Homophobia in the classroom: one teacher's response.

Author:Peters, Cynthia
Position:Teaching Notes - Viewpoint essay

"If one of my kids turned out to be gay, I would kill him," said one of my adult ESOL students.

"But you might not want to kill him," replied another, "because that would be murder, and they could put you in jail for that."

There was nodding all around.

I sat down, stunned. What had I prepared for class that day? A game for learning fractions? Reviewing the past tense? I could not remember. None of it seemed to matter. I did not feel like a teacher at that moment. I felt angry, shocked, sad, and personally vulnerable even though my own life partner is of the opposite sex and so for that reason, according to my students, I should be allowed to live.

I did not try to mask my feelings. I felt too much respect for the members of my class. We were friendly and affectionate with each other.

I cared a great deal for each of them. They had consistently impressed me with their finely tuned sense of justice and fairness, and their understanding of how power reveals itself in U.S. institutions--in the workplace, in the school system, in the home, in how U.S. foreign policy impacts their countries of origin.

But here they were advocating killing their own children in the event they should be gay, and the only argument against doing so was a practical one ("you'll go to jail"), not a moral one.

"My sister is a lesbian," I told them. The classroom was silent. "It hurts me to hear what you are saying." I know I showed what I was feeling--my face had probably gone pale and my hands may have been shaking--and it affected them. Because of the trust and affection we had built up over many hours in the classroom, they had no desire to cause me pain. And their faces showed what they were feeling--conflict between their hatred of homosexuality and their curiosity about what it could mean that someone they thought they knew and respected could be close to a gay person. I felt that the students were looking at me completely differently.

"My sister is a wonderful person. I love her. My parents love her. If they had rejected her because she is a lesbian, we all would have lost so much. Our family would have been divided. I am so thankful that they loved their daughter even though it was hard for them to understand her."

When issues arise in the classroom, most teachers respond as teachers. We look for what can be learned from the moment; we see it as an opportunity for critical thinking, debate, and English language practice. In a flexible classroom, such moments might lead to a...

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