Analyzing the Situation
On February 8, 2008, Lawrence King was shot twice in the back of the head by a 15-year-old classmate, Brandon McInerney, at E.O. Green Junior High School in Oxnard, California. Lawrence King was shot and killed because he sometimes wore make-up or “feminine” clothes to school (Segal, Gerdes, & Steiner, 2019, p. 145). The classmate was charged with a hate crime because him shooting King due to his sexual orientation. The shooting of Lawrence King forced the public to begin conversing over sensitive issues regarding gays, transgender people, bullying, harassment, and school violence.
The public began to point out how the middle school was not progressive enough, and that it should be teaching students to be understanding of sexual orientations. “Many LGBT youth or those who are perceived as being LGBT are subjected to violence at school”(Segal, et al., 2019, p.145). A variety of schools are uncomfortable with the subject of sexual orientations so the issues of bullying and LGBTQ teens are not being adequately addressed. One of the solutions to addressing these issues was by opening up the Harvey Milk School where LGBTQ students could feel comfortable in pursuing an education without the fear of harassment and violence performed against them.
At the Harvey Milk School, teachers in the Social Studies curriculum teach about LGBTQ people and the issues they have faced throughout history. “Education that is critical of privileging and othering gives students critical consciousness to understand oppression” (Donahue, 2014, p. 38). A criticism for the approach of a multicultural curriculum is that “they reaffirm the categories of and relationship between heterosexuality and homosexuality” because “they reify the norm of heterosexuality when trying to disrupt it” (Donahue, 2014, p. 37). There are concerns that the materials presented in the curriculum do not portray “everyday homophobia” and the people who perpetrate it (Donahue, 2014, p. 39).
In terms of inclusion, I believe the Harvey Milk School provides a much needed environment for LGBTQ students where they feel safe receiving an education. Even though there is an argument the creation of a separate school for LGBTQ youth “promotes segregation and is a step backward in the effort for equality for LGBT people”, at least students are prompted to talk about LGBTQ issues (Segel, et al., 2019, p.145). Students are provided the tools to understand the social and political forces of homophobia in order to pave the way to change the focus onto individual perceptions of LGBTQ people. LGBTQ students are given the opportunity to understand injustice by exploring the ongoing struggles for LGBTQ equality; that is an effort at inclusion and acceptance of diverse groups such as LGBTQ youth in school settings.
What Can Social Workers Do?
In a peer-reviewed article about Gay-Straight Alliance, the authors explore the ecological systems perspectives to advocacy in LGBTQ youth by investigating the barriers and facilitators (Watson, Varjas, Meyers & Graybill, 2010, p. 100). The authors claim that in order to “create, lasting change in school”, understanding the interactions of the ecological systems must be accomplished first (Watson, et al., 2010, p.100). At the policy levels, social workers should advocate for supportive public policies against discriminatory behaviors and encourage the inclusion of LGBTQ subject matter. I think legal protection can play a huge role in making sure to provide an environment that supports LGBTQ students. For example, the Affirmative Action programs that aim to diversify workforces and educational institutions reduce exclusions of discriminated groups. For this instance, the discussions of sexual and gender identity issues can reduce discomfort of the issues; they could begin to challenge discriminatory language and/or behavior in schools.
At the institutional and small-group levels, “the presence of LGBT role models within schools reportedly fostered a more accepting school climate for LGBTQ students” (Watson, et al., 2010, p.111). Just having school-based resources available for all students could improve school environments by contributing to the discussions of the impacts of discriminatory behavior, LGBTQ student inclusion, legal rights, and issues affecting LGBTQ students. Having access to books addressing LGBTQ issues provides an outreach to LGBTQ students. It is essential to create gay-straight alliances in school settings so all students are aware of the discrimination and harassment LGBTQ people face everyday. Within school systems, an understanding of advocacy factors may lead to a more accepting and safer school environment for LGBTQ youth. With efforts at the macro and mezzo levels, social workers should be finding ways to bring community members together to explore their differences and learn to work together in order to mediate conflicts involving LGBTQ youth.
