lgbt student safety

The Article

Taryn Luna of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette wrote an article on 01/21/13 about the efforts of three entities (the Persad Center, the Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network, and the Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) in hosting a “Safe Schools Summit” to identify what mechanism is at play in the failure of Allegheny County school districts to explicitly condemn the bullying of LGBT students despite higher probabilities of this population being bullied than their heterosexual peers.

I explained in my i am a heterosexual male post that this marginalized population suffers mistreatment because of a general public ignorance.  It doesn’t help, then, that when the author sets the stage for the impetus of the summit, she uses phrases that misguide us.

“Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender adolescents are more likely to become targets of bullying in school and attempt suicide than their heterosexual peers.  /  But in 93 percent of anti-bullying policies in Allegheny County school districts, there is no mention of sexual orientation, gender identification or sexual preference.”

To begin, the author groups lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender adolescents together by putting them in a undifferentiated parallel list.  The trouble is that the first two groups of adolescents describe biological sexes and sexual orientations; the third group describes a nebulous biological sex and a sexual orientation that recognizes only the polar biological sexes; the last is not a biological sex or sexual orientation, but it is instead a gender role identification that happens to be contrary to one’s biological sex.  Now, the author can’t really be blamed—this term-cluster has been around for more than a decade, and so its inherent flaws are simply a reminder that the known reality of biological sexual difference as a clear concept among the public is as yet unrealized.

Given that unfortunate state of affairs, I would like to take a moment to hash out some new term categorizations that I think would help all relevant discussion:

Biological Sex Spectrum – the entire range of humanity as physically developed by varying amounts and balances of sexual hormones

Genitalia – male, female, intersex (ambiguous), hermaphrodite (both male and female), transsexual (sexual reassignment in accord with transgender identity resolution)

Brain (Identity, internal feelings) – cisgender (same as genitalia), androgynous/queer/polygender (ambiguous), transgender (opposite of genitalia)

Brain (Role, external expression/sexual orientation) – heterosexual/straight (corresponds to opposite genitalia), homosexual/gay (corresponds to male genitalia), homosexual/lesbian (corresponds to female genitalia)

*Also note that although I’ve distinguished genitalia from the brain in making these lists, they inform each other throughout development.

In addition, and evident after a consideration of the terms above, the author’s inclusion of “sexual preference” is doubly faulted.  First, it is a redundancy: sexual orientation describes sexual attraction, and so to include “sexual preference” is to posit it as a possible choice of terminology used by school districts in policies.  Second, such a terminology implies that sexual attraction is a choice; biological science explains that it is not.  To keep this myth alive is to keep alive the myth that such an attraction can be changed—a dangerous notion that negates our comprehension of reality and maims the victims to which it is applied.

Please enjoy this cartoon from the documentary For the Bible Tells Me So in which the concept of choice is invalidated:

If it seems to you that I’ve made an awfully big stink over a few mismatched terms, then consider this: the crucial distinctions I’ve just made are the foundations of a new structurally-complex way of considering biological sex as a spectrum of development, and such distinctions are necessary to encourage the public to comprehend this complicated reality.  If it seems to you that I unfairly cut-up the author’s work, then let me say that I absolve her from fault on the grounds that the article is subject to the constraints of the medium.

The Content

The summit, at which some 200 people gathered, is just the first of a three-part project that will identify the “lived experience” of LGBT students via survey and conclude with focus groups to “develop solutions and accountability measures to take to school districts for implementation.”  This approach seems like a sound attempt at comprehending and then addressing the issue.  But it also seems like a wasted effort, and this is why: The two researchers from Duquesne University conducting the project have previously “found that one reason adolescents continue to target LGBT students is because they don’t see it as bullying.”

You ought to be asking yourself what the hell that means.  I spent a day wrapping my head around it.  I’ll start by defining bullying as the malicious intimidation and violation of another person by verbal or physical means.   If the actor does not recognize the action of bullying for what it is, then what is it, precisely, that they do not recognize?  Surely, in saying that these adolescents don’t see LGBT victimization as bullying, they admit to knowing what bullying is.  That leaves just a single element unidentified—the person.  I suspect that these adolescents don’t see their acts as malicious intimidation and violation of another person because they do not see LGBT students as people, but instead must see them as freaks, as contemptible deviants.

I can think of only two sources for this kind of mentality: religious dogma and an industry-perpetuated sexual binary.  In a practical address, I suggest two things: the promotion of a critical analysis regarding the day-to-day drivel we’re inundated with from the popular media (as I hope to have done here), and the early (before puberty) education of students with respect to the biological sex spectrum.

what do you think?

Thank you for reading.
Thank you for writing.

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