobia in schools) talks about Patai’s notion of suplus visibility where:

“unexpected visibility of those who were meant to remain invisible; as the “Other,” they are forced to either disappear or appear larger than life, to keep silent, or scream.”

This might explain why we might commonly see LGBT identities either is invisible (we don’t notice them because they are forced to be closeted) or as “larger than life” or “hypersexual” or “in your face and flaunting it” “being on a soapbox or grinding axes” (read article in full for a fuller explanation).

As a notion it made sense to me, so I thought I would share.

What do you think?

Reference

DEPALMA, R. and ATKINSON, E. (2009b) “Permission to Talk About It” Narratives of Sexual Equality in the Primary Classroom. Qualitative Inquiry. 15 (5). p. 876-892. Available from http://qix.sagepub.com/content/early/2009/02/26/1077800409332763 [Accessed 25/6/13]

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“Being gay is against my religion”- Teachers how do you respond?


As a teacher what do you say to that statement?  You don’t want to be seen to maligning a faith viewpoint, and maybe you don’t personally know enough about the faith in question to start having a theological debate on the issue so instead perhaps you avoid the issue completely?

When I first started talking about homophobia in the classroom, I used to say was that all major religions promote tolerance and respect and even if your faith perspective doesn’t agree with someone’s sexual orientation, that does not give you the right to discriminate against someone because of it. Also despite some religious teachings against same sex relationships, there will be people who are LGBT within that particular faith, and what it actually comes down to is how you interpret the most important aspects of your faith for you, ie. faith is more importantly about your own relationship with god rather than interpretations of your faith by faith leaders. (Which is how my Catholic Lesbian friend explained to me how she reconciled her own faith with her sexual orientation, which was a very helpful perspective to help me understand.)

Since then I have developed an understanding that promoting ideas of tolerance or acceptance are flawed. We wouldn’t ask someone to tolerate black people- the very notion is offensive, why shouldn’t it be the same for people who are LGBT?  (Check out the Riddle Scale of Attitudes for more info) and hence teachers need to think carefully about using words such as tolerance or acceptance (although they do appear frequently in certain religious texts).

Since doing this masters I have realised that LGBT equality is fairly unique in being perceived as against someones religion, however just because the arguments for oppression are religious does not excuse them (the arguments for slavery in the US or persecution of Jews in Europe were also often religious, we don’t excuse those- why should this be any different?).

Teachers need to be clear that there is a limit where respecting one groups freedoms may mean limiting the freedoms of another. It is not always an easy boundary to negotiate but avoiding discussion on the issue at all with religious students/schools is also not an option.  I’ve talked about negotiating the line between faith and discussions on sexuality before in this open letter to MP Matthew Offord, and I share below the example I wrote there about my experience around discussions of faith and sexuality.

“One of my proudest teaching and learning moments was covering a lesson on homophobia with a class, a boy with strong faith views shouted out “I WANT TO KILL ALL GAYS” he was angry and convinced this was a course of action they deserved. He was adament that he believed this because his faith taught him it was wrong.  By the end of the lessons he came to me and said “Miss, I still don’t like it and neither does my faith, but I get what you mean now about not being mean to someone because of it.” For him that was the most monumental shift, and he was a violent angry young man, I have absolutely no doubt that he would be the type to beat someone up for acting “gay” whether or not they actually were.”

During that lesson, I obviously challenged him on his original statement as it was very offensive and breached our ground rules, but during the lesson we explored stereotypes and feelings and human rights. We talked about faith in the context I described above and at no point did anyone try and malign his faith viewpoint, and he still went on to have the monumental shift in attitude (I am not naive, this may not have been a permanent attitudinal change but in a single lesson it was a massive shift in positioning and if nothing else I made him think!).   This is just one example but it shows such discussions can and should take place that respect both faith values and an equalities perspective.

Please don’t let fears around a possible religious backlash, prevent work around challenging homophobia and transphobia. It is not impossible and in fact you maybe pleasantly surprised (I had several strongly religious people actively support the work within my previous school).

