by Erica Ciszek
Last year, as a student in the Homophobia and the Classroom course, I had the opportunity to participate in the 2nd annual Teach OUT. This year, as a proponent and advocate of social justice work in education, I attended the 3rd annual Teach OUT, donning a new perspective and outlook on the significance of this event here at the University of Oregon and within the education studies department.
I will preface this post by mapping my own areas of research and position within the academy. As a doctoral student in the School of Journalism and Communication, I am particularly interested in critical/cultural approaches to strategic communication. As a queer feminist, I am particularly interested in the ways social justice pedagogy is carried out in higher education and even more excited when such work is happening in revision and reformation of the K-12 curriculum.
The focus of this year’s luncheon was LGBTQ families and was centered on themes of being invisible, ignored, and yet involved. Highlights of the Leadership Summit luncheon featured the following events:
Families and Schools- One story at a time- Rehearsals for Life– a theatre ensemble of graduate students using dialogue and applying experiential learning experiences around issues of diversity, equity and access. RfL feature interactive scenarios exploring what it means for individuals navigate the world in a time where cross-cultural interactions are increasing and expectations are changing.
During an interactive exercise, members of the troupe responded to audience suggestions and inputs. Here are some of the snip-bits of the improv:
“So I’m Chinese and I’m black, what clique do I go in…?”
“Teachers have such a huge impact…there was Mrs. Green.”
“I just wish my teacher would have said it’s ok to feel stuck in the middle”
“There is so much possibility in the room right now…”
“Sometimes it’s just safer to rest in my oppression.”
“That’s when I asked her, are you gay? I was devastated and horrified. No one could find out this horrible secret. I was never, ever talking to my parents ever again.”
“I felt like I was forced to choose between my beliefs…between my faith and friend…”
“I used to pray to god to make me normal, but now I thank god for making me special…”
This exercise was incredibly emotional and eye-opening. These were real people, real lives, real experiences and real emotions. This is not just about LGBTQ youth and bullying- this is about an entire system of people impacted by the people they love.
Keynote Speaker Debra Chasnoff
Piggybacking this performance, Academy Award-winning documentary filmmaker and activist, Debra Chasnoff was the keynote speaker of the afternoon. Chasnoff’s films include Straightlaced—How Gender’s Got Us All Tied Up (2009), It’s STILL Elementary (2007), One Wedding and a Revolution (2004), Let’s Get Real (2003), That’s a Family! (2000), It’s Elementary—Talking About Gay Issues in School (1996). She is president and senior producer at GroundSpark, a national social justice media, advocacy, and education organization.
Chasnoff’s talk briefly traced her experiences as a filmmaker, with particular emphasis on the emergence of her film It’s Elementary—Talking About Gay Issues in School and her own personal experiences as a lesbian parent. She reflected on her experiences when her son Noah was in elementary school and addressed the schism in the LGBT community about queer people having children. She notes that families like hers were completely invisible at the time.
Reflecting on It’s Elementary, Chasnoff suggests that all students are held back by anti-gay stigma, and all adults have a responsibility to do something about this. She noted that broader mission we need to work toward a system that is supportive of all families that are “different” from some way. It is essential to address and incorporate the diversity of family structures and in doing so to ensure that every student and family is included and welcome.
Community Alliance of Lane County- LGBTQ Family Panel
Founded in 1966, the mission of CALC was to mobilize opposition to the Vietnam War. Nearly half a century later, the alliance continues to work for social justice locally, nationally and globally. The organization is grounded in three main tenets: addressing the root cause, challenge themselves and others, and working with and for social justice. CALC is dedicated to “educating and mobilizing for peace, human dignity and social, racial and economic justice.
Members of the panel reflected on and addressed some of the following issues:
– Worrying about not saying the right thing, not being able to adequately represent queer families
– Communicating with a 2 parent household- particularly in a divorced queer house- just because you tell one mother doesn’t mean the other mother is going to find out
– Single lesbian mom – 5th grade son with ex-husband, 3-year-old donor, with lesbian partner
– How you “show up” at school functions impacts, school climate
– Straight kids whose families are LGBTQ get left out of these conversations- How do kids step up and address this in a way that don’t impact them negatively?
What was made clear from this panel was the need to expand the current conversations about LGBTQ issues to include the myriad families represented in our schools. A recent article on the Huffington Post addresses the “mainstreaming” of gay parenting. But it’s apparent that despite increasing visibility of LGBT people in the mainstream media, the education system needs to recognize family diversity as well.
The event closed with a series of “Jane Addams Excellence in Equity Education Awards.” These awards were given to local schools and individuals who have been actively working to reduce homophobia and harassment through ongoing education. Awards were given by the Department of Education Studies and the Community Alliance of Lane County to the following:
Eugene 4j Administrators
Awbrey Park Elementary, Arts and Technology Academy, Roosevelt Middle School, and Monroe Middle School administrators stood before the 4j employee community at the 2011-12 district back to school meeting and recited a powerful pledge to create a safer work place for LGBTQ employees of the Eugene School District. These administrators modeled the leadership that is critical for creating a safe and healthy climate for LGBTQ teachers and staff.
McCornack Elementary School
The McCornack staff initiated and took part in a yearlong training on LGBT issues in elementary education. They recognized their need and desire to build their awareness, knowledge, and skills about LGBTQ issues in their efforts to create a school culture that recognizes and celebrates all students and families. The McCornack staff has demonstrated the rich possibilities in creating and sustaining an equity based learning community.
Bethel School District
This district developed guidelines to create a tool to help administrators and staff have supportive conversations regarding gender nonconformity, as well as help the district plan for physical spaces in schools where students can feel safe.
Roosevelt Middle School
Roosevelt Middle School students held a school wide assembly with the theme Start Teaching Others Peace. Roosevelt teacher, administrator, and student activities demonstrate the collaborative relationships that foster positive school cultures.
Springfield School District V.O.I.C.E. Team
Springfield High School has created a student V.O.I.C.E. team which includes students from all four Springfield High schools. The V.O.I.C.E. students at Springfield High have demonstrated incredible leadership in developing concrete strategies to improve school climate for all students.
Churchill High School G.S.A.
For the second year in a row the Churchill GSA has hosted a Pink Prom for LGBTQ students throughout the Eugene community. They have held fundraisers, created collaborations between schools, and highlighted the importance of this event for students, schools, and the larger community.
Teacher K. Kellison
Kellison is a former UO Education Studies student and current teacher. Her teaching exemplifies teaching toward equity and giving students the skills and tools to engage the world in learning about equity and gender justice.
Recipients were given the following framed quotation:
Nothing can be worse than the fear
that one had given up too soon
and left one unexpended effort
which might have saved the world.
Jane Addams (1860-1935) Anglo-American, Feminist, Lesbian, Pacifist,
Nobel Prize Winner