Sunday, September 9, 2012

It Gets Better

Things my students and I are reading this week:

  • an excerpt from Dan Savage's It Gets Better collection (MW sections of ENG 100)
  • President Obama's DNC speech (TU section of ENG 100)
  • Act II of Next to Normal (ENG 112 sections)
This is the third consecutive semester that I've included a reading assignment that deals with the issue of gay rights in ENG 100. Last fall we discussed the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell; this past spring we discussed an article in Rolling Stone which investigated a series of teen suicides in Minnesota linked to a controversial "neutrality" policy in schools (teachers and staff were told, ambiguously, neither to defend nor condemn homosexuality). This semester we are reading the introduction to Dan Savage's anthology of "It Gets Better" stories: narratives directed at LGBT youth, meant to give them hope that-- no matter how much crap they may have to deal with in high school--they can persevere and live very happy lives as LGBT adults. I also plan on showing some videos from the "It Gets Better Project" -- the videos that inspired the book. Before the narratives were compiled and published, they were recorded as videos and posted on YouTube.

I believe that the range of gay rights issues (combatting hate crimes and anti-gay bullying, same-sex marriage, adoption rights, etc.) are important civil rights issues of our day, and I hope my students feel comfortable engaging each other in conversation about these topics. Sexuality--like race and religion--can be a difficult topic to open up about, especially in a room full of relative strangers. A well-placed Chik-Fil-A joke may be needed to ease the tension at times.

While I do not personally know what it is like to be threatened and alienated because of my sexuality, I do know what it is like to be threatened and alienated because of how my sexuality was perceived. During my first two years of high school, a rumor spread around school that a good (male) friend of mine and I were a couple. Some severe teasing and intimidation followed, and we both felt pretty miserable, perhaps even depressed. Although the experience was socially and psychologically unpleasant (to put it mildly), the two of us stood together as friends. We didn't avoid each other to try to quell the rumors. Nor did we turn into homophobes ourselves. I think, ultimately, it made us more sensitive to what actual gay and lesbian teens go through in such hostile environments. I wouldn't want to live through those days again, but I'm glad to have the broadened perspective that came out of it.

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