Harvard Educational Review
  1. Summer 1996 Issue »

    Introduction

    By Vitka Eisen and Irene Hall
    Would you be interested in a brief narrative of the details of [a graduate school of education] kicking me out, ejecting me, requesting I stop attending as a part-time student and future Ed.D. candidate around the end of November, 1947?

    So begins a letter we received from a man who said that he was asked to leave a graduate program in education because of his homosexuality. Such dismissals made on the basis sexual orientation occurred in many different areas of U.S. society during the immediate post–World War II era.1 Consequently, the publication of this Special Issue on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender People and Education by the Harvard Educational Review, a journal connected with a prestigious university and with a long and respected scholarly tradition, resonates with symbolic power. Indeed, the subject has moved from "closet to cover" over the last fifty years — from a hidden topic talked about behind closed doors (if at all) to the front cover and central focus of this Special Issue.

    We received the above letter, as well as 124 original manuscripts, in response to our call for papers about lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgender people, and education. This tremendous response amazed, impressed, and overwhelmed us. It made evident the sociosexual transformations that have been occurring in the United States over the past twenty-five years. This response also validated our view that a growing body of knowledge is being developed in lesbian and gay studies, and that societal changes in the perceptions and experiences of sexuality have left many people with reflections, research, and ideas to share.

    We publish this issue at a time when more lesbians, gays, and bisexuals are open about their sexual orientation; when several cities and towns have enacted laws protecting the rights of lesbians and gays in housing and employment; when lesbians and gays have gained domestic partner benefits in several communities around the United States, and in some areas of the corporate sector; and when images of lesbians and gay men are seen in television programs, film, and print media with increasing frequency. Yet in these times we also find reports of more frequent hate crimes and violence against gays and lesbians; legislative propositions that would outlaw granting lesbians and gays equal protection under the constitution; school policies that forbid teaching about homosexuality in an open and positive manner; and legislative efforts to limit the rights of teachers and military personnel to be open about that which heterosexuals freely share — the gendered identity of the object of their affection. This is the age of AIDS, one in which hundreds of thousands of people have died due, in part, to governmental neglect of what was once characterized as a "gay disease."

    It is within the context of this particular moment in history and in this particular time and place that we offer this Special Issue on Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals, and Transgender People and Education. The Harvard Educational Review is the third education journal to publish a special issue on this topic.2 We are pleased to be joining these nascent efforts to bring the subject "out of the closet," thereby encouraging future scholarship, and, we hope, providing and provoking new insight and ideas. We acknowledge that these articles, although they differ in topic and viewpoint, render only particular and limited perspectives, and represent a relatively small slice of the diversity of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender thought, theory, and experiences.

    We begin this issue with the writings of young people because their insights on schools and community educational efforts are invaluable. In "Youth Voices," a collection of short articles and a poem, high schoolers write about their experiences in their schools, families, and communities. Their writings explore their thoughts about lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender lives, reveal the regretful lack of honest discussion about sexuality, and present perspectives on what it means to be young and "queer."3

    Wendy Ormiston, in "Stone Butch Celebration: A Transgender-Inspired Revolution in Academia," shares her triumphant experience of campus organizing to invite a noted transgender author as her college's commencement speaker. Embedded within Ormiston's description of a campus struggle is a call for more fluid notions of gender, identity, and sexuality.

    Two pieces present the perspectives of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender teachers. In "Negotiating Legacies: Audre Lorde, W. E. B. DuBois, Marlon Riggs, and Me," Townsand Price-Spratlen describes his process of taking three literary and historical figures as models in his efforts to build and understand the many dimensions of his own identity as a gay African American teacher. In "What Difference Does It Make? The Story of a Lesbian Teacher," Carla Rensenbrink provides a portrait of an openly lesbian teacher, depicting how her lesbian identity does make a difference — for the better — in her teaching.

    Two articles address classroom and curricular considerations. Steven Athanases, in "A Gay-Themed Lesson in an Ethnic Literature Curriculum: Tenth Graders' Responses to `Dear Anita'," explores tenth graders' responses to a lesson that focuses on the discrimination and prejudices that gay and lesbian people suffer. He chronicles how this lesson, taught by a well-informed teacher in a classroom climate of trust and honesty, inspires the students to explore honestly such questions as: Is sexual orientation a choice? Is it OK to have gay and lesbian parents and teachers? Similarly, in "Toward a Most Thorough Understanding of the World: Sexual Orientation and Early Childhood Education," several researchers at Bank Street College relate how the questions put to them by graduate students and by children compelled them to form a research group to explore lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender issues as they affect young children, their parents, and teachers, as well as the professors who teach the teachers.

    Kathryn Snider, in "Race and Sexual Orientation: The (Im)possibility of These Intersections in Educational Policy," offers a radical critique of a new separate school program for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth in Toronto, Canada. She acknowledges that, whereas these programs may provide a "safe" environment for some lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth, such programs force young people to segment their identity, privileging their "gayness" over their racial and cultural selves.