Happy Educating.

EDIT: As Gill Frances reminded me from her comments below- we also need to point out to children and young people that religious beliefs do not trump the laws of this land and that both Sexual Orientation, Gender Reassignment and Religion & belief are all protected characteristics within the Equality Act (2010). Also particular faith perspectives are unlikely to be universal within your classroom, having a faith perspective does not give you any more right than anyone else in the class to share that perspective.  Or to put it another way:

Dear Parents- Support your children’s teachers to talk about sexual orientation and gender identity.


I know from my own experience of challenging homophobia & tranphobia in school one of my most significant fears apart from ending up in the daily mail  was the fear of parental backlash.  As it happens as I progressed with the work the parents were overwhelmingly supportive and the backlash  never actually came, I ended up kicking myself that I had let the fear stop me progressing with aspects of the work until my confidence grew.

Now I am doing my research into my masters challenging homophobia and I am finding a lot of evidence that suggests that a significant barrier to teachers doing this type of equalities work is fear of parental reactions. However research also shows that the vast majority of parents (90+%) believe it is important to include “understanding sexual orientation” as part of PSHE (Morgan, 2000 and Mumsnet 2012 and probably a few more but no time to hunt down the refs!)

This tells me there is a MAJOR lack of communication between parents and teachers on this issue. Therefore if you are a parent of school aged children I urge you to make your schools head and PSHE teacher aware that you are very supportive of work done to talk about sexual orientation, gender identity and challenging homophobic and transphobic bullying. This in turn should hopefully give teachers more confidence to actually do this work! Likewise Teachers- COMMUNICATE with your parents. Let them know about the work you are doing, their support will increase your confidence in doing this type of work.

Happy Educating.

So are you gay then?


Talking about my masters in challenging homophobia in schools in the pub the other night I was confronted with the question:

“So are you gay then?”

This person assumed I must be as she could not comprehend why someone who is straight would be bothered about discrimination of a group that they did not belong to.

With students I usually reply to that question (with a gentle reminder about ground rules and no personal questions!)with:

“would it matter if I were?”

and we start to unpick why this stuff should be important to us all, and how ones sexual orientation does not affect their ability to be a good teacher, a good friend etc.

In the classroom it is an interesting one- if you are a Lesbian, Gay or Bisexual teacher, do you really want to come out to the students in your school? You could be an amazing role model but likewise in a non-supportive school you could be opening up a can of prejudicial worms. Likewise a straight teacher doing this work maybe worried people will assume they are Lesbian, Gay or Bisexual and treat them differently as a result, and this may serve as a barrier to this work. Also they may feel they don’t know enough about the issues to address it properly (to that I must point out white male teachers can teach about racism or sexism just fine- this is no different). (Oh and N.B Straight Teachers answering that question with an emphatic “No!” as if its a bad thing, only serves to reinforce the pervading culture of heteronormativity. Sigh.)

To the woman in the pub I didn’t ask her “would it matter if I were?” but said loftily

To me this is an equalities issue and it’s something we should all be bothered about whatever our sexual orientation or gender identity.

(and then carried on ranting about my research to the poor woman- sorry!)

Whilst doing this work I have always been aware of having heterosexual privilege. Being a married (to a man) mother of two working in this field, means that it brings this issue into the mainstream. I’m not someone from a so-called “sexual minority” (I hate that term- very “othering”) on a soapbox but someone who never experiences homophobia but is actively engaged in challenging prejudice and discrimination particularly related to sexual orientation and gender identity. In my experience this has possibly added a level of engagement to the work from straight colleagues, that might not be present if I was a gay, lesbian or bisexual teacher?

I’m not saying all teachers need to be as engaged on these issues as rantypants me, but I am saying all teachers can and should challenge LGBT prejudice as much as possible regardless of their own identity. It’s a human rights issue, it’s an equalities issue and even just taking the time to consider how you might answer the question from a student

So are you gay then?

in a way that addresses sexualities equality in some way is a step in the right direction.

