Everyone’s passing around that New York Times article about queer youth. It gives a nice reading of the climate for queer youth in schools all over the country. It also has a really cute ending.

But what that strikes me most about the article, the thing that frustrates me so deeply whenever I hear about or witness this kind of activity, is both the local and administrative toleration and support schools give to queer bullying:

“Teachers would never let students say, ‘That’s so black,’ “ says Eileen Ross from the Outlet Program in Mountain View, “but I’ve had teachers look at me like I’m crazy when I suggest that they should say something to a student who says ‘that’s so gay.’ They’ll say, ‘If I have to stop what I’m doing every time a student says that, I won’t have time to teach!”

If you aren’t willing to address this kind of harassment in your school, THEN DON’T BE A TEACHER. There are so many issues in the air with regard to gender and sexuality in schools, and so many of them can be attributed to teachers, administrators and parents turning a blind eye to issues around sexuality.

The instinctual response for many when dealing with youth sexuality is silence; talking about youth sexuality is equated with condoning sexual activity, but obviously this a problematic approach. Setting aside the real fact that children are clearly thinking about their sexuality and becoming sexual beings at a very young age, we have to acknowledge that schools are institutions that live and breathe heterosexuality on a daily basis. Not only are most school curricula indoctrinated by heternormative language and histories, informal schooling administered by school administrators and teachers – athletic offerings, gender segregation, school events (think prom, football games, dances) – routinely and aggressively script behaviors for children about what is acceptable for gender identity, gender roles, and romance (including what kinds of sexual identities are acceptable, how one initiates romantic relationships, how one engages in sexual relationships). If you want a clearer picture of how intensely formative these silent practices can be in schools, read C.J. Pascoe’s Dude, You’re a Fag.

I definitely think that teachers aren’t doing enough to stop queerphobia in schools, but as a grad student at an institution that trains teachers, I also know first hand that these academies dolittle to prepare teachers and staff. So very little. And in the one class I took that focused on gender in schools, I found that some teachers are not only limited in knowledge about gender and queer issues but they are also quite deeply homo- and gender-phobic. I’ve experienced this so much that I wouldn't be surprised if the teachers who are progressive in their approach to dealing with gender and sexuality probably find themselves hard-pressed to actually be effective without getting harped on by other teachers, administrators and parents.

Although most people aren’t outwardly gay-bashing once they’ve become working professionals, their demeanor – the way they describe gay kids in their classes, the way they talk about how they approach issues of gender and sexuality when they come up – reflect that they are a likely source of anxiety for queer youth by condoning such aggression towards queer kids in and outside schools. Sometimes the most frightening and damaging activity in our communities is caused by silence – either the things we are afraid to talk about with our peers and with kids, or things we aren’t even aware that we’re doing that marginalize students. And no, this isn’t just about queer issues. It’s time to advocate for schooling with the intent to welcome difference.

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