    Alex Wilson, writing from an Indigenous American perspective, also explores the issue of identity in "How We Understand Ourselves: Identity Development and Two-Spirit People." Critically examining Western stage theories of racial and sexual identity development, Wilson offers an alternative understanding based on the Indigenous concept of "two-spirit," a term that acknowledges the inseparability of different aspects of identity.

    Two articles, one by Jackie Blount and the other by Kenn Gardner Honeychurch, move away from experiential, classroom, and policy concerns, and into historical and critical/theoretical disciplines. In "Manly Men and Womanly Women: Deviance, Gender Role Polarization, and the Shift in Women's School Employment, 1900–1976," Blount examines the history of women's school employment patterns in the United States, making explicit the historical connection between these patterns, sex discrimination, and homophobia. Honeychurch reminds us that learning does not occur in a vacuum. In his article "Researching Dissident Subjectivities: Queering the Grounds of Theory and Practice," he encourages universities to embrace the potentiality and the challenge of practicing "queered research." His essay offers ways to push the limits of our historically constrained and imposed epistemologies.

    Finally, an interview with preeminent scholar and intellectual Cornel West places the Special Issue's themes in a larger context of the struggle for equity for all people, as West eloquently draws links between heterosexism, patriarchy, racism, capitalism, and economic oppression.

    In an essay review entitled "Critical, Postmodern Studies of Gay and Lesbian Lives in Academia," Peter McLaren and Patricia McDonough review Coming Out in College by Robert A. Rhoads and Building Communities of Difference by William G. Tierney, placing these two books squarely within a criticalist, postmodern discourse that calls for an analysis of the symbolic as well as the material relations of power, privilege, and sexuality. In her book review of Textual Orientations by Harriet Malinowitz, Mary-Ellen Jacobs offers her own experience as a lesbian writing workshop teacher as a context for critically examining Malinowitz's work on lesbian and gay students in writing composition classes. In another book review, Tony Leuzzi looks at the work of author Leslea Newman, reviewing Too Far Away to Touch, Newman's most recent gay-themed book for children.

    Like all articles published in Harvard Educational Review, members of a collective Editorial Board selected and edited these articles. Except for the two of us, two lesbians who initiated the idea for the Special Issue, no Board members have identified themselves as gay or lesbian. Through their work on this issue, several came to recognize their own heterosexism and to realize the negative impact rigid notions of gender can have. Several Board members said they had never before considered the difficulties lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people face. One Board member said that working on the issue "furthered my impression of schools being the social realm where we train, hide, and abuse — not only the students but the teachers who teach the students as well." Another said that while she has always been accepting of homosexuality, she was accepting in a way that dismissed it, as if it didn't matter. She said she learned that sexuality did matter, that "blindly accepting friends without acknowledging and celebrating their intimate struggles is a shallow form of friendship." Another Board member, who had not generally considered how the sexual orientation of teachers and students might play a role in schools, said she has come to understand that you cannot "separate a teacher's sexual orientation from the person as a teacher," and that it was the first opportunity she had had to ask questions and express her own understanding of the topic.

    This Special Issue posed challenges for us as lesbian Board members as well: How would having a predominantly heterosexual board shape this issue? How would we deal with our own disagreements? Would we be continually cast in the role of "expert," or of teacher? What would be the implications of this for the individuals involved, as well as for the Special Issue? It was, at times, exciting and rewarding to be a part of our colleague's developing knowledge. At times it was frustrating and uncomfortable to have to jump the gaps in our thinking and experiences. At other times, we came to new insights because of our colleagues' perspectives and questions. How these challenges were met, and how they shaped the journal, is, in the end, embodied in this production of HER, woven throughout the often invisible process of reviewing, selecting, and editing manuscripts. It is ultimately, however, our hope that the readers of this Special Issue will gain greater understanding and knowledge in the same way that HER's Board members did in publishing it.

    In addition to the current HER Editorial Board, former Board members who are lesbian, bisexual, or gay were invited to help select the manuscripts. Through their enthusiastic participation, we were able to include more perspectives from the immensely diverse lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community. We would like to thank Nancy Cardwell, Anne Chase, Mary Ann LaBue, Karen Maloney, Margo Okazawa-Rey, Sharon Rich, and Tom Latus for generously sharing their resources, time, ideas, and opinions with us.

    HER is pleased to have the opportunity to serve as a vehicle for new scholars and young people to share their work, two focal areas of our outreach for this issue. The topics addressed in this Special Issue are broad and varied, yet many issues are not addressed within this edition of HER. We hope that authors, members of the education community, teachers, researchers, and students will continue to contribute manuscripts about lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender issues. We envision future articles on transgender youth and teachers; gender, sex, and sexuality in classrooms; AIDS and its impact on lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth and parents; the role and impact of racism in lesbian/gay communities; experiences of queerness from Latino and Asian American perspectives, as well as varied voices of African American and Indigenous American authors; current political struggles over lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender course content, teachers, and students; legislation and school policies that affect lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth in schools, as well as a host of other critical topics not addressed within this Special Issue.

