“It’ll be okay,” Blake said to himself, “It’s 2010, nobody will have a problem with it.” As he walked through the doors of his high school, there was a sense of belonging and that truly everything would be okay. Halfway through the day, Blake had already met a handful of nice people and decided to sit with them at lunch–this is when things took a turn for the worst. Towards the end of lunch, he told one of his new friends he was gay. Instantly, his new friends face went stark with disgust. Shortly after a group of football players walked towards the table they were sitting at and began harassing Blake until the bell rang. This is the world that gay and lesbian youth are being exposed to on an almost daily basis.
There are more homosexual people in the United States than there are Asians; with those estimates you would believe that there would be more acceptance and understanding amongst society towards homosexuals. The only way to combat these vicious attacks on GLBT youth is to educate their peers as well as counselors and teachers. Given that more and more adolescents who are gay or lesbian are now “coming out” and identifying their sexual orientation, disregarding that American society continues to exhibit bias and even hostility toward gays and lesbians, counselors working with this population must take a proactive role in providing much needed support (Callahan, 2001). Gay and lesbian youth, according to Callahan (2001), are at greater risk for school failure and suicide. They are often harassed and need counselors who will understand while working with them without passing judgment. Court cases demonstrate the liability of schools that fail to protect gay and lesbian students from harassment.
Counselors, because of their position as student advocates, must take the lead role in identifying any and all incidents of violence, abuse, or harassment directed toward gay and lesbian students. Counselors must also help to sensitize faculty and staff to issues impacting upon gay and lesbian students while simultaneously educating heterosexual students as well. Counselors are key actors in identifying the type of resources and curricular materials that should be included in school programs to help reduce homophobia, discrimination, bias and prejudice directed at gay and lesbian students. Garbo (2001) reported on the results of a Massachusetts Department of Health study which revealed that gay and lesbian high school students, compared to their heterosexual classmates, were four times as likely to attempt suicide. In a survey of 4,000 high school students in Massachusetts, the investigators found that lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth are not predisposed to suicide and are no more mentally unstable than other students. However, because students in this minority population tend to be susceptible to all types of victimization by their peers, suicidal ideation and attempts may be more commonplace than is the norm among adolescents.
Anti-gay politicians and parents do not see a benefit of adequately creating informative programs for school officials dealing with homosexuality. They believe acknowledging homosexuality in such a way would further send the message that being gay or lesbian is okay. In their eyes, homosexuality is a choice and should not be accepted amongst society as a “social norm”. Conservative State Rep. Sally Kern was quoted saying at a Republican organization, “studies show no society that has totally embraced homosexuality has lasted more than a few decades.” This coincides with the logic that teaching in schools that homosexuality is okay at an early age will destroy our society from within itself. When looked through their perspective, without delving research it would seem that acknowledging homosexuals in the sense of legal rights and protection would promote more people to be homosexual. But that is not the case.
During my interview with a Graduate social worker, he shed light on what is currently being implemented into schools and his thoughts on how things should be handled. He currently provides therapy services at schools in rural communities and volunteers at his local LGBT organization:
This is my interview with Mr. Johnson,
Myself: “What is your viewpoint on harassment against homosexuality? Do you think that it is a notable issue worth spending time and money on?”
Mr. Johnson: “My view on harassment on homosexuality… well, it’s not just harassment against homosexuality. It’s against even perceived characteristics of a sexual minority… anything that varies from the most stereotypical gender norms.”
Mr. Johnson:”‘Gay’ and ‘faggot’ have become terms that get thrown around now in judgment of any less manly qualities.”
Mr. Johnson: “So is it a notable issue worth spending time on? I say yes. Time and money. Both by way of having competent training for teachers and administration, competent counseling staff, and local community-based resources for LGBT youth to have social and emotional support.”
Myself: “At what age do you feel it important to implement these strategies?”
Mr. Johnson: “I volunteer with a local LGBT center and they have started to implement training in some of the local schools as early as Kindergarten, however there’s been a lot of controversy with this training as they don’t specifically talk about LGBT issues or terms (its focused on empathy skills). Developmentally, their sexual development isn’t quite present enough to be effective at Kindergarten. Perhaps by 5th grade, concurrent with when some schools implement initial classes in sex ed., there should be general implementation of targeted curriculum on issues related to sexuality and gender identity.”
Myself: “What are your feelings on persons who believe that informing youth of homosexuality or letting it become social norm will inevitably lead to more homosexuals?”
Mr. Johnson: “Ha. This is hard. The issue is so engrained in the socio-political context that we have surrounding legislation, public education, and the supposed separation of church and state. I can get tied up in jargon all I want to, but sticking our tongues out and saying the opposite doesn’t further the process.”
Mr. Johnson: “I would go to the studies that demonstrate the development of sexuality and parenting (that obviously many homosexuals come from “straight” parents devoid of homosexual influence), studies regarding increased rates of depression, marital issues, and divorce for males who come out later in life….”
Myself: ” Do you think federal government should be involved in these improvements or local?”
Mr. Johnson: “It’s my perspective that the multiple levels of government must work to protect students. Looking at the SNDA (Student Non Discrimination Act) which currently does not protect LGBT students in their protected classes… is a clear sign that the values of the country are not inherently separate from the religious values of the majority. What argument against homosexuality is there if not based on religious beliefs. That said, there should be no opposition to the SNDA expanding to include issues of gender and sexual orientation in its protection.”
After the interview concluded, I walked away with more knowledge than I would have expected to learn on the subject. Several studies in the literature focus on counselors’ responsibilities with respect to gay and lesbian high school students. Callahan (2001), for example, recommends that a key action which must be taken by school counselors is to curb any harassment directed against gay and lesbian students. Strategies for doing this include; using inclusive language, challenging anti-gay slurs, designating persons who would be supportive of this population, making resources available and visible, educating staff members, making appropriate referrals, and referring parents of gay and lesbian students to organizations like Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG). Callahan (2001), along with Stone (2003), assert that the role of the counselor with gay and lesbian students is of enormous significance. This would make sense being that children always need an adult to look up to or relate to during their adolescent years. Also noting that counselors must be educated about homosexuality to the Nth degree. Callahan (2001) claims that counselors must function as advocates who work on school curricula. Including information about gay and lesbian people to promote awareness is essential. This helps to provide gay and lesbian students with role models and to demonstrate to the mainstream population that gays and lesbians lead viable and productive lives. Counselors must support and protect sexual minority youth by making it safe for gay and lesbian students, promoting policies that protect this minority population, and develop the culturally sensitive skills needed to serve gay and lesbian students in the counseling relationship.
Legal support for advocacy on behalf of gay, lesbian, and bisexual students was mandated in a May 1999 Supreme Court ruling. This ruling, coupled with recent interpretations of the Title IX statute, strengthens the position for a more humanistic school environment. School counselors both can and should take a lead role in facilitating such an environment. The Arlington Gay and Lesbian Alliance (2003), a Virginia-based advocacy group working with local public schools, strongly recommends that school counselors should be provided with additional training and education so they can become more effective in working with students from sexual minority groups. This is also the position taken by Pearson (2003) who calls for targeted seminars and courses for graduate level counseling students who intend to have careers in the public school system. In Massachusetts, the Department of Education has created a Safe Schools Program which addresses issues relevant to the safety and counseling needs of gay and lesbian students (Research notes, 2003). Counselors in this program take a lead role in developing school and district-wide programs to educate faculty and students and to provide for those policies and programs that support gay and lesbian students while creating safe school environments.
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