I have to agree with Happel-Parkins and Esposito (2015) that standing up for the rights of students oppressed by gender identity or sexual orientation is an essential component of being an effective teacher and one that is often undervalued. Sharing our lives, including personal details and reflections about ourselves would seem to me to be vital for teachers if they are to truly fulfill the mentoring aspect of their positions.
I would like to offer a further perspective as one who teaches in a Catholic High School. Understandably I have found reluctance on the part of many LGBTQI teachers to come out publicly and acknowledge their sexual orientation in the schools I have worked at, especially to their students and the broader school community. I believe this has played a role in the subsequent reluctance of LGBTQI students to come out as well.
That is not to say that many teachers do not talk about and celebrate their orientation to individual staff members or students, but at a more public level many still have reservations (understandable in my opinion) about coming out given some of the cultural and religious attitudes that exist within Catholic school communities, not to mention the potential negative attention and subsequent damage such a public pronouncement could have on their career. Now I should mention that I teach in a community on the eastern edge of the GTA that is certainly more rural and conservative in nature and that clearly plays a role in the above reality.
Sadly there are still many biases and prejudices faced by LGBTQ students, teachers and support staff in Catholic schools are actually quite structural in nature. In Catholic school’s for example the official teaching of the Church is often cited in response to the establishment of a more inclusive and accepting school community. And when one reads the official position of the Church it is not difficult to see why the LGBTQ community has often been forced underground in Catholic schools.
What does the Church teach about chastity and homosexuality?
From Fully Alive Grade 8:
“It is important to understand that to be attracted to a person of the same sex and to act on those feelings are not the same thing. It is not sinful to have homosexual tendencies, but sexual acts between people of the same sex are morally wrong.
Like everyone else, homosexual people need acceptance, friendship, and love from others.
In order to respect God’s plan in creating us male and female, however, these relationships cannot include intimate sexual activity.”
*The above content was taken from a resource used in my school board as part of Family Life Curriculum taught in grade eight.
Now despite the above reality, forces within the Catholic school system in Ontario continue to push for equality as it pertains to LGBTQ teachers, students and support staff. Recently, the Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association supported Bill 13 – The Accepting Schools Act which now mandates that every school board in the province (Public or Separate) “promote the awareness and understanding of, and respect for, people of all sexual orientations and gender identities, including organizations with the name gay-straight alliance or another name.”
As for incorporating popular culture (whether stereotypical, discriminatory or from more reflective and accurate sources), as the authors suggest, critical media skill sets and approaches are vital to the creation of effective pedagogies and in my experience and appreciated by students.