In Which a Student Schools the Adults on Affirming LGBT Kids

Let’s compare and contrast, shall we?

Item No. 1: A survey of educator political beliefs conducted by the Education Week Research Center includes questions about attitudes toward sexual orientation and gender identity. The results suggest that it’s pot luck whether LGBT students and educators will land in affirming classrooms.

Item No. 2: An opinion piece penned by a Greater Minnesota high school freshman who neatly and persuasively makes the case that anti-bullying policies aren’t likely to work if the demographic groups most likely to be targeted for harassment aren’t specifically named.

“I’ve seen countless anti-bullying campaigns in schools, all featuring the same character,” Grand Rapids student Hannah Erickson writes in a blog post for the education advocacy group EdAllies. “The thin, straight, white student who’s being picked on for no reason. The insults are predictable: ‘You’re a loser!’ ‘Get lost, freak!’”

She goes on to explain why this is problematic. A slice:

“Educators are neglecting to tell us that being bullied for an aspect of our identity, whether it’s race, sexuality, religion, or something else, isn’t our fault. They’re also neglecting to educate us about our privileges, and how treating other students differently because of aspects of their identity is not only hurtful, but may actually violate those students’ civil rights.”

I say we pass a hat to send Erickson on a speaking tour. While she’s visiting schools, she can dispel adult fears that they are being asked to talk to kids about sex.

EdWeek polled on a variety of educator political and social stances, finding that a very narrow majority support allowing students to use the restroom that matches their gender identity, while 49 percent say they should use the one corresponding to the gender they were assigned at birth.

Forty-seven percent were “completely” supportive of LGBT teachers being “out” to their students, with another 8 percent somewhat supportive. Twenty-seven percent said they neither support nor oppose, 8 percent said they are somewhat opposed and 10 percent completely opposed.

“I don’t think our sexuality is any of students’ business,” a New Hampshire reading specialist told the publication. “Straight or gay.”

Which is, of course, the LGBT equivalent of “I don’t see color.” Because dollars to doughnuts that reading specialist isn’t imagining sex when she runs into a family headed by a man and a woman at the Five and Dime.

Erickson is right, too, that a population’s visibility is correlated to an understanding of discrimination and its effects. In 2016, PRRI found that 58 percent of Americans believe gays and lesbians experience “a lot” of discrimination, while 37 percent believe we don’t. Incredibly, 29 percent of those surveyed don’t believe transgender people are discriminated against, vs. 62 percent who say they are.

(More evidence we are a nation in retrograde: 38 percent don’t believe blacks are subject to discrimination and 33 percent don’t think it affects immigrants.)

About that pot luck. We know that excellent guidance from the Minnesota Department of Education notwithstanding, the adult belief-set in a school predicts the likelihood that students will get the affirmation Erickson describes.

Minneapolis Public Schools, for instance, has excellent resources for students and educators alike and few horror stories – involving gender identity and sexual orientation; the black, brown and Native American kids are another story.

By contrast Anoka-Hennepin Public Schools, the state’s second-largest district and the home, not long ago, of a suicide contagion involving bullied kids, is still engulfed in a full-on culture war. School board meetings are still punctuated by calls for bathroom policies that reinforce “biological realities” – a term we’ll take an evidence- and science-based hatchet to another day, so long as speech remains free for non-government employees – and for “pray away the gay” conversion therapy.

I’m beyond positive that if Erickson and her cohorts ran the universe, students would be more than capable of taking care of those adult bullies. Because nothing is more dangerous to bigotry than an individual who embraces their identity and isn’t afraid to make themselves heard, loud and proud.

To wit: “Here’s the good news: Students are smart,” Erickson writes. “We can handle talking about the root causes behind bullying. What we need is for our schools and educators to make space for these honest conversations. No more cheesy videos and posters or calls for inclusivity without talking to students about the larger, societal factors at play. Instead, we need real anti-bullying efforts that don’t just teach us how to speak up more or be nicer in school, but how to understand—and speak out against—discrimination in society, too.”


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