Anyhow Macklemore, Ryan Lewis &Mary Lewis say it better than me afterall its “Same Love.”

How clear is the DfE SRE Guidance? A Poll


So the DfE are widely quoted as saying:

“‘Our sex and relationship education guidance makes it clear that schools should not promote any sexual orientation.” (emphasis mine)

“Clear” they say?

The document in question actually states:

a) It is not about the promotion of sexual orientation or

sexual activity – this would be inappropriate teaching. (Page 5)

b) “There should be no direct promotion of

sexual orientation.” (Page 13)

c)

“It is inappropriate for youth workers, as with any professional, to promote sexual
orientation.” (Page 28)

What a difference the addition of “any” makes to those statements.

So I did a poll- just for fun- how clear are the DfE in their SRE Guidance?

Note to schools- presenting Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity as a “Lifestyle Choice” is not inclusive – however well meaning your policy.


One of the schools involved in the “section 28” row has published their equality policy*

it states:

‘Under the equality duty all schools must have due regard to the need to eliminate
discrimination advance equality and foster good relations between lesbian, gay and
transsexual pupils and those who do not share those protected characteristics. Schools are required to publish information to demonstrate compliance with this aspect of the equality duty’.
As an Academy we must be aware that we do not promote one life style choice over another and that our own personal views are not brought into the Academy on this matter and that we ensure we are eliminating discrimination and promoting equality.”

(emphasis mine) It is clearly a well meaning policy but presenting gender identity/ sexual orientation as a lifestyle choice indicates a basic failure to understand the issues they are dealing with. A shame as I’m sure they have good intentions- they just need more help in meeting the needs of their LGBT students.

*I am not naming the school or linking to it here as I have no interest in scapegoating a particular school, that is unfair – this indicates a wider problem of schools just not knowing how to draw up inclusive policies. I used to work as a Local Authority Lead for SRE- we would support schools on policy development- now more and more schools are academies they don’t have access to the expertise they vitally need.

Over 100 school policies identified that mention something on “not promoting sexual orientation”, many also include “that would be inappropriate teaching.”


I just did this google search (more info on this non-systematic search strategy can be found here), in the first 32 pages I identified OVER 100 school policies that include words to the effect of the DfE 2000 Guidance which states several times.

“It is not about the promotion of sexual orientation or

sexual activity – this would be inappropriate teaching.”

I do not have time to go through all 138,000 google hits in that search but I am betting that hundreds and hundreds of schools include versions of this phrase.

After all these school policies are only following the exact wording from the guidance of the department for education.

Can we blame them?

These policies (and the more serious ones where “homosexuality is not allowed to be promoted“), and government guidance have create school cultures where homophobia and transphobia can thrive, and teachers are scared to challenge it lest they be accused of “promotion”.

The DfE are trying to spin it that they meant not promoting one sexual orientation (heterosexuality) over any other. We know they did not. The evidence from this post and this one shows just how little they care about students who are LGBT whatever noises they are currently making in the current media furore.

We cannot let them continue to get away with this. We cannot. I want my children to learn in an environment where they understand that everyone is equal and that differences are to be respected.

To do otherwise fails another generation.

DfE “statement” about teaching about sexual orientation (and gender identity?)


Today I have been looking if there was a specific recent DfE published statement about teaching about sexual orientation (and Gender Identity) that I wasn’t aware of. There isn’t one as far as I can see given that the Safe to Learn Guidance (on Homophobic Bullying and Sexist, Sexual and Transphobic Bullying) were pulled by this government. Sexual Orientation is included in the SRE guidance (but Gender Identity is not) and I have already blogged about the issues with that document, but at least it tries to be inclusive in places (apart from the “it is not about promotion of sexual orientation- that would be inappropriate teaching” caveat) But as far as I can tell there is no further official document since the 2000 document in place. However MP Stephen Williams wrote to DfE back in June on this issue he received this response which he tweeted today.

and given current government comment in this article and this article. I think we know where the government responses will be in coming days and weeks. They will claim they were clear all along (they were/are NOT) and that the individual schools are to blame for these policies when actually it is their systematic failure to include sexual and gender diversity within policies and the curriculum that has left schools in this mess and it is unfair to now pass the buck to the individual schools.

