In this activity, students consider how high school age youth are
making a difference for the rights of sexual minorities in school. They
also consider how change has a ripple effect to understand how their
actions have significance beyond their immediate effect.
Age Level: High school to adult
Time: About 2 hours
Subject Areas: Social Studies, English
Part 1: Out of the Past
This section of the activity draws on the video Out of the Past (available from the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network), and in particular the segments featuring Kelli Peterson, a student in Salt Lake City who sought to establish a gay-straight alliance at her high school. For more background on Kelli's story, see Handout 1: Kelli Peterson and the Fight to Establish a Gay-Straight Alliance.
After showing the video, you may want to focus on particular segments using the Out of the Past: Teachers' Guide accompanying the video. The film uses the stories of individuals spanning nearly 400 years of U.S. history to illustrate how gays and lesbians have been part of the past and the role they have played in making history.
Part 2: Charting the Dynamic Process of Change
Out of the Past will help students understand how history is made, in terms of the individuals responsible for actions in the past and in terms of those in the present who preserve and interpret stories from the past. To help students see that one change can have significance beyond that immediate action, use Handout 2: The Effects Wheel as a means of scaffolding this understanding. The effects wheel can be reproduced as an overhead transparency or copied on the chalkboard or butcher paper.
To demonstrate how the effects wheel works, complete one section of the wheel. In the center of the sample effects wheel, write: Lesbians and gays speak out about their lives. Ask students to speculate about the possible effects of such a change, referring to the segment of the Out of the Past video featuring Barbara Gittings. Write one of the ideas generated by the class in the first ring surrounding the center. Students might suggest that lesbian and gay individuals will feel "whole," as Gittings describes. Or they may suggest that a group like the American Psychiatric Association will reconsider its classification of homosexuality as a sickness based on contradictory evidence from the now-public lives of gay people. Then ask the students to consider the repercussions that this primary effect might have. Write one or two of their ideas in the next concentric circle of secondary effects. One possibility might be greater acceptance of lesbians and gays in general society. Another possibility might be rewriting certain legislation that criminalizes homosexuality. Another possibility might be to see homophobia, not homosexuality, as a social problem. Write one or two more of the students' ideas in the outermost circle. These are the secondary effects of a social change.
Give students an opportunity to ask any clarifying questions about how the effects wheel works. Once you are sure they understand how to complete the effects wheel, divide the class into pairs and ask them to complete an effects wheel for one of the changes below. The first five changes describe changes in schooling at the local school level. The second five changes describe changes at the international level. You may want to assign the same change to more than one pair so they can compare their predictions about possible effects stemming from that change.
1. What if a school without a gay-straight alliance formed one?
2. What if the history, literature, issues, and accomplishments of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender persons were included in the curriculum?
3. What if a state without a LGBT students' bill of rights enacted such legislation?
4. What if no one were afraid to be an ally to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender students?
5. What if the most popular person in your school "came out?"
6. What if homosexuality were not a crime in Romania?
7. What if the government of Zambia did not persecute lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender citizens?
8. What if the government of Canada recognized same-sex partnerships for all legal purposes?
9. What if granting equal rights to sexual minorities were a requirement for joining international organizations, such as the European Union?
10. What if police no longer kept "pink lists" of persons they suspect or know to be gay or lesbian?
Each group should complete its effects wheel as a poster. After the groups complete their posters, display them around the room and allow students to take a "gallery walk." At least one member of each group should stay by his or her group's poster to answer any questions that other students may have as they view the effects wheels. Students in each group should take turns fulfilling this responsibility so every student has a chance to view the works of other groups.
After students have viewed other groups' posters, ask the following questions to synthesize what the students learned: