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Talking To Students About Homosexuality

On the surface, discussing sexuality in schools doesn’t seem an entirely natural thing–not in an era of academics, anyway.

From the inception of American public education through the early 1990s, classes on Home Economics, Woodworking, Shop, Automotive Repair, and even Sexual Education were standard fare. (One of these was probably more awkward than the rest.) And while tropes of middle-aged teachers uncomfortably discussing the birds and the bees with a co-ed class of teenagers persists, “real world” content has largely fallen out of favor in many public school systems.

This places teachers–especially middle and high school–in an awkward position when have always been issues (such as sex and gender issues in general) are supplanted by charged issues that are new issues from the here and now to students. When one of those issues is homosexuality–a topic of considerable cultural complexity that touches personal, social, and religious “boundaries”–it can make it even more difficult to approach.

These are usually the kinds of issues that are “discussed” through policy in terms of what is allowed and what is not, and how to respond when X or Y happens. Which makes things even more clinical and awkward. But if the video below is any indication, talking to students about homosexuality may be easier now than ever before.

Generations are delineated by change; that’s what makes one generation distinct from the next. Views on homosexuality are no different. In fact, talking to students about sexuality in general is different now than pre-internet days.

Social Media & Sexuality

But if we’re being entirely honest about things, the students in the video represent an exceptionally well-adjusted, open-minded, and “tolerant” perspective on sexuality. It’s an over-generalization to say that “kids today accept X but reject Y.” It may be accurate, however, to suggest that students today have been exposed to far more diversity than in any generation before. Social media puts different choices and perspectives on full display, right there on their smartphone and tablets screen.

Vine and instagram don’t filter content based on sexuality.

Many teachers may not have heard the word “homosexual” until they were in their teens; today there are entire social media channels, blogs, and movements dedicated to choices that have historically been seen as “other.” Social media creates prejudices and gaps of its own–including those related to tech access–it has dissovled others that have existed for generations.

If you do need to talk to your students about homosexuality, it will probably be more challenging–and awkward–than the easygoing good times and sage 8 year-olds demonstrated in the video. But there are ways you can make it less so.

8 Tips For Talking To Students About Homosexuality

1. It’s not about tolerance

It’s about empathy and perspective–being able to see things from other perspectives. To “tolerate” something implies it’s bad and you’ll let it slide. That is not the perspective that will move things forward. While you may disagree with it, the world is full of disagreement. Uniformity is not a possibility.

2. It’s not about position

This, in turn, means that talking to students about homosexuality is also not about your or their position on the matter. These conversations are usually had in terms of opinion and exchange. That’s okay to do as part of the process, but talking to students about homosexuality can’t start and stop on yours–or their–position on the issue.

3. Listen more than you talk

Listening may be the most important part of teaching. The more they talk, the more you know what they believe, and how you can support them moving forward.

4. Help them see historical perspective

Not to frame homosexuality as a “movement,” but rather as a matter of anthropology. Humans group together based on identity and shared values. When those values clash, there are short and long-term effects. All kinds of cross-curricular opportunity here, from biodiversity to literature to civil rights to math, and on and on.

5. Balance public dialogue with personal journaling

As with all topics, not all students will be comfortable sharing their ideas. Try to balance public conversations (if you use them at all), with private thought-sharing through journaling.

6. Don’t do it in isolation

The more families, other teachers, and other relevant folks are a part of the discussions, the more authentic they will be. And the more you’ll be shielded from pushback.

7. Expect pushback

Not everyone thinks the same. Homosexuality only really came to the forefront of conversations in schools in the last decade, often around the idea of school proms! This is not utopia, and not everyone will agree. That doesn’t mean you should rebel and fight the system. You’re not Gandhi. Your goal is to help students master content, not create a climate of acceptance in communities.

But if you go in knowing what to expect, it will make resistance easier to navigate.

8. Be confident–or don’t do it at all

But when you do approach the topic, do so with confidence or not at all. If you’re not comfortable with the idea, get that way before sharing that awkwardness with the world.

Talking To Students About Homosexuality;