Note: This guide was updated in July of 1997. If you need to access the old version, click here.
NEW! RI Board of Regents Policy on Discrimination Based on Sexual Orientation
How to use this book
Why Should You Care
What You Can Do
Homophobia interferes with the health development of all young people, particularly those who are dealing with issues of sexual orientation. One of the many places gay and lesbian youth feel the effects of homophobia is within their schools. This booklet is designed to not only give school staff many valuable resources, but also to provide practical suggestions for helping to reduce homophobia within our schools, The ultimate goal is to ensure the safety of all students. This booklet was developed by Youth Pride, Inc.
Youth Pride, Inc. (YPI) is a non-profit organization serving youth and young adults affected by issues of sexual orientation and gender. Some of the many services provided by YPI include: the drop-in center, The Way Out support group, counseling, social activities, victim assistance advocacy, resource and referral YPI is committed to building a strong community of young people and supporters in order to establish a positive voice for sexual minority youth in Rhode Island. YPI is located at 134 George M. Cohan Blvd., Providence, RI and the number is 401-421-5626. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network (GLSEN)provided assistance for this project. GLSEN brings together gay and straight teachers, parents and concerned community members to work to create schools where respect for all is taught. GLSEN can be reached in Rhode Island by calling Tracey Haswell at 401-943-9263 (or email email@example.com) or nationally by calling 212-727-0135 (or email firstname.lastname@example.org).
Recently, with the establishment of the Rhode Island Task Force on Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgendered Youth, a report was written which identifies the problems facing these youth and the recommendations for improving the conditions for gay and lesbian youth in schools. A copy of the report can be attained through the Department of Education. Please call Jackie Harrington at 401-277-4600, ext. 2369.
This project was made possible by the generous support of Julie Pell and Julie Smith. Youth Pride sincerely appreciates their contribution.
Youth Pride would also like to acknowledge the work of Jennifer Meade on coordinating this project with the youth and volunteers. If you would like a free copy of this booklet, contact Youth Pride.
If you're a teacher...
Not only will you find this entire book helpful in creating a safe environment., we included valuable exercises you may choose to use in your classroom. These are in the section titled "What can you do." If, after you read through the exercises, you have further questions about how to do them, please call YPI.
If you're a school administrator...
As you work to create safer spaces within your school for lesbians, gay and bisexual students to learn, you may find the part of the book which lists ten steps to starting a gay/straight alliance particularly helpful. You may also want to take a look at the sample policy and the SAFE ZONE campaign which are found in the Appendix. Please call YPI if you have any questions.
If you're a student...
If the information in this resource booklet brings up issues and concerns and there is not a supportive teacher you know of in your school with whom you feel safe, call YPI. Also, call YPI if you are interested in establishing a SAFE ZONE in your school. We can provide confidential assistance.
If you're a parent...
As you work with school staff to create an environment which provides safety for all students, you may find it particularly helpful to look at the ten steps to starting a Gay/Straight Alliance found in the section titled "What you can do". You may also want to took at some of the resources found in the Appendix.
Why should you care
The issue of sexual orientation is one of personal importance to a great number of children. Researchers and social scientists suggest that 1 to 3 of every 10 students is either gay or lesbian, or has an immediate family member who is. Thus, between 3 and 9 kids in every class of 30 has had some direct experience with the issues of homosexuality and homophobia.
Schools have an obligation to support and enhance the self-esteem of all students regardless of their sexual orientation. They are also a logical place to provide accurate information. This section reports some of the many effects of homophobia on students in educational environments.
Perhaps the most compelling reason for schools to address sexual orientation straightforwardly is that young people are asking. Silence on these issues communicates values just as loudly as responding would. The values that should be taught are ones that encompass respect for one another and caring about one another's feelings, regardless of differences.
("Why should the public schools teach about sexual orientation?
" by Beth Reis, 1989, as presented to the annual meeting of the Association
for Sexuality Education and Training.)
"People kept coming up to me and making fun of me, they would call me horrible names and I would cry all the time. Letters were put in my locker saying things about AIDS and how my parents shouldn't have had me and how I should just die. Kids would threaten me after school and follow me home yelling things at me. No one should have to go through what I went through in school."
"There was no one in my school for me to talk about my issues. I felt completely alone and unsupported. I had nowhere to unload the burden I was feeling unless I ended it."
