Sunday, November 3, 2013

See no Evil, Hear no Evil, Speak no Evil: A Response to Safe Spaces

The title of this post, See no Evil, Hear no Evil, Speak no evil, addresses the much too familiar status quo regarding sexual orientation in the classroom, and in our society as a whole. This "don't ask, don't tell" mentality continues to fog up and pervade the daily lives of most heterosexual individuals and traditional families today. As part of our (heterosexual individuals) privilege within the culture of power, we don't have to think about or be conscious of LGBTQ issues on a daily basis. Often we go about our daily lives and routines without giving the words "gay" or "lesbian" a second thought. Its a "political" topic of controversy, often placed on the back burner of minds. We get soundbites from the media about foolish politicians rallying against gay rights. We hear our friends or family members use the word "gay" to describe something that's not OK. Many Americans remain "open minded" and think that gay marriage should be legalized across the United States. But do we really think about our day to day actions, and conversations and the message that we send about sexual orientation through these interactions? Authors Annemarie Vaccaro, Gerri August, and Megan S. Kennedy would argue that we should all take a step back and reexamine our daily lives and interactions to find blind spots where we may unintentionally be marginalizing those who identify as LGBTQ individuals.

In their book, Safe Spaces, Vaccaro, August, and  Kennedy write about why we all (adults, teachers, parents, children...) need to start to wake up and take an activist approach within an invisible civil rights movement that is happening as we speak. The authors don't ask their readers to make protest signs, or design entire units just for those who are gay, but they do encourage readers to think about ways, particularly in the classroom setting, that we can create safer, more accepting and open environments for gay students to be welcomed into. According to the authors, often those who are doing the marginalizing aren't aware of the fact that they are the marginalizers. To marginalize literally means to push someone or something outside of the main story. When writing a story, or when writing the history of a given era, for example, those "things" that aren't considered as important or were afterthoughts, end up outside of the text in the margins. In this case, the "things" are living breathing people who have not been given a voice. When a teacher neglects to include books or resources which incorporate the stories of LGBTQ individuals, they are the marginalizer. When a teacher forces students to identify as either "boy" or "girl" without room for those in between, they are the marginalizer. When a teacher looks the other way, or joins in as a boy is scoffed at for wearing a skirt or dress, they the marginilizer.

Vaccaro, August, and Kennedy ask a number of very important and critical questions in this piece. They also offer great practical, "do now" advice for teachers. As I was reading this article, the piece about silence really clicked for me. In my school the topic of sexual orientation is swept completely under the rug. Even the teachers are hesitant to talk about this topic amongst each other. We have a couple of "suspected" gay teachers in the building. I've hear teachers say about students, "I think so and so is going to be gay when he grows up." It's amazing how hushed this particular topic is within schools. I hesitate to even call it a "topic," because these are people we are talking about. Last year there was a girl who the students targeted for possibly being a lesbian. There were rumors about her and another girl possibly "liking" each other. The rumors and ostracization got so bad that the entire seventh grade were brought to the library to meet with the school psychologist. The psychologist spoke in a very broad way, not naming names, and not using words like gay or lesbian. She spoke so broadly about the topic that I'm not even sure the students knew what she was talking about. This was something the teachers were not supposed to discuss in class. Reflecting on the "handing" of this situation, I realize that it was such a ridiculous way to approach the topic, that I'm wondering what a better path would have been. I wonder how the students felt. I wonder why we as a school have not reevaluated or readdressed the ways in which we should go about creating a safer environment for gay students.

As I was reading this piece, I was reminded of a documentary called "Bully" that was made about a year ago. The video follows a few students from all over the country that are the victims of bullying. These kids have very intentionally been targeted, a couple of them for being gay. This is different from the discrete, quieter form of marginalization practiced within the classroom, but is still a very real and loud piece of the exclusionary puzzle. I watched "Bully" a few weeks ago and thought about trying to find a way to bring it into the school, or into my classroom. I wanted to show it in October, because October is bullying awareness month. October has since come and gone, and I failed to follow through. After reading and reflecting on Safe Spaces, I think I will need to return to trying to find a way to share and reflect on this video with students. It would make a good starting point.

Here's the trailer for "Bully":



  1. Brittany, your synthesis of the article with your own experiences at your school was a powerful reminder of how much more work our society has in order to be inclusive of all members. I am lucky that our school is quite open about sexual orientations; perhaps it is because it's a high school. Junior high or middle school students are at an age where they are asserting their power for self-esteem and many do not realize how this impacts those with marginalized power/self-esteem. I hope your psychologist realizes the missed opportunity she had with the students. Perhaps you can email her the website we looked at this week with a note referencing this class.

  2. Wow, Brittany, so powerful! I am saddened to read about the school psychologist's handling of the bullying situation with the two girls who were suspected to be gay. I remember middle school as a witch hunt, and it seems in some ways like times haven't changed. I'm so impressed with what you're trying to do, and I hope that you do get to bring the documentary "Bully" into the classroom. One of the points that the authors made is that it is like a time of civil rights for gay people. I agree that the topic of sexual orientation is too often swept under the rug, particularly in elementary and middle school. I feel as though I need to work harder at the high school level as well, and I am going to watch that documentary. Thank you!