Questions about teaching LGBT students


This was something I wrote for an a class on multiculturalism on the topic of how to teach LGBT students. The main idea of the article was that teachers should not be neutral in an anti-LGBT environment (such as when an offensive comment is made) and should educate students on the issues. They should intervene when students misbehave, and make sure that everyone in the class understands why the behavior was inappropriate.

The article was more about anecdotal evidence than facts. But three important facts the author used to support the main idea were…

  • A majority of students polled agreed that they frequently heard homophobic comments on school grounds.
  • 90% of students polled agreed that they had heard the word gay used as a pejorative, essentially as a substitute for stupid.
  • There was a spike in bullying related suicides among LGBT youth in fall 2010.

Numerous articles that I’ve read have mentioned bullying of LGBT youth. Classroom lectures discussed changes in attitudes of teachers on this topic, as well as the changes in policy.

I’m curious about the numbers mentioned in the article. Young suggests that up to 1 in 10 students are LGB, but the statistics I’m familiar with place the numbers much lower. The disparity in that information makes the task of teachers more difficult, since we’re supposed to have the answers. It might also result in unrealistic expectations. For example, a well-meaning faculty may be concerned that they’re not doing enough to make the school an accepting place because so few students are openly gay. A piece in The Atlantic a few years ago covered the gap between expectation and reality.

In surveys conducted in 2002 and 2011, pollsters at Gallup found that members of the American public massively overestimated how many people are gay or lesbian. In 2002, a quarter of those surveyed guessed upwards of a quarter of Americans were gay or lesbian (or “homosexual,” the third option given). By 2011, that misperception had only grown, with more than a third of those surveyed now guessing that more than 25 percent of Americans are gay or lesbian. Women and young adults were most likely to provide high estimates, approximating that 30 percent of the population is gay. Overall, “U.S. adults, on average, estimate that 25 percent of Americans are gay or lesbian,” Gallup found. Only 4 percent of all those surveyed in 2011 and about 8 percent of those surveyed in 2002 correctly guessed that fewer than 5 percent of Americans identify as gay or lesbian.

Some of the material in the Annual Editions piece seems a bit subjective. For example, the idea that students must be corrected if they refer to gay individuals as gross may be problematic as gross is a matter of opinion. The ideal lesson might be that it’s okay for others to do things that you consider gross, rather than that it is wrong of the student to have a visceral opposition to something. On the other hand, I can appreciate that these nuances may be lost on many students.

Despite the stated learning objective, the article was short on anything to do with alliance clubs.

A major implication for the classtoom is that homophobic slurs should not be tolerated by teachers. On occasion, it would also be a good idea for literacy teachers (this is the field I’m likely to be in) to have texts dealing with these issues. So this could include literature with LGBT characters, and information texts about notable gay men and women.

About Thomas Mets

I’m a comic book fan, wannabe writer, politics buff and New Yorker. I don’t actually follow baseball. In the Estonian language, “Mets” simply means forest, or lousy sports team. You can email me at
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