"I dropped out of school at 17, after being at different schools in Providence. I am gay, and was made fun of so much that I got sick of being in school. I couldn't stand worrying about what was going to happen to me each day when I got there, so I stopped going. I was beaten up all during my time in school, and the fights and threats started when I was pretty young. As I said, I did try different schools including a private one one. The last one was pretty good, but by then I was so fed up that I had lost any interest in school."
"When I would go to lunch I would havetosit through 45 minutes of gay jokes and 'Oh my God, how could someone possibly be gay?!' A lot of the time I ate in the classroom by myself because I just couldn't stand it anymore."
"I don't feel safe from abuse at my high school. I am relentlessly persecuted for being gay. By the time I was in ninth grade, listening without responding to others bashing homosexuals was more painful than the harassment I deal with now. Up to now, a person has masturbated in front of me while I was in the school lavatory, I have had cigarettes thrown at me, students have driven their car within a foot of me to drive me off the road while I was walking, and people call me vulgar names almost daily. What I am describing now is not simple child's play and name calling. It is very specific harassment that threatens my safety at school."
"It was really hard to go to school and to concentrate on my work. I went from an 'A/B' student to barely passing. It was hard to go to school because it seemed like nobody cared."
Gay and Lesbian students often feel invisible in their schools. Their invisibility is typically reinforced by heterosexism in their environment, which causes gay and lesbian young people to feel invisible, unsupported and isolated. The following statistics vividly illustrate some of the reasons educators should be concerned about the experiences gay and lesbian young people have while in school.
A 1989 study by the US Department of Health and Human Services showed gay and lesbian youth are two to three times more likely to attempt suicide than heterosexual young people. 30% of the completed youth suicides are committed by lesbian and gay youth annually and suicide is their leading cause of death.
28% of gay and lesbian high school students in a national study were seen to have dropped out of school because of harassment resulting from their sexual orientation. (Remafedi, G., Pediatrics, 326-330. 1987)
80% of lesbian, gay and bisexual youth report severe isolation problems. They experience social isolation, emotional isolation and cognitive isolation. (Hetrick. E.S., Martin. A.D., Journal of Homosexuality 14(1/2). 25-43. 1987)
45% of gay males and 20% of lesbians report having experienced verbal harassment and/or physical violence as a result of their sexual orientation during high school. (National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, "National Anti-Gay/Lesbian Victimization Report", 1984)
26% of gay and lesbian youth are forced to leave home because of conflicts with their families over their sexual identities. (Remafedi. G., Pediatrics, 79, 326-330,1987)
Approximately 20% of all persons with AIDS are 20-29 years old; given the long latency period between infection and the onset of the disease, many were probably infected as teenagers. (Lehman, M., HIV/AIDS Surveillance Report, 5(l), 1993)
97% of students in public high schools report regularly hearing homophobic remarks from their peers. (Making Schools Safe for Gay and Lesbian Youth: Report of Mass. Governor's Commission on Gay and Lesbian Youth, 1993)
53% of students report hearing homophobic comments made by school staff. (Making Schools Safe for Gay and Lesbian Youth: Report of Mass. Governor's Commission on Gay and Lesbian Youth, 1993)
68% of adolescent gay males use alcohol and 44% use other drugs; 83% of lesbians use alcohol and 56% use other drugs. (Hunter. J. et al. Unpublished research by the Columbia University HIV Center for Clinical and Behavioral Studies, 1992)
In a study of depression and gay youth, researchers found depression strikes homosexual youth four to five times more severely than their non-gay peers. (Hammelman, TL, 1990)
Fact Sheet compiled by GLSEN, New York, NY and Youth Pride, Inc., Providence, RI
What you can do
Many people sincerely want to have a safer environment for gay and lesbian young people, but they don't know what can be done to create that environment. This section provides a list of ten suggestions for reducing homophobia, a few easy exercises which can be done in the classroom setting, and, finally, ten easy steps for students to begin a Gay/Straight Alliance.
"I think it is important for teachers to realize the harassment that happens every day at high school. When I told one of my teachers who knew I was gay why I was leaving, he felt embarrassed and naive, as well as shocked and appalled, because he never knew that I suffered such levels of harassment."
