Talking tolerance: exploring attitudes about differene and discrimination
A lesson plan to go with “It’s not easy being gay; Gay students face so much harassment, there’s a new law that offers them some protection.” by Sara Hahn, published January-February 2000 and “A teen fights to start a gay student club,” by Sarah Gustafson, published January-February 2000
Subjects: Language Arts, Social Studies
Suggested Time Allowance: 45 minutes-1 hour
Overview of Lesson Plan: In this lesson, students will discuss attitudes toward different sexual orientations and how to recognize and combat homophobia and discrimination in their own lives, schools, and communities.
• Discuss their own attitudes about different sexual orientations and where those attitudes come from.
• Discuss what being lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, or questioning (LGBTQ) means, and discuss what being straight means, both for individuals and in society.
• Define homophobia and discuss how prejudice against lesbians, gays, and others manifests itself in school, the community, and society.
• Discuss reasons for promoting tolerance of different sexual orientations and ways to combat homophobia and discrimination.
• Practice how to have a serious discussion about a personal, sensitive topic using ground rules to ensure mutual respect.
• copies of “It’s not easy being gay,” “A teen fights to start a gay student club,” and “Is your school homophobic?” survey (one per student)
• classroom chalkboard
1. Warm-up: In journals or on separate pieces of paper, students respond to the following prompt on the board: Describe the qualities you would want in the person with whom you would like to spend the rest of your life with in a romantic relationship. Do not use any pronouns that would indicate a certain gender—use “my parnter” or “the person.” Do not write about physical characteristics—focus on character, personality, and values.
2. Set ground rules: Before class, write a set of ground rules on a sheet of newsprint which will govern the lesson’s discussion:
• Use “I” statements—speak from personal experience rather than in broad, “you” or “they” generalizations; identify opinions or beliefs as your own, rather than as statements of fact.
• No “zaps”—you can disagree with ideas, but do not attack the person sharing the idea.
• What is discussed here, stays here—unless you get explicit permission to discuss something outside of class, you cannot spread around what is said here or who it is said by.
Post it on the board now. Explain that this class session will deal with some personal and complicated issues—namely sexuality, sexual orientation and identity, and homophobia—and that you want there to be both open discussion and a feeling of safety in the classroom. To that end, you have posted some ground rules to govern discussion. Have the ground rules read aloud and discuss each one. Do students understand them? Do they agree with them? Do they have any to add?
3. As a class, read “It’s not easy being gay” and “A teen fights to start a gay student club.” Then discuss the articles, addressing these questions:
a. How had the students and others quoted in the articles been treated because of their sexuality? Do you think that treatment was warranted? Why or why not?
b. Had you known, before reading about it, that there is a state law to protect students from discrimination and harassment because of their sexual orientation? What do you think about that? Do you think that it’s necessary? Fair? Why or why not?
c. The El Modena High School Gay-Straight Alliance was allowed to meet on campus in September, 2000. What do you think about the controversy Anthony Colin had to go through to get his club approved? Do you think that such clubs are needed? Should they be allowed? Why or why not?
d. What is homophobia? What are some examples of actions, language, or attitudes that discriminate against LGBTQ people? What do you think about such discrimination? Is it okay for people to be discriminated against or suffer harassment or violence because of their sexual orientation? Why or why not? How would people’s thinking change if you substituted gender, race, or language for sexual orientation?
4. Students complete the following individual writing exercise in class: Imagine that you are not heterosexual—that you are gay, lesbian, or bisexual. Think about how your friends and family members might react, and how those potential reactions would make you feel. What would you want them to know? What would you want from them? Now, write a coming-out letter to a parent, or another close relative or friend.
5. As a class, discuss and process the writing exercise. How did putting yourself in that role make you feel? How did thinking about how your friends’ and family’s reaction make you feel? Why do you think they would react that way? How would you want them to react? What hardships do you think you would face if you came out to others? How do we begin to change people’s beliefs and attitudes about gay and lesbian people? How do we begin to change our own beliefs, and how do we translate that into action?
6. Wrap-up/homework: Complete the school homophobia survey. Then, in a personal essay, reflect on the written exercise and subsequent discussion in class. How did other students’ opinions and reactions make you feel? Did you share these opinions? Has the exercise prompted you to think about your opinions and why you hold them? Why or why not? How did the letter-writing exercise make you feel? How did it feel to place yourself in that role? How do you think your friends and family would react to you being gay, lesbian or bisexual? How can the atmosphere at your school be changed? How can people’s discriminatory attitudes about gay and lesbian people be changed, if at all?
Note: The topic of this lesson may prompt both nervous and derisive laughter from students, among other reactions. Statistics show that you probably have at least one questioning student in your class. Thus, it is imperative that you use your ground rules and facilitation skills to make the classroom as safe a space as possible. The intent of this lesson is to encourage students to think about their attitudes and beliefs about homosexuality and LBGT people, not to force students to come out to unsupportive peers in order to make a point. Teachers should be prepared, after this lesson, to provide and refer students to school-based and outside resources, should the fact that you are tackling this subject matter in class encourage questioning or closeted students to approach you for information or to talk. Use the L.A. Youth Teen Services on-line directory as a starting place to find local resources.
Further Questions for Discussion:
• What is heterosexism? What is the difference between homophobia and heterosexism? How does heterosexism permeate society and our ideas about “normal” sexuality? How do you think that the operating assumption that everyone is straight makes LGBTQ people, especially teens, feel?
• Is homosexuality “normal”? Is heterosexuality “normal”? What do we mean when we say “normal” or “abnormal”?
• Do you think that sexual orientation is a choice or something innate, something you are born with? Explain your thinking. Do you think that a person would choose to be something that would cause others to discriminate against her or him?
Students will be evaluated on their participation in discussion and their individual written work.
• Research resources for LGBTQ teens and their straight allies at your school, in your community and/or city, and nationally. Good places to start are LAUSD’s Project 10 and the national organization Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN). Create and distribute an organized guide to the resources you have found.
• Plan and organize a Gay-Straight Alliance club at your school. Contact GLSEN for support and advice.
• Invite outside speakers from community organizations to speak to the class, a group of classes, or the entire school about homophobia.