As with all major social justice issues, homophobia must be dealt with on several levels. I have created this graph to clearly display how the experts believe a school needs to be functioning in order to manage this social justice issue.
First, it must be addressed in curriculum content. We must, for example, focus on both homosexual and heterosexual safe-sex information during sexual education. At the moment, individual schools make “decisions within broad curriculum frameworks about what will specifically be taught and, at this level, debate continues about what will be acceptable to parents. These decisions generally favour the teaching of reproductive sex and safe sex based on penis–vagina sex” (Hillier, p. 213). We need to integrate information about same sex relationships into class content about sex and relationships. LGBT youth have a much higher incidence of STD infection, and this is because they do not receive anywhere near the same amount of information about safe sex practices as their heterosexual peers. LGBT youth currently find “sex education to be useless because it is not inclusive” and decided “that there is a need for sex education in schools to be inclusive of the sexuality of all students, not just those who are attracted to the opposite sex” (Hillier, p. 211).
Homophobia and heterosexism must also be addressed in the culture of a school, via a whole-school approach. The whole-school approach “requires action beyond the implementation of the formal curriculum. It means ensuring that policy, guidelines, procedures and practices reinforce the message that students learn through curriculum content” (Ollis, p. 5). So, what students learn in classes, like sex education, must in turn be reflected in the culture of their school. For this to succeed, the whole school—every teacher, every student—needs to accept that 10% of the people in their midst are struggling with these issues. This is an important psychological starting point. Now, most schools have over the last few years already put considerable effort into developing whole-school approaches for curbing bullying, but “homophobic abuse generally remains outside these efforts” (Mitchell, p. 33). Researchers argue that schools can use the frameworks that they already have in place to deal with bullying and extend them to include homophobia. Further suggestions that researchers had for a whole school approach included providing “a safe place where LGBT youth can get together to be free of harassment, . . . specific information that they might need to stay safe and healthy, and training for staff” on how to deal with LGBT issues (Mitchell, p. 34). However, the whole school approach will not work if it is not genuinely and authentically implemented, and if you are not able to get the trust of the young people in your school who are desperate for help but unconvinced that it is on offer.
This is where individual professionals become involved. For example, researchers agreed that school staff needs to commit to challenging homophobic language (including “that’s so gay”) every time they hear it, so that closeted students will know that they have allies, and that they are not alone. If teachers do not model appropriate behaviour, then all of the curriculum content and the safe spaces and the speeches in the world will not change the attitudes of their students.
There needs to be a combination of LGBT friendly curriculum content, school culture, and teaching staff to counter hegemonic masculinity and to break the silence that currently dominates Australian schools. Only with open dialogue can we challenge the discourse of heterosexism that now holds sway over the minds of so many of our school students. In Part Three, I will outline a unit that I have created to teach students about LGBT issues in a safe and respectful classroom environment.