"In Massachusetts, there are laws to project gay and lesbian students. Since the laws have been put into effect, things have changed. The school is not perfect, I still get harassed, but things are changing. Two months ago I would have never thought my school would have a GSA, or that I would even be here. Without the laws, there would be no protection of gay and lesbian students."
"Most of the students in the gay straight alliance identify as straight, but it's nice to know that they support me. I'm not scared being 'out' because they would defend me."
"We need a law so we can say something to our teachers if they don't stop the harassment. We need to point to it and say, look, this is serious."
"I don't know if you can really understand how I feel, but if you can, I hope you can change things so it is easier for people like me. Maybe professionals could talk to our teachers and kids to make them less homophobic, maybe then they would know I can't help how I am."
Quotes are taken from the report of the Rhode Island Task Force on Gay and Lesbian Youth
Ten suggestions for reducing homophobia in your environment
1. Make no assumption about sexuality. If a student has not used a pronoun when discussing a relationship, don't assume one. Use neutral language such as "Are you seeing anyone" instead of "Do you have a boyfriend". Additionally, do not assume that a female student who confides a "crush" on another girl is a lesbian. Labels are often too scary and sometimes not accurate. Let students label themselves.
2. Have something gay-related visible in your office. A sticker, a poster, a flyer, a brochure, a book, a button... This will identify you as a safe person to talk to and will hopefully allow a gay, lesbian, bisexual or questioning youth to break his/her silence. SAFE ZONE campaign stickers and resources can provide this visibility.
3. Support, normalize and validate students' feelings about their sexuality. Let them know that you are there for them. If you cannot be supportive, please refer to someone who can be. Then work on your own biases by reading, learning and talking to people comfortable with this issue. And always remember, the problem is homophobia not homosexuality.
4. Do not advise youth to come out to parents, family and friends as they need to come out at their own safe pace. Studies show as many as 26% of gay youth are forced to leave their home after they tell their parents. IT IS THEIR DECISION and they have to live with the consequences. Help them figure out what makes sense for them.
5. Guarantee confidentiality with students. Students need to know their privacy will be respected or they will not be honest about this important issue. If you cannot maintain confidentiality for legal reasons, let students know this in advance.
6. Challenge homophobia. As a role model for your students, respond to homophobia immediately and sincerely. Encourage in-service trainings for staff and students on homophobia and its impact on gay and lesbian youth.
7. Combat heterosexism in your classroom. Include visibly gay and lesbian role models in your classroom.
8. Learn about and refer to community organizations. Familiarize yourself with resources and call them before you refer to make sure they are ongoing. Also, become aware of gay-themed bibliographies and refer to gay-positive books.
9. Encourage school administrators to adopt and enforce anti-discrimination policies for their schools or school systems which include sexual orientation. The language should be included in all written materials next to race, sex, religion, etc.
10. Provide role models. Gay and straight students benefit from having openly gay teachers, coaches and administration. Straight students are given an alternative to the inaccurate stereotypes they have received and gay students are provided with the opportunity to see healthy gay adults. You, as teachers, can help by making gay and lesbian students feel more welcome.
Suggestions compiled by Youth Pride, Inc.
The Truth about Sexual Orientation
Compiled by Youth Pride, Inc. with the help of The Campaign to End Homophobia.
CALLING IN THE CLASSROOM
WE CAN DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT
Every day we hear name calling echoing down the corridors of our schools and explode in our classrooms. We certainly can sense the pain and humiliation of the young people, and sometimes we can see their anger.
Insults take many forms; they all hurt. Racial, ethnic and sexual slurs are particularly abusive. Whereas most of us would not allow a racist slur to occur unchecked, we do not always accord the same standards to those remarks made at the expense of lesbian and gay people. Sometimes such slurs don't even get recognized as being hurtful and may be considered socially acceptable. Many young people use terms such as "lezzie", "faggot" or "queer" when referring to gay and lesbian people or to people who they don't like or respect. This behavior attacks the self-esteem of lesbian and gay youth and teaches all young people that hatred of homosexuals is condoned by our society.
As educators, it falls on you to create a cooperative learning environment where all students are safe to express themselves in all their diversity. It is also the responsibility of educators to teach students that diversity is something to be celebrated rather than ridiculed.