In another peer-reviewed article about gender nonconforming, the writers examine how families should approach nonconforming gender developments (Malpas, 2011, p. 453). The author analyzes parental reactions and the therapeutic approaches they take to illustrate support of their LGBTQ children. At the individual and family levels, there should be clinical treatment between LGBTQ children and parents to “increase social integration”(Malpas, 2011, p. 456). Parents and their children should be recommended to consultations with therapists in order to offer a chance in discussing parents’ reactions and solutions to potential conflicts their child may face in school. “Therapy can support them in finding an optimal space” (Malpas, 2011, p. 458). Parental roles in LGBTQ youth is critical in facilitating engagement and collaborating ways to affirm their children’s personality. LGBTQ youth can benefit from therapy sessions because they are able to talk out their internal conflicts, and school as well as home dilemmas at an extent. In the micro level practice, social workers are able to help establish a healthy parent-child relationship for LGBTQ youth so the parents can guide their children’s personal experience and help them cope with challenges presented by being accessible to them.
What Can I Do? A Personal Reflection
In order to reduce violence and bullying against LGBTQ students in schools, it is important to build a safe environment for all youth. One step that I could take now is building a strong connection with LGBTQ youth to demonstrate acceptance and for them to know that their communities support them. Implementing interpersonal support to students by establishing a safe place to discuss their sexual identity can make LGBTQ youth feel accepted. For example, conducting social-emotional learning activities in school to foster peer-relationships. All LGBTQ youth can flourish when they feel supported. Listening when LGBTQ youth talk about what they are experiencing can become a foundation of trust and open communication.
Working with community organizations that set out to advocate for LGBTQ youth is another step in reducing bullying and violence in school settings. LGBTQ advocates can help schools recognize LGBTQ youth issues as an important societal problem. The Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network (GLSEN) is an education organization which creates safe school spaces for LGBTQ students; this could be an institution I could join as a volunteer to empower LGBTQ youth in letting them know that there are advocates out there trying to ensure their civil and human rights are being met. As a potential social worker, I need to be involved in addressing the issues of LGBTQ youth by having a commitment towards social justice in all aspects of life. Promoting equality and civil rights for all people is significant to the social work role. Social workers hope to achieve a society in which all people have the same basic rights. Pursuing social change such as advocating for LGBTQ youth’s civil rights forces social workers to effectively address societal conflicts.
- Craig, S. L., Austin, A., & McInroy, L. B. (February 01, 2014). School-Based Groups to Support Multiethnic Sexual Minority Youth Resiliency: Preliminary Effectiveness. Child and Adolescent Social Work Journal, 31, 1, 87-106.
- Dentato, M. P., Craig, S. L., Messinger, L., Lloyd, M., & McInroy, L. B. (May 19, 2014). Outness among LGBTQ Social Work Students in North America: The Contribution of Environmental Supports and Perceptions of Comfort. Social Work Education, 33, 4, 485-501.
- Dessel, A. (January 01, 2010). Effects of Intergroup Dialogue: Public School Teachers and Sexual Orientation Prejudice. Small Group Research, 41, 5, 556-592.
- Donahue, D. M. (January 01, 2014). Learning from Harvey Milk: The Limits and Opportunities of One Hero to Teach About LGBTQ People and Issues. The Social Studies, 105, 1, 36-44.
- Malpas, J. (December 01, 2011). Between Pink and Blue: A Multi-Dimensional Family Approach to Gender Nonconforming Children and their Families. Family Process, 50, 4, 453-470.
- Porta, C. M., Singer, E., Mehus, C. J., Gower, A. L., Saewyc, E., Fredkove, W., & Eisenberg, M. E. (July 01, 2017). LGBTQ Youth’s Views on Gay-Straight Alliances: Building Community, Providing Gateways, and Representing Safety and Support. Journal of School Health, 87, 7, 489-497.
- Segal, E.A., Gerdes, K.E. & Steiner, S. (2019). An introduction to the profession of social work: Becoming a change agent (6th ed.). Belmont, CA: Brooks/Cole.
- Wagaman, M. A., Shelton, J., & Carter, R. (March 15, 2018). Queering the Social Work Classroom: Strategies for Increasing the Inclusion of LGBTQ Persons and Experiences. Journal of Teaching in Social Work, 38, 2, 166-182.
- Watson, L., Varjas, K., Meyers, J., & Graybill, E. (January 01, 2010). Gay-Straight Alliance Advisors: Negotiating Multiple Ecological Systems When Advocating for LGBTQ Youth. Journal of Lgbt Youth, 7, 2, 100-128.