Parents send their kids to a school in order to get a good education, to learn, and to know about the world. Both students and parents want a good and a safe place to study. They need to have the same rights no matter where they come from, what race, what religion, or what sexual orientation they are. In the school environment, the students are diverse which therefore need to be addressed professionally. However, at the school level we also have the students who are oppressed because they are expressing their gender orientation, which are different from the common students. Edward (1997) in Dewitt (2012) said that “Whether we realize it or not, we as educators are dealing with a hidden minority of gay and lesbians students, as well as gay and lesbian parents” (p. 49). We cannot avoid to the fact that there are a lot of students who are threaten and bullied. Sullivan High School in Indiana is one example of a school that experiences the issue of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and/or transgender (LGBT) students. There is a group of local citizens who started an initiative to host an anti-gay prom in 2013. Not only that, there was one teacher who supported anti-gay prom and spoke openly against LGBT students. In this article, I discuss the short-term and long-term strategies I would use if I were the principal of Sullivan High School to reduce the bullying related to LGBT issues at schools, and I also relate the LGBT issues to the Indonesian schools context.
Bullying to the students of LGBT
Cooper (2013) wrote that there are two kinds of incidents regarding LGBT students: harassment and assault (either verbal or physical). In Michigan, there are 82% of verbal harassment for sexual orientation, 39% of physical harassment for sexual orientation, and 21% of physical assault for sexual orientation. Meanwhile, there are 68% of verbal harassment for gender expression, 28 % of physical harassment for gender expression, and 15 % of physical assault of gender expression (Gay, Lesbian, & Straight Education Network, 2003 in Cooper, 2013). However, the vast majority of the victimized students are reluctant to report the incidents to the school staff because: 1. Doubted that effective intervention would occur (37.95); 2. Feared making the situation worse (28.7%); 3. Concerned about staff member reactions (15.5%); 4. Perceived harassment to be a minor problem (19.5%); 5. Students addressed matters on their own (18.9%); 5. Experienced barriers to reporting (2.4%); and 6. Other reasons (7.5%).
Often time, as educators we put too much focus on the materials and contents, and put little attention to the issue of discrimination. Dewitt (2012) wrote that educators do not always meet the needs of all students. There are a lot of students who leave school, because we do not there for them to help. For the LGBT cases, the research shows that LGBT youth report more challenges in regards to: depression, suicidal thoughts and attempts, substance abuse, anxiety, parent rejection, and gaps in school belongingness and attendance (Heck, Flenctje, & Cochran, 2011 in Cooper, 2013). In line with this, being victimized for being gay is correlated with the decrease of GPA, missed the day of school, the decrease of the feeling of belongingness, and the decrease of the positive self-esteem. Accordingly, as educators we cannot see the LGBT issue as an insignificant problem. We do not need to be gay to support the LGBT students. What we need is the strong effort to combat the oppression at schools of any kinds, including LGBT. There are two approaches to deal with the anti-bullying regarding to LGBT: short-term and long-term approach.
Sullivan High school is experiencing two sources of opponents of LGBT issues: those from outside and those from inside the school. The outside opposition is coming from a group who initiated an anti-gay prom in 2013. Meanwhile, from the inside building, there are some teachers who are publicly opposing the LGBT students. The principal of Sullivan High School should use a very careful approach to solve this problem. There are two solutions that I propose for short-term approaches: a. Promoting discussion among teachers and community, b. Using inclusive language.
Biegel (2011) in Dewitt (2012) wrote that, “All members of school community must be able to discuss the topic openly, in a courteous, respectful and professional manner, and in all possible settings” (p.30). As a principle whose main duty is creating the harmony among the school members, promoting the dialogue among staffs is considered to be urgent in addressing the LGBT cases. Besides, Dewitt (2012) contended that school need to encourage whole community (including the surrounding community) to change the culture of school. The protest from a group about an anti-gay prom in 2013 can be overcome by sitting together and having it discussed proportionally.