Below is a simple exercise for establishing an inclusive classroom.
1. Have students brainstorm names they have heard people call others.
2. Write all of these words on the board.
3. Assign categories: racial, ethnic, sexual or religious bias.
4. Discuss them.
5. Make students aware that all name calling involves prejudice and disempowerment and is harmful to the person being oppressed.
*State that none of the listed names is acceptable in your classroom.
*Make it clear that you will not tolerate any form of name calling.
*Help class participants to establish classroom rules and to brainstorm/agree upon the social consequences of breaking this rule.
*You can control behavior in your classroom. If you react immediately to any transgressions, students will feel safe in the classroom.
Uribe, Virginia, Fairfax High School, Los Angeles Unified School District, founder and director of PROJECT 10
IDENTIFYING DIVERSE HISTORICAL PEOPLE...
It is important that young people learn of different historical people with diverse backgrounds. This exercise gives young people an opportunity to actively participate in an activity which involves writing down names of famous people. Gay and lesbian people can be naturally included as one diverse topic.
Place blank poster boards around the room with titles such as Jewish American, African-American, Gays and Lesbians, Native American, Hispanic...
Provide a marker next to each poster board.
Have students walk around the room and write names of famous people under the particular subtopics.
When they are done, include a time to discuss the people on the posters.
Look also at the context of the responses to this exercise. For example, are there less people identified on one or two posters? What associations (positive or negative) do students have with the named people? How many students knew more about one category of people than another? What do the students think about homophobia or invisibility after having done this exercise?
If you are at a loss for famous gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people, here are a few names to get you started:
Melissa Etheridge, k. d. lang, Greg Louganis, Oscar Wilde, Audre Lorde, James Baldwin, Martina Navratilova, Pete Townshend, Michelangelo, Truman Capote, John Maynard Keynes, Barney Frank, Leonardo daVinci, Rita Mae Brown, Elton John, Ellen DeGeneres, Adrienne Rich, Tchaikovsky, RuPaul, Gore Vidal, Sandra Bernhard, George Gershwin, Tennessee Williams, Virginia Woolf, Frieda Kahlo, David Geffen
This timeline activity is to help students understand concepts of the development of sexual orientation. Student responses should be kept confidential. The purpose of this activity is to think about how and when sexual orientation develops. Sexual orientation is something that is NOT CHOSEN. Homosexuality, however, is often viewed as chosen and something that can be changed. Review the concepts for this activity and explain that lesbian and gay people struggle with "coming out" to friends and family. Cultural and societal factors may cause lesbian and gay people to self-identify at a much older age. This activity encourages discussion about when sexuality is formed. Explain to students that heterosexuality is assumed until expressed otherwise.
A special thanks to Denise Johnson, Barrington High School, for providing this exercise.
Count Your Losses
Although gay, lesbian and bisexual young people have different coming-out experiences, many go through losses described in this exercise. Questions to guide your discussion: How did it feel to do this exercise? How did it feel to lose the things you did? Were some things more difficult to lose than others?
In order to illustrate the point of this exercise, read to the students the following storyline or a variation, if you would prefer.
You are at your locker and your best friend comes up to you and confronts you with the rumors that you are gay. You feel uncomfortable, but you don't want to lie so you tell your best friend that the rumors are true. Your best friend tells you that he or she doesn't want to hang out with you anymore. He or she tells everybody at school that you are gay. Nobody at school wants anything to do with you.
At this point you have just lost your best friend. Please rip off your best friend from the list and crumple up the paper.
You decide to go to your favorite hangout spot and you find all your friends. They tell you that you are no longer welcome to hang out there, and you need to leave.
At this point you have just lost your favorite hangout spot. Please rip off and crumple up the paper.
You go home very upset and your favorite family member is there. You tell your favorite family member why you are upset, while coming out to him or her. When your closest family member has heard you, he or she tells you that he/she wants nothing to do with you and that you are crazy. S/he then tells your entire family about you being gay. Your parents tell you that you must move out.
At this point you have lost your closest family member, and you've lost a place to live. Please rip off and crumple up the paper.
As you are moving out of the house, you realize you can't take your most favorite possession with you as you don't even know where you are going.
At this point you have just lost your favorite possession. Please rip off and crumple up the paper.
