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Gender and Sexualities in Education

A Reader


Edited By Elizabeth J. Meyer and Dennis Carlson

This volume is about the education of gender and sexualities, which is to say it explores how gender and sexuality identities and differences get constructed through the process of education and «schooling». Wittingly or not, educational institutions and educators play an important role in «normalizing» gender and sexuality differences by disciplining, regulating, and producing differences in ways that are «intelligible» within the dominant or hegemonic culture. To make gender and sexuality identities and differences intelligible through education is to understand them through the logic of separable binary oppositions (man-woman, straight-gay), and to valorize and privilege one normalized identity within each binary (man, straight) and simultaneously stigmatize and marginalize the «other» identity (woman, gay). Educational institutions have been set up to normalize the construction of gender and sexual identities in these ways, and this is both the overt and the «hidden» curriculum of schooling. At the same time, the «postmodern» times in which we live are characterized by a proliferating of differences so that the binary oppositional borders that have been maintained and policed through schooling, and that are central to maintaining highly inequitable power relations and rigid gender roles, are being challenged, resisted, and in other ways profoundly destabilized by young people today.
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15. Conceptualizing Safety From the Inside Out: Heteronormative Spaces and Their Effects on Students’ Sense of Self



Chapter 15

Conceptualizing Safety From the Inside Out

Heteronormative Spaces and Their Effects on Students’ Sense of Self

Bethy Leonardi & Lauren P. Saenz

In late 2010, battles raged as the Anoka-Hennepin school district, the largest in Minnesota, came under fire for its “neutrality”1 policy related to the topic of homosexuality in schools. The safety of their students was called into question, as between the years of 2009 and 2011, nine committed suicide; four of these students self-identified as gay or were perceived to be gay by their classmates. The public outcry that followed prompted a review of the district’s policy, which, as many discovered for the first time, was rooted in a 1994 school-board policy, unofficially known as the “No Promo Homo” policy, that mandated that “homosexuality not be taught/addressed as a normal, valid lifestyle” in the health curriculum (Birkey, 2012).

At a school district meeting, Mackie Barnett, a student who recently endured the loss of friends to suicide, took a stand—one that aimed to move the safety conversation toward one of inclusivity: “[Students] need to be taught the true facts that being gay and lesbian is not a lifestyle choice. You are born that way. There’s no gay agenda. What do gay people want that is so different from straight people?” Further, she questioned: “How can we not acknowledge that something in this system is wrong?” (Birkey, 2012). The “system” about which Barnett spoke is one...

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