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Study: Gay Educators Less Likely to Confront Homophobia

by Michael  Cox
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Thursday Aug 1, 2013

A new U.S. study found LGBT educators are less likely to confront homophobia in their schools for fear of drawing attention to themselves and putting their careers at risk.

The study surveyed 350 American educators and found gay teachers were less likely to intercede when they witnessed homophobic bullying than their counterparts, reports Think Progress. Furthermore, they are less likely to confront anti-gay language in the classroom, such as using the word "gay" as a slur.

Dr. Tiffany Wright of Millersville University of Pennsylvania, who conducted the study, related her findings to her own teaching experiences in her research paper.

"We grew up in an era when gay equaled bad," she said. "That's so ingrained in so many people. We've made a lot of progress since then, but the language has just been pervasive."

A number of teachers admitted in the interviews that they did not feel safe enough to come out as gay at school. The study reports that over one-third of the mostly LGBT teachers interviewed said they were worried about losing their jobs if they came out to their colleagues, and almost two-thirds were concerned about their jobs if they came out to their students.

A little more than half said they did not feel comfortable being out when interacting with the students' parents.

Part of this may be because of the example set by their peers.

Two-thirds said that they rarely or never see other teachers intervene when anti-gay remarks are made in the staff room. Fifty-nine percent said that they had heard homophobic comments made by other teachers.

Though this study was conducted in the U.S., these issues are talked about in the United Kingdom as well.

"When a straight person tackles homophobia, the assumption is that they're gay," said Sue Sanders, co-chair of UK-based LGBT teachers' association Schools Out as reported in TES Magazine. "When you're a member of a minority group, you're aware that you're seeing stuff that people who aren't members of that minority group might not see.

"You see it around women challenging sexism or black people challenging racism. There's a fear that people will say that, just because you're lesbian or gay, you think everyone's against you," she continued.

"[But] this is actually where... teachers are missing a trick,"Professor Ian Rivers told the publication. Rivers researches homophobic bullying for Brunel University in London.

"They need stereotypically heterosexual teachers to engage with these issues - show that it's unacceptable for anyone to display any kind of homophobia," he added.

Michael Grove, England's education secretary called out the word "gay" as an insult as being "outrageous and medieval."

Basis for Fear?

In May, an out physical education teacher was fired by officials from Bishop Watterson High School, a Catholic school in Ohio, when she was outed after her partner’s name appeared in her partner’s mother’s obituary and someone complained, reported the Associated Press.

In a similar incident, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that the most popular music teacher at St. Ann Catholic School, Al Fischer, was dismissed from his job after archdiocese officials learned he was planning on marrying his longtime partner.

Another incident occurred in February, when Assistant Principal Mike Moroski was fired by the Archdiocese of Cincinnati Purcell Marian High School Assistant after merely endorsing gay marriage in a personal blog post, reports

Inevitably, these issues will change with the legalization of gay marriage and the recent comments from the pope, but many more questions need to be asked.

Are men less likely to come out than women? Are people in long-term relationships more likely to come out than singles? And are transgender people more likely to confront homophobic language than gay men and women?

Addressing LGBT matters in public schools is an ongoing issue, because it is the strict policy of most schools that teachers may not discuss their personal lives, especially their personal sex lives, and many Americans still believe that saying "I’m gay" crosses that boundary.

Still, teachers’ personal lives are often inhibited by their jobs, regardless of sexuality. As NPR reported, one teacher was fired for a Facebook photo that showed her drinking alcohol.

"It’s a remarkable disconnect, where you have teachers that teach our children civil liberties, but they themselves are denied in exercising the full range of freedoms that adults have," George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley said on the program. "Most of us really believe that once that whistle blows at the end of the day, then, you know, our life is our own, and we can express ourselves and pursue the things that we want to pursue.

"And many of those pursuits really by necessity must be in public," he added. "And then when you have the added layer of the new social media and Web engines, it has turned the lives of teachers into this incredibly transparent existence. And the result is that we have teachers being disciplined for things that most of us would consider completely non-problematic."


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