You are now realizing that your dreams are being destroyed. Since you have no money or financial support, you now know that you won't be able to attend the school that you've always dreamed of attending.
You have just lost all of your hopes and dreams for the future. Please rip off and crumple up the paper.
This is an exercise which both young people and adults typically enjoy. It is a great way to have young people in your classes potentially experience what it is like to be in a minority group. When finished with this exercise and class discussion, explain to the students that being the bird or the cat can be somewhat representative of being a gay, lesbian or bisexual student. They sometimes are tempted to join the majority in order to feel less along (isolated) and more accepted.
The purpose of this exercise is to allow students an opportunity, in a nonjudgmental atmosphere, to look at their own values. This exercise should generate discussion about why students think the way they do about sexual orientation and gender.
Below is a list of value statements. You can change them around for the sake of this exercise.
to start a Gay/Straight Alliance in 10 easy steps
1. Follow Guidelines. Establish a Gay/Straight Alliance in the same way as you would establish any other group or club at your school. In your student handbook, there should be a section detailing the procedure for forming a club or group. Follow those guidelines. You may need to get written permission from an administrator. Or it may mean that you simply have to put up flyers announcing the first meeting and find a faculty member to act as your group advisor. Schools sometimes have rules about where and when you can post flyers, make announcements or set up information tables. Learn what the policy is at your school.
2. Enlist the support of your administration. It is important to inform the school administration about your plans to establish a Gay/Straight Alliance. Having an administrator on your side can be very useful. They can help you to arrange Days of Awareness, speakers for school assemblies, teacher trainings and other events. They can work as liaisons to the community and school committee.
3. Find a faculty advisor. Some Gay/Straight Alliances have advisors who are teachers, others have faculty advisors who are guidance counselors, nurses or librarians. Just like student members of a group, the faculty advisors don't have to be gay identified to be part of the group. Many existing groups have straight allies as advisors. How do you pick a faculty advisor? Ask a teacher or staff member whom you think would be receptive.
4. Inform Guidance Counselors and School Social Workers about the group. Guidance staff may know students that you don't know who would be interested in attending meetings. They may be able to encourage students who are dealing with these issues to attend the group, whether they are questioning their own sexuality, know someone who is gay or lesbian, or are interested in issues affecting gays and lesbians. It can be useful to invite social workers and guidance counselors to come to meetings to help facilitate discussions about difficult issues like "talking to your parents about homosexuality," "coming out to friends and family" or "supporting a friend or relative who is gay." The meetings may also bring up issues that students will want to discuss in greater detail with a supportive adult.
5. Pick a Meeting Place. If possible, find a classroom spot in your school that is off the beaten track. At first, students may feet a little nervous or uncomfortable about attending a meeting. They may feet worried that others will harass them or make assumptions about their sexual orientation if they join the group. Try to find a meeting spot that gives members a sense of security and privacy.
6. Advertise. Advertising the formation of the group is one of the first important steps you can take to fight discrimination in your school. For some students, seeing Gay or Lesbian on a poster can be the first time they feel that there are other people like them in their world. The posters can also spark discussions. Traditionally, there has been silence around issues of sexual orientation. The posters can be a reason for people bring up their own feelings, questions or thoughts about homosexuality. Of course, not all these feelings will be positive and supportive. However, breaking the silence is an important first step. Don't be discouraged if the posters are torn town or are defaced. Keep putting them back up. Include in the poster: meeting time and place, describe what the group does, highlight that everyone is welcome and keep the posters positive.
7. Get snacks. Providing food at your meeting is a great idea. Food gives people something to do with their hands. It is a good icebreaker and can give people an excuse come to meetings. Finally food also makes meetings fun.
8. Hold your meeting. Now that you have a faculty advisor, food, a meeting spot and posters advertising your group, you're ready to actually hold the meeting. Some groups begin with a discussion about why they feel having such a group is important.
9. Establish ground rules such as ... no one will make any assumptions about members' sexual orientation, confidentiality will be maintained- names and identities should never be revealed, everyone must respect each other- remember everyone is learning about the issue, and faculty advisors participate on an equal basis with the students--they may encourage discussion or participation, but they are not there to teach or lead the group.