Another short-term strategy that I propose to address the LGBT problem is by using inclusive language. Often times, teachers and parents think that talking about LGBT issue to the students is considered taboo. However, kids are always trying to find by themselves about everything, which is prohibited for them to know. It will be more dangerous if the kids find the information of LGBT matters without any assistants. Thus, using inclusive language in order to educate kids to respect each other is considered to be effective as a campaign of combatting bullying. Biegel (2011) in Dewitt (2012) wrote that mentioning words describing LGBT youth in a neutral fashion could help schools prepare a better future for everyone.
After implementing discussion and inclusive language, the school needs to have a long-term strategy to deal with LGBT issues. There are two strategies I propose: offering Gay Straight Alliances (GSA), and creating a supportive learning environment. GSA is a group made by a school that fostering more positive attitude toward sexually diverse students (Dewitt, 2012). This strategy can foster more dialogue and understanding among students and therefore, give more space for LGBT students. Researchers reported that GSA has been proven effective to give a more welcome space for LGBT students. Besides, LGBT students will feel more welcomed to the new environment where straight and LGBT students can discuss openly. Unfortunately, a lot of schools in the United States do not have the GSA yet. Gay, Lesbian, & Straight Education Network (2012) in Cooper (2013) reported that there are 54 % school in the United States that do not have GSA in the schools. Therefore, it is imperative for Sullivan High to initiate the GSA movement in the building.
Another long-term strategy in term of LGBT is by creating supportive learning environment. Gordon (1995) in Dewitt (2012) asserted that teaching students true morality; by alerting students to all kinds of oppression, and by educating children not to be homophobic is one way to create a supportive learning environment. Even though there are a lot of people do not support the LGBT students, but it does not mean that we are approved to oppress or discriminate them at schools. Dewitt (2012) contended that teachers deserve to interrupt and intervene to the bullying case at schools until all students can feel accepted and appreciated. Creating an inclusive anti-bully curriculum with LGBT issue included, is also considered as a long-term strategy to create a better place to study. The more important thing is that schools need to guarantee all their students a safe place to study and to give zero tolerant to all kinds of discrimination especially for LGBT students. Also, the teachers at schools need to be able to bridge the gap between the parent and child. In order to realize the long term-strategies, the schools need to organize professional development for teachers with the specific topic of LGBT.
LGBT in Indonesia
As an International student and a teacher at a school in Indonesia, I am very happy to learn the LGBT issue. Indonesia is the biggest Muslim country in the world. As a country that are mostly populated by moderate Muslim, LGBT is now also becoming a serious debate in the country. My stand in this article is that I will not stress my writing on whether or not we should agree to the LGBT issues; my concern however, will focus on the anti-bullying campaign especially for LGBT students. In Indonesia, according to Tono Permana in the Coordinator of National Secretary of LGBT, there are about 3 million populations of LGBT people in Indonesia in which Jakarta as the most populous area of LGBT(Tono Permana in Chandra, 2011). Thus, it is assumed that among the 3 million people there are some of them who are students. Therefore, Indonesian government and its school should be ready to prepare to the short-term and long-term strategy as I mentioned above. Even though the report of bullying of the students of LGBT students has not appeared yet, educators are expected to be ready for the future LGBT bullying cases.
In conclusion, I do not problematize the issue whether we should support or oppose the concept LGBT students. Because there is a more urgent matter that we should address: Anti-bullying of LGBT students. Because what I believe is that all students deserve to get the same rights at schools no matter what race, religion, gender, social status, or ethnicity they are. In addressing the issue of anti-bullying issue especially in Sullivan High School (and in Indonesia), I propose two strategies: short-term strategies (promoting discussion among teachers and community, and using inclusive language), and long-term strategies (offering Gay Straight Alliances (GSA), and creating a supportive learning environment).
Chandra, Asep (2011). Diperkirakan 3 juta pria lakukan hubungan sejenis. Retrieved from http://health.kompas.com/read/2011/03/18/11182825/Diperkirakan.3.Juta.Pria.Lakukan.Seks.Sejenis
Cooper, Kristy. (2013). Students who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, and/or transgender (Chapter H). A class presentation. Michigan: Michigan State University.
Delwitt, P. (2012) Dignity for all: Safeguarding LGBT students. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.