Saturday, March 5, 2011

Brody's Scribbles... Gay Liberation Front: Manifesto. Have We Made Progress Since 1971? (Part 3)

By Tim Trent (Dartmouth, England) MAR 5 | Yesterday I looked at how the Gay Liberation Front: Manifesto dealt with Family. Today I am looking at School. And school is a difficult area. In the UK and elsewhere the phrase 'That's so gay!' is heard often when something is thought to be bad, or stupid, or even unfashionable. It's abusive, and erodes confidence in the same way that Chinese water torture breaks people under interrogation. There are real things that are 'so gay'. These are things like a Gay Pride Parade, or The Birdcage. Schoolyard things do not come into that category at all.
Today's segemnt of the manifesto is:
Family experiences may differ widely, but in their education all children confront a common situation. Schools reflect the values of society in their formal academic curriculum, and reinforce them in their morality and discipline. Boys learn competitiv ego-building sports, and have more opportunity in science, whereas girls are given emphasis on domestic subjects, needlework etc. Again, we gays were all forced into a rigid sex role which we did not want or need. It is quite common to discipline children for behaving in any way like the opposite sex; degrading titles like 'sissy' and 'tomboy' are widely used.
In the content of education, homosexuality is generally ignored, even where we know it exists, as in history and literature. Even sex education, which has been considered a new liberal dynamic of secondary schooling, proves to be little more than an extension of Christian morality. Homosexuality is again either ignored, or attacked with moralistic warnings and condemnations. The adolescent recognising his or her homosexuality might feel totally alone in the world, or a pathologically sick wreck.
The first paragraph is somewhat dated. It harks back to a UK era before 'Comprehensive Education', to an era where the kids who passed the Eleven Plus examination went to Grammar Schools to prepare for becoming managers and professionals, and those who could not pass it were segregated into Secondary Modern Schools, and fed a steady diet of artisan style skills.
Whether the older or the current system is better is not within the scope of this article. Each has its adherents, but the purpose of the article is not to compare and contrast education systems. The article is firmly aimed at the differences and progress for LGBT people in the schooling system.
I take issue with the description of 'tomboy' as degrading. It is set out as a contrast to 'sissy', a term that is wholly degrading, but the manifesto seems to compare apples with boiled eggs. I know many girls proud to have been considered to be tomboys, certainly back then. I know no-one who is proud to have been called a sissy. Nonetheless the education system in the UK in 1971 did reinforce sexual stereotypes. It also avoided discussing homosexuality in sex education classes.
In my own sex education classes one boy asked "Please, sir, what does 'bugger' mean?" To be fair he'd been dared to ask, though we had no real idea of the mechanics of the real answer. We were told, at eleven years old, "That's something that disgusting homosexual men do." and the subject was changed. The speaker was a qualified doctor and could have elaborated. However we were eleven, and a further explanation was not age appropriate. Yet nor was his answer. A valid answer then would have been "That is outside the scope of this lesson."
In the UK we also had, as part of the progress we were making, Section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988. This was misinterpreted widely by schools controlled by local government:
... its existence caused many groups to close or limit their activities or self-censor. For example, a number of lesbian, gay and bisexual student support groups in schools and colleges across Britain were closed due to fears by council legal staff that they could breach the Act.
Because of this Act and the misinterpretation we made backward progress, and that was the situation that obtained until its repeal on 18 November 2003.
Despite the act the social mores was changing fast. Homosexuality was more and more in mainstream television dramas, though the drama Queer As Folk brought promiscuous homosexuality very much into the living room in 1990. Not universally, but reasonably widespread, was the acceptance by fellow pupils of their peers as ordinary boys and girls, whether LGBT or heterosexual. It would require research to determine where and in what style of schools the acceptance started, but, once started, it has spread. And media coverage assists the spread.
Despite this the insult of 'That's so Gay!' remains prevalent, though good teachers everywhere are stamping it out.
The USA remains very different. One only has to look at the awful bullycide instances that happened in a cluster in the latter part of 2010 to see the lack of progress, perhaps even backward progress, in the USA schooling system. One of the most appalling episodes that appeared on Facebook was the unpleasant Clint McCance, who, according to the UK's Daily Mail, urged 'sinful' gay youths to commit suicide. It's well worth noting that the Daily Mail is a heavily right wing and traditionalist newspaper.
McCance, a board member at Midland School in Litte Rock, Arkansas, allegedly wrote: 'Seriously they want me to wear purple because five queers killed themselves.
'The only way im wearin it for them is if they all commit suicide. I cant believe the people of this world have gotten this stupid.
'We are honoring the fact that they sinned and killed thereselves because of their sin.'
His further comments allegedly promised he would disown his own children if they were gay, and stated that he enjoys 'the fact that [gay people] often give each other AIDS and die.' [replicated verbatim, typing and spelling errors are from the original.
McCance was a member, an elected member, of a school board. And his attitude, while less often expressed in public by others, is not uncommon. This blog has reported many such during 2010.
The tide ie being turned by an Internet Army. Wholly unconnected with any schools in the USA, Dan Savage, a journalist and blogger, triggered by accident a tsunami of videos to be recorded by ordinary boys, girls, men and women, and a movement, the It Gets Better Project, created itself from nowhere. The message to our children who are suffering any form of bullying, especially bullying for real or perceived sexual organisation, is controversial. It says "Wait and sweat it out. get to college and you will be able to be yourself"
There is a strong argument that the wholly unrelated Make It Better Project is the way to go, meeting a long term need to make things better for certainly US kids, but the IGBP hits hard against short term issues and against suicide. Both make a difference. And short films about bullying that are unrelated to either project are being made, such as this one from the Netherlands showing faceless bullies attacking a boy.
Progress has indeed been made worldwide. Yet, in the face of such progress, there are some unpleasant exceptions, such as Corpus Cristi, Texas's Flour Bluff Intermediate School District, which has banned all school clubs in order to block a Gay Straight Alliance.
By canceling all extra curricular clubs on campus, Flour Bluff ISD hopes to avoid the Equal Access Act -- a federal law, passed in 1984, that requires schools receiving federal funding to offer "fair opportunities for students to form student-led extracurricular groups, regardless of their religious, political and philosophical leanings." The district still maintains that they do not have to follow the Equal Access Law.
That's just perverse. But the tsunami of acceptance can no longer be held back.


Desmond Rutherford said...

That video's reactionary, gratuitous, physical violence is just wrong and disturbs me greatly.
More to the point however is the mental violence being perpetrated by the religious bigots. That is indeed perverse, but it cannot be stopped by a karate blow.