10. Plan for the future. You may want to write an outline of goals that you would like to work towards for the future.
Suggestions for starting a Gay/Straight Alliance are from "Gay/Straight Alliances: A Student Guide" by Warren J. Blumenfeld and Laurie Lindop.
Does It Matter?
My father asked if I am gay
I asked Does it matter?
He said No not really
I said Yes.
He said get out of my life
I guess it mattered.
My boss asked if I am gay
I asked Does it matter?
He said No not really
I told him Yes.
He said you're fired faggot
I guess it mattered.
My friend asked if I am gay
I said Does it matter?
He said No not really
I told him Yes.
He said Don't call me your friend
I guess it mattered
My lover asked Do you love me?
I asked Does it matter?
He said Yes.
I told him I love you
He said Let me hold you in my arms
For the first time in my life something matters.
My God asked me Do you love yourself?
I said Does it matter?
He said YES
I said How can I love myself? I am gay
He said That is the way I made you
Nothing will ever matter again
An Anonymous high school student
RHODE ISLAND ORGANIZATIONS
Rhode Island Gay and Lesbian Help Line
Staffed by volunteers trained to be sympathetic listeners. Provides information and referral on a wide range of gay-related topics. 7-11 p.m. daily.
Rhode lsland's Lesbian and Gay Newsmagazine
P.O. Box 6406
Providence, RI 02904-6406
Produced entirely by volunteers meeting on the first Tuesday of the month (7-9 p.m.) for editorial and business and the last Tuesday of the month (6-8:30 p.m ) for mailing. Mailed free of charge to anyone who requests a subscription.
Youth Pride, Inc.
134 George M. Cohan Blvd.
Providence, RI 02903
Statewide organization providing social services for gay and lesbian youth including support groups, drop-in center, social activities, a leadership council (QUAC) and HIV education. Also provides training and education to the community on issues related to HIV or gay youth and homophobia.
Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG)
National organization of supportive families and friends. Call the Gay/Lesbian hotline (751-3322) for general information and the nearest local chapter. Newport County/Fall River has monthly meeting in evening. Call Barbara (401-624-6944) or Shirley (401-624-8566). Providence chapter meets 4th Sunday, varied locations. Call Myra, (401-751-7571) or email email@example.com
Rhode Island Task Force on Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgendered
Organization developed to ensure the safety of all students regardless of sexual orientation. Call Jackie Harrington at 401-277-4600 ext. 2369
The RI Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Speakers Bureau
Program of the Alliance Education Foundation doing public speaking, training and education on homophobia and related topics.
Call Dana Levitt for information at 401-621-6442
Rhode Island Alliance for
Lesbian and Gay Civil Rights
also: Alliance Education Foundation
P.O. Box 5758
Providence, RI 02903
A statewide nonpartisan organization formed to promote and secure full civil rights for gay men and lesbians. The Alliance Education Foundation works to reduce homophobia in society.
Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network- GLSEN
National organization with RI Chapter for gay, lesbian and straight teachers dedicated to reducing homophobia in education and supporting teachers. Call Tracey Haswell at 401-943-9263 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Lambda Youth Network
P.O. Box 7911
Culver City, CA 90233
Send self-addressed stamped envelope with age and one dollar donation to receive bibliographies, talk line numbers, newsletters, pen pals.
National Advocacy Coalition on Youth and Sexual Orientation
1711 Connecticut Ave., NW Suite 206
Washington, DC 20009
Addresses public policy issues related to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth through the collaboration of a broad spectrum of national and community-based tolerance.
sexual orientation- A person's emotional, physical, and sexual attraction and the expression of that attraction. Although a subject of debate, sexual orientation is probably one of the many characteristics that people are born with. Most people become aware of their sexual orientation during adolescence.
homosexuality- A sexual orientation in which a person feels physically and emotionally attracted to people of the same gender
heterosexuality- A sexual orientation in which a person feels physically and emotionally attracted to people of the opposite gender.
bisexuality- A sexual orientation In which a person feels physically and emotionally attracted to people of both genders.
transgender identity- The experience of having a gender identity that is different from one's biological sex. A transgender person may identify with the opposite biological gender and want to be a person of that gender.
sexual minority- A person who may identify as homosexual, gay, lesbian, bisexual, transsexual, transgender, or transvestite. All gay and lesbian youth are members of a sexual minority, but not all sexual minority persons are gay.