However I am very hopeful this will create the clear motivation and political will to change this for the better and properly include guidance for teachers and schools on how to properly and appropriately support and include students whatever their identity, and overall improve SRE guidance to include issues such as talking about consent and pornography which are current issues for young people completely omitted from this 13 year old document. Of course there is also the possibility things could end up worse, in terms of existing legislation and guidance and we must do everything in our power to stop that from happening.

 

 

 

“Legalisation of homosexuality & abortion” removed from Draft History National Curriculum.


Well well well interesting discoveries going on today.

In Feb 2013 the Draft History Curriculum stated students should learn about:

“society and social reform, including the abolition of capital punishment, the legalisation of abortion and homosexuality, and the Race Relations Act” (Page 171)

But in the current June 2013 draft this had been removed. The Equalities Impact Assessment Statement gave this rationale (page 10):

Whilst we recognise that some of the specific content which we have removed was welcomed by equalities organisations, we believe that strong concerns raised about the over-prescriptive nature of the draft programmes of study mean that this has been a
necessary step in producing a curriculum that can and will be taught. It will remain open to schools to choose which particular individuals they teach pupils about, both as part of delivering the prescribed content of the national curriculum and as part of their wider
school curriculum, and in doing so we expect them to consider the importance of identifying role models from a diverse range of ethnic and other backgrounds”

 

and also states later in the section under science (page 12).

“On same-sex relationships, our view is that it is most appropriate for schools to cover this topic as part of PSHE education, where it can be adapted more effectively to suit the needs of particular groups of pupils.”

 

 

Interesting. So sexual orientation and gender identity are completely erased from the National Curriculum, and gender identity is even erased from the inclusion statement in the latest version & the statement about same sex relationships being best taught in PSHE* is hidden away in the Equality Act Impact Assessment which no teacher will ever read unless they are a dork like me  to find out more details about what they should be teaching.

Today is a sad day. Uncovering just how far institutional heternormativity pervades government institutions. On the plus side it’s worth a paragraph or two in the masters! 

 

 

 

(*In terms of PSHE it is not part of the National Curriculum and so DfE have not produced a programme of study but the PSHE Association have just launched a pretty good and inclusive one – I should know I consulted on aspects of it!)

“Promotion of Homosexuality” vs. “Promotion of Sexual Orientation” – Section 28 actually never went away


People keep on saying “reintroduction of Section 28” about the policies within this post however what they don’t realise is that it actually sort of never went away.

Teachers and schools (including academies) STILL have to pay due regard to the SRE (2000) guidance. This was announced in March 2013 that we would be getting no new SRE guidance. 

THIS DOCUMENT STATES THREE TIMES THAT “There should be no promotion of sexual orientation this is inappropriate teaching” 

So don’t necessarily blame the individual schools for developing homophobic policies when the document we have to build our school policies from is possibly homophobic, inappropriate and completely out of date and out of touch. (and possibly contravenes the Equalities Act?).  Further investigation has revealed some of the policies now being in process of being updated (in response to backlash?) however further googling found another 5 schools and counting with problematic policies and although it seems it is partly as a result of sharing some very out of date academies documentation, some policies will have been adopted unquestioningly because of the SRE Guidance and maybe Section 28 of the model funding agreement for Academies and free schools?

Schools that have policies that state about the non-promotion of homosexuality should be challenged- but where do we stand on schools that state “promotion of sexual orientation”? After all they are only following the SRE 2000 Guidance.

To me promotion of  “sexual orientation” could be interpreted as not promoting one sexual orientation above the other. So schools might have meant they were considering the issue of heterosexual hegemony right?