Ask the White Guy: Do Public Schools 'Get' LGBT Issues

Luke Visconti’s Ask the White Guy column is a top draw on DiversityInc.com. Visconti, the founder and CEO of DiversityInc, is a nationally recognized leader in diversity management. In his popular column, readers who ask Visconti tough questions about race/culture, religion, gender, sexual orientation, disability and age can expect smart, direct and disarmingly frank answers.


Question:

I just thought you might enjoy the irony in this story. It is telling about one of my soapbox subjects, the lack of understanding and support of LGBT students in the public schools. I am a teacher and have a close family member who is gay.

This is the story as told to me by an employee of the school in question:

About 10 years ago, a local high school decided to hold a “Diversity Day.” The plans and arrangements were to be made by the student leadership group. The students invited the previous year’s student-body president, who had come out as gay during his first year of college, to speak at the event. The school administration objected and asked the students to rescind the invitation. The students refused, and the entire event was called off by the administration!

I wonder how much has changed in the past 10 years. I completed a master’s degree in secondary education in 2004. Nothing was said in any of the courses about working with gay and lesbian students, unless I was the one to bring it up.

Answer:

A 2007 Gallup poll showed that 68 percent of college freshmen and women approved of gay marriage. This rate climbed steadily every year the poll was conducted–in 1997 only 50 percent approved.

Further, according to Pew Research, 55 percent of all Americans approve of LGBT “civil unions.” Again, the approval rating has been climbing steadily.

So I think there’s progress being made–especially with younger people. That might be “despite” the school systems in this country, but it’s happening.

There are certainly regional differences in awareness, and cities/regions that have proven to have a “live-and-let-live” culture have benefited from migration of LGBT people from less to more tolerant parts of our country.

Perceptions and opinions change from humanizing the situation. As people build friendships, they develop understanding.

My favorite story about going from “object” to “person” came from a senior vice president of a media company. He lives in a rural city in the deep South, with his partner, in a typical suburban setting. After a decade of dinner parties and other gatherings, they became very close with their neighbors. At a holiday party, one of their neighbor friends asked, “Why aren’t you two married” The other party goers chimed in, “Yeah, why not”

The answer was “Because it’s illegal in this state.”

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