I researched grassroots organizing on queer issues in schools. LGBT students face a number of challenges in the school setting from bullying and discrimination, to “never [seeing] their identities represented” in the classroom (http://queerclassroom.weebly.com). There are so many different school environments in the United States: some middle and high schools have Gay Straight Alliances, openly gay students, and accepting peers and teachers while others seem to have no supports for their LGBT students. Students who find themselves in these less queer-friendly schools may experience feelings of alienation and turn to social media for support and guidance. Grassroots groups across the country work to make schools safer environments through passing anti-bullying and anti-discrimination laws in their cities and states as well as helping youth form community structures, such as Gay Straight Alliances, to provide support.
What I Learned
Across the country, there is a wide variety of organizing taking place in response to issues facing LGBT-identified people. Many grassroots groups take on a number of issues all at once so it can be difficult to find groups that are dedicated entirely to queer issues in education, although many groups have anti-discrimination and anti-bullying efforts in schools listed as priorities. Queer youth-focused groups that I came across during my research covered a broad array of issues, focusing not only on what goes on at school but also what the student might be going through at home and in other settings. Many groups have different versions of a generic “Safe Schools Campaign” where they involve students, educations, and other community members to push for legislation to protect LGBT students who are often very vulnerable. Although there are some groups that talk about ideas for ways that schools to be more inclusive, through queer-friendly curriculum and the creation of GSAs, there is a greater focus on laws and policies that prevent bullying and LGBT discrimination.
When researching social media related to queer issues in schools, I made the similar observation that most blogs had a broader focus covering queer news, politics, and issues outside of the classroom, mentioning educational issues when they come up in the news. Blogs, twitters, and other social media for queer youth also have a big focus on the young person’s life outside of school and the struggles that come up with being a queer child. Queer youth can use social media to offer one another support dealing with things they may feel they have no one else to talk to or feel unready to open up about anywhere but an anonymous space. There are many different online communities dedicated to sharing personal stories and offering support about issues across the board for queer youth. Many blogs share queer news but a lot of personal blogs focus on the individual experiences of young queer people.
I was able to find some blogs that were more focused that proved to be very compelling, for example “Queer Classroom” (http://queerclassroom.weebly.com) and “Queer Youth Mental Health” (http://queeryouthmentalhealth.wordpress.com). These blogs both had clear focuses, “Queer Classroom” to generate changes in school curriculum to make lessons more queer-inclusive and “Queer Your Mental Health” to give information on news regarding queer youth with a focus on school experience, especially “articles on LGBTQ youth wellness, resiliency, support and hope”.
I read a number of journal articles while doing research that made me think about queer issues in education in new ways. As some of the articles that I chose to include noted, especially “Queer Youth in Heterosexist Schools: Isolation, Prejudice and No Clear Supportive Policy Frameworks” by Olivia Murray, there are many political fights to be had in order for LGBT students to be fully supported in schools. It seems that many organizations feel that their focus should be on combating this institutionalized discrimination against students who do not identify as straight first in order to open up the discussion of making curriculum more queer friendly. Most articles I read brought up Gay Straight Alliances and Kim Hackfod-Peer’s article “In the Name of Safety: Discursive Positionings of Queer Youth” made me think about the different forms Gay Straight Alliances can take and how students are served by them. The GSAs that I am personally familiar with have been mostly support settings and safe spaces while GSAs elsewhere can have a more advocacy based role in the school.
Finally, my research made me think a lot more about the role of the teacher and the choices a teacher must make. It is so easy to take the easy route and ignore this issues, avoiding queer topics in classroom discussions. By making this choice however, teachers miss out on the opportunity to make LGBT identifying students feel validated and the opportunity to make the school a safer environment for those students. If, in the future, there are a greater number of resources to teachers, such as the blogs I mentioned above, or professional development regarding creating safe spaces for queer students, incorporating LGBT issues into the curriculum, and addressing tougher topics in the classroom environment, more teachers would start making the choice to have these conversations and grassroots organizing could play a part in making that happen.