    We view this Special Issue of the Harvard Educational Review as a starting point, as an invitation to readers to pursue greater knowledge about lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgender people and education, as well as an invitation to authors to research and write about these issues. HER conducted a broad outreach effort in order to draw a variety of manuscripts from traditional academic and nontraditional community-based sources. We mailed five thousand announcements of our "call for papers" to community groups and universities. We attended conferences and workshops. We called academic departments, community organizations, and friends of friends across the United States. The outreach for the issue took on a life of its own, as the notice of a special lesbian and gay issue was picked up, passed on, spread by word-of-mouth and through the Internet, posted in clubs, and in local gay, lesbian, and transgender newsletters. We received calls for more information from people across the United States and Canada, as well as in Japan, Australia, and South Africa. People who were considering writing often shared their stories with us on the phone: "I heard about your special issue through our local gay paper. Would you be interested in my story? I was dismissed from my job as a teacher because I am a lesbian. . . ."

    Even though we collected more stories than we were able to publish, these conversations highlighted an urgent need for a forum to write about, reflect on, and explore lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender experiences in education. The responses we received gave evidence of the need for greater support for queer scholarship. With the publication of this issue, we state our commitment to creating more space to generate and share knowledge and theory about lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender issues in education. It is our hope that this knowledge and theory will join the growing body of literature on multicultural education and critical pedagogy, and, in doing so, inform a democratic and liberatory practice of education that is inclusive of multiracial, multiclass, and multivocal communities of lesbians, gays, bisexuals, heterosexuals, and transgender people.

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    Notes

    1 See John D'Emilio, Sexual Politics, Sexual Communities, 1940–1970: The Making of a Sexual Minority (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1983).

    2 The others are Radical Teacher, No. 24 (1984) and No. 45 (1994); and High School Journal, 77, Nos. 1 & 2 (1993/1994).

    3 Many authors have reappropriated the formerly pejorative word "queer," radically employing the term to include a range of sexualities, including but not limited to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender identities.
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    Summer 1996 Issue

    Abstracts

    Introduction
    By Vitka Eisen and Irene Hall
    Youth Voices
    Stone Butch Celebration
    A Transgender-Inspired Revolution in Academia
    By Wendy Ormiston
    Negotiating Legacies
    Audre Lorde, W. E. B. DuBois, Marlon Riggs, and Me
    By Townsand Price-Spratlen
    A Gay-Themed Lesson in an Ethnic Literature Curriculum
    Tenth Graders' Responses to "Dear Anita"
    By Steven Z. Athanases
    What Difference Does It Make? The Story of a Lesbian Teacher
    By Carla Washburne Rensenbrink
    Toward a Most Thorough Understanding of the World
    Sexual Orientation and Early Childhood Education
    By Virginia Casper, Harriet K. Cuffaro, Steven Schultz, Jonathan G. Silin, and Elaine Wickens
    Race and Sexual Orientation
    The (Im)possibility of These Intersections in Educational Policy
    By Kathryn Snider
    How We Find Ourselves
    Identity Development and Two Spirit People
    By Alex Wilson
    Manly Men and Womanly Women
    Deviance, Gender Role Polarization, and the Shift in Women's School Employment, 1900-1976
    By Jackie M. Blount
    Researching Dissident Subjectivities
    Queering the Grounds of Theory and Practice
    By Kenn Gardner Honeychurch
    Cornel West on Heterosexism and Transformation
    An Interview
    HER Board

    Book Notes

    Open Lives, Safe Schools
    Edited by Donovan R. Walling

    Uncommon Heroes
    Edited by Phillip Sherman and Samuel Bernstein

    Free Your Mind
    By Ellen Bass and Kate Kaufman.

    Becoming Visible
    Edited by Kevin Jennings

    Death By Denial
    By Gary Remafedi

    Is the Homosexual My Neighbor?
    By Letha Dawson Scanzoni and Virginia Ramey Mollenkott.

    One Teacher in Ten
    By Kevin Jennings

    The Gay Teen
    Edited by Gerald Unks

    Tilting the Tower
    Edited by Linda Garber

    School's Out
    by Dan Woog

    The Lesbian and Gay Studies Reader
    Edited by Henry Abelove, Michele Aina Barale, and David M. Halperin

    Joining the Tribe
    By Linnea Due

    How Would You Feel If Your Dad Was Gay?
    By Ann Heron and Meredith Maran; illustrated by Kris Kovick.

    Helping Gay and Lesbian Youth
    Edited by Teresa DeCrescenzo

    Call 1-800-513-0763 to order this issue.