"coming out"- Also, "coming out of the closet" or "being out", this term refers to the process in which a person acknowledges, accepts, and in many cases appreciates her or his lesbian, gay or bisexual identity. This often involves the sharing of this information with others. The process of coming out to oneself and to others occurs for different young people (and adults) in a variety of places and ways.
homophobia- The fear, dislike, and hatred of same-sex relationships or those who love and are sexually attracted to those of the same sex. Homophobia includes prejudice, discrimination, harassment, and acts of violence brought on by fear and hatred. It occurs in schools on personal, institutional, and societal levels.
internalized homophobia- The fear and self-hate of one's own homosexuality or bisexuality that occurs for many gay and lesbian individuals who have learned negative ideas about homosexuality throughout childhood. Once gay and lesbian youth realize that they belong to a group of people that is often despised and rejected in our society, many internalize and incorporate the stigmatization of homosexuality and fear or hate themselves.
heterosexism- The assumption that all people are or should be heterosexual. Heterosexism excludes the needs, concerns, and life experiences of lesbian, gay and bisexual people while it gives advantages to heterosexual people. It is often a subtle form of oppression which reinforces realities of silence and invisibility for gay and lesbian youth.
invisibility- The constant assumption of heterosexuality renders gay and lesbian people, youth in particular, invisible and seemingly nonexistent. Gay and lesbian people and youth are usually not seen or portrayed in society, and especially not in schools and classrooms.
Compiled with the help of the following resources: "Assessment of Services for Sexual Minority Clients Provided by a Human Service Agency ", DCYF. 1993, "Definitions", The Medical Foundation, 1993, "Gay and Lesbian Adolescents", Ritch C. Salvin-Williams, 1990, "Lesbian and Gay Adolescents", Dennis A. Anderson. 1994. Note: some definitions taken from Homophobia: How We All Pay the Price by Warren J. Blumenfeld.
Ending Homophobia In Schools
An important step in creating a safe environment for gay, lesbian, and bisexual young people is the implementation of non-discrimination policy guidelines in schools.
In 1987, the Superintendent of Schools for the Cambridge Public Schools in Massachussetts issued a set of anti-harassment guidelines. Eight types of harassment were included, prohibiting discrimination on the basis of race, color, sex, religion, physical ability, national origin, ancestry, and sexual orientation, For a full copy of the anti-harassment guidelines, contact: Superintendent of Public Schools, 159 Thorndike Street, Cambridge, MA 02141.
The following wording can be used as a model for other school systems to protect school employees and students from harassment on the basis of sexual orientation:
Harassment on the basis of an individual's sexual preferences or orientation is prohibited. Words, actions, or other verbal, written, or physical conduct which ridicules, scorns, mocks, intimidates, or otherwise threatens any individual because of his or her sexual orientation/preference constitutes homophobic harassment when it has the purpose of effect of unreasonably interfering with the work performance or creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive environment.
The Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Speaker's Bureau, P. 0. Box 2232, Boston, MA. 02107
Safe Zone Sticker Campaign Explanation
Youth Pride, Inc., in conjunction with the organizations listed below, has begun a campaign to increase safety in Rhode Island schools. Given the current situation for gay and lesbian youth, a SAFE ZONE campaign is underway to begin to create a more positive environment in our high schools. Stickers will be distributed for high school personnel to display in their classrooms or offices to show empathy for gay and lesbian young people and the need for tolerance in their school. These stickers say "SAFE ZONE"on them and have a pink and black triangle. Their purpose is to identify supportive adults in the school environment with whom students can discuss issues related to their sexuality and safety. All personnel who receive a sticker will also receive a packet of information with resources, referrals, and information on safety for gay and lesbian youth.
Safe Zone resource packets can be obtained by calling Youth Pride, Inc. and will be distributed free of charge.
The following organizations and institutions are in support of this campaign: Youth Pride, Inc., The Alliance for Lesbian and Gay Civil Rights, Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, Straight But Not Narrow, National Association of Social Workers, Ocean State Action, RIEAP- Student Assistance Program, The RI Human Rights Commission, The Samaritans, Sarah Doyle Women's Center at Brown University, The Open and Affirming Task Force of the United Churches of Christ, University of Rhode Island's Gay, Lesbian, & Bisexual Association.
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