Using the Curriculum

Amnesty International gave the name "Breaking the Silence" to its first international campaign in 1994 on behalf of the rights of sexual minorities. Such a name has an ironic twist when used to describe human rights education about lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) rights. Though teachers, administrators, and textbook publishers are often hesitant to talk about sexual orientation, our schools are hardly silent.

Taunts of "faggot," "lesbo," and "homo" make the hallways a hostile place for many students. A 1993 survey for the American Association of University Women noted that male students in the 8th through 11th grades believed that being called gay was a worse form of sexual harassment than having their clothes pulled off or being forced to engage in a sex act. Parents and pressure groups argue over books in the school library and the curricular content of classes. The American Library Association reports that one of the "most challenged" books of the 1990s was Daddyís Roommate, a childrenís picture book illustrating a loving relationship between a young boy, his father, and his fatherís male partner. One fifth grade teacher in California was disciplined for allowing a 15 minute, student-initiated discussion of the "coming out" episode of the television show Ellen, a moment in television history that made the cover of Time magazine.

Some of the sounds "breaking the silence" are coming from students seeking justice and dignity for all regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity. High school students in Bremerton, Washington rejected a proposal to oust student council members who were openly homosexual. A group of Raleigh, North Carolina high school students handed out fliers responding to posters ridiculing gays. In 1993, Massachusetts became the first state to outlaw discrimination against gay and lesbian students in public schools. The measure was signed into law in large part because of work by gay and straight students who held marches and rallies, lobbied legislators, and testified at State House committees. Connecticut, Wisconsin, and California have since followed suit.

This curriculum is intended to further thoughtful examination and responsible action among high school students about LGBT issues. Unlike other curricula, however, this discussion is not in the context of civil or political rights but in the broader context of human rights. These rights, as defined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, include, among others, the right to education, identity, security, assembly, expression, employment, health, and familyóall relevant to the current discussion of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender rights.

The activities in this curriculum promote appropriate action in addition to reflection and discussion. Students are asked to take responsibility for the homophobia that causes human rights abuses. This homophobia may be in their schools in the form of harassment or violence against gay students, in their community during referenda elections seeking to deny gays and lesbians their equal rights, or in the world when persons are imprisoned, tortured, and executed for their consensual relationships with adults of the same sex. This curriculum prepares students for responding in meaningful ways to such challenges.

The activities in this curriculum can be taught individually or all together in sequence. The more they are integrated into general classroom investigations of human rights, the better since such integration allows students to see LGBT rights even more clearly in a human rights framework. While this curriculum was written specifically with an audience of secondary school age students in mind, the activities can be adapted for middle school students as well as adults engaged in anti-homophobia training.

As a whole, the activities in this curriculum aim not only to balance examination of and action on behalf of global and local issues, but also to help students understand how the local and global issues are connected. When students and staff create a safe school environment for sexual minority youth, they ensure all students with equal access to education and they engender respect that can contribute to appreciation for the human rights of all. In schools where students and faculty do not feel comfortable bringing up the institutionís homophobia, the activities with an international human rights focus can provide an opportunity for introducing discussion of the rights of sexual minorities that may lead back to examination of the school. In other schools, students may be concerned about their own setting, but lack knowledge about the larger international human rights context for addressing homophobia. In such cases, the activities about the local context can become the springboard for looking at the larger world.

Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Rights: A Human Rights Perspective also balances the objective and the subjective. For many teens, sexual orientation and gender identity can be one of the most difficult topics to discuss seriously. However, activities like those featured in this curriculum, role playing and case studies from around the world, allow students to engage in serious discussion about human rights and sexuality without making their own sexual orientation or gender identity the issue. Of course, in many schools, studentsí real or supposed sexual orientation is often the issue, and young people are ready to discuss the topic with adults who can provide needed information and new perspectives. This curriculum provides both facts and a variety of perspectives on what human rights means for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender persons.

Drawing on this information and these perspectives, teachers can address another dilemma in teaching about human rights and sexual orientation and gender identityóbalancing a safe environment for all students while at the same time encouraging the free flow of ideas and opinions. Again, the activities in this curriculum have been developed with this balancing act in mind. Role plays, for example, allow students to present a variety of viewpoints, including homophobic ones, for discussion and analysis without the discussion devolving into personal attacks. Such methods allow teachers and students to examine and judge ideas rather than each other. Where students and teachers believe they are ready to connect objective discussion to more personal reflection, the activities provide opportunities to do so.

Whether the discussion focuses on human rights abuses around the globe or in the school halls, this curriculum is intended to help students realize their responsibility to take action to promote human rights and respond to their abuse. Through such action, we can insure schools and a world recognizing and celebrating human rights for all.


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