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“But no one in the class is gay”:

Countering Invisibility and Creating Allies

Mara Sapon-Shevin

Diana Straut

Syracuse University


One need not look far to find pre-service teachers who proclaim themselves to be advocates of safe schools.  The paradox of this proclamation is that while many will say they want schools to be safe for kids, they will overlook, if not deny, that addressing homophobia is a critical element in making schools safe. The discourse about the Columbine Massacre in Littleton, Colorado is illustrative. Although everyone decries the violence and searches for explanations of why it happened (the media, bad families, the easy availability of weapons), the fact that both boys involved had been gay-bashed in their school is rarely part of the conversation. 


While most teacher education programs address issues of race, gender and class, few have explicit coursework devoted to issues of sexual orientation. Faculty in pre-service teacher education courses, then, must explicitly facilitate and insist upon the integration of GLBT issues in the pre-service teacher curriculum. Those who hope to prepare teachers to create safe, nurturing learning environments in diverse schools can no longer neglect the importance of addressing these issues within all aspects of the teacher education program.


In this chapter, we examine the many barriers to the inclusion of GLBT issues in the pre service teacher curriculum and propose ways in which the curriculum could be expanded to include these (ISSUES?) ways in natural, coherent ways. 

Among the barriers that we examine:


  • Student assumptions:   Students’ willingness to address issues of difference in their pre-services classes is often limited by their assumption that they know their colleagues’ sexual orientation.  They deny the need for sensitive or inclusive language, proclaiming as students in our class have, “but no one in here is gay.”


  • The invisibility of the hegemonic norm: Students often insist that sexuality issues don’t belong in the curriculum, at the same time that they are unaware of the myriad ways they inscribe compulsory heterosexuality in everything they do (including seemingly benign acts such as reading traditional children’s literature or insisting upon Mother’s Day and Father’s Day projects).


  • Doing something ‘different’ feels noticeable and dangerous:  Students are reluctant to “take on” this issue because they themselves are not comfortable with the topic, have never seen it taught at all (or certainly not well), and cannot fathom how one might broach the topic. Bringing up these issues feels like an exceptionally challenging and dangerous risk.

  • Curricular gaps:  There is no explicit place in the pre-service curriculum for the examination of GLBT issues.  Thus, only those faculty committed to raising GLBT issues do so within the context of their existing classes.


The good news is that there are natural places in the pre-service curriculum where we can begin to break down these barriers.  While not easy, it is possible to help future teachers examine issues of sexual diversity, including homophobia in education. The lessons of multicultural education, particularly the marginalization of diversity content in separate course,  can also be instructive to us as we look for ways to integrate these concerns within the general curriculum rather than adding a separate course to an already stretched and fragmented program.

In this chapter we discuss places in the curriculum where faculty can raise challenging issues around sexual orientation. We explore what it ‘looks like’ when GLBT issues become embedded in existing curricula, including courses in Social Studies Methods, Strategies of Teaching and Schooling and Diversity.  The authors currently teach or have taught these courses, and share specific examples of ways in which they have included the topic within the general framework of their classes. In the winter 2000 issue of Democracy in Education, we gave an in-depth example of how we embedded discussion of the tragic death of Matthew Sheppard within our undergraduate pre-service classes.  The proposed chapter will incorporate more examples from our own classes, including a discussion of books, readings, activities, videos and discussion points that can be used to promote the inclusion of GLBT issues in pre-service education. 


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