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]

“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.

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.