In the most recent editorial of a progressive educational Journal called Rethinking Schools the authors relate the story of Sasha Fleischman.
On Nov. 5, Illinois became the 16th state to legalize same-sex marriage. And Sasha Fleischman’s skirt was set on fire on an Oakland, California, bus by a 16-year-old student from another school (Sasha is an a gender youth*). What a contradiction. And what a clear example of the complex state of LGBTQ issues at this moment in history. What does this contradiction mean for students, teachers, and schools?
The schools response to this tragedy was very important. Students and teachers immediately mobilised support for Sasha; money to cover medical expenses; an organized “Stroll for Sasha” along the bus route; and new t shirts for the basketball team marked with ‘No h8’ on the front and Sasha’s name on the back.
The authors make the point that “homophobia, misogyny, and other forms of hatred are alive and well, and even progressive schools and classrooms have a long way to go in creating nurturing spaces for students, parents, and staff who don’t conform to gender and/or sexuality “norms.””
They point out that it doesn’t matter how strong our ‘generic anti bullying programs and policies are, because the anti-bullying framework positions bullying as an individualised behaviour problem and does not address the systemic issues.
To lump disparate behaviors under the generic “bullying” is to efface real differences that affect young people’s lives. Bullying is a broad term that de-genders, de-races, de-everythings school safety.
The reasons for teachers’ reluctance to name issues related to diverse sexualities, homophobi, transgender are readily understandable. Parent, community backlash, moving into unknown territory with students are not imaginary barriers.
So how do we move forward?
For those who wish to think and act more deliberately to address these issues this article is an excellent place to start. And although the examples provided in this article of current event stories worth using are all US based, I am sure it is possible to find Australian and other examples.
* The term refers to having no gender: meaning an individual does not identify as either male or female