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"Fag" in my

"Fag" in my

classroom " >

"You can't help what color you are, but if you choose to be a fag, I have the right to hate on you," said "Bryan," a student in my high school senior integrated class, a blended humanities course combining literature with psychology and sociology. I was stunned. So were the 37 other students in the classroom. What should I have done? I wanted to fly across the room and jack the kid up against a wall. But no matter how abhorrent the slur, my job as a teacher was to educate.

My integrated class at a suburban Philadelphia high school always culminates in June with a series of student-led discussions on newsworthy sociological topics. The activity functions as a reward for work done well throughout the year, and it's a popular way to wrap up an academically challenging class. With my approval, one group selected same-sex marriage as their topic. As a veteran teacher, I know how to prepare a class for difficult discussions, and this was to be no free-for-all. The groups had to provide evidence from unbiased sources, summarize relevant history, present pro and con sides, administer open-ended questions, incorporate an article, and provide closure. They were also schooled to maintain their neutrality and help the rest of the students stay on task and "disagree in agreeable ways." It was the perfect lesson plan.

And then Bryan spoke up. The messages Bryan had received regarding homosexuality had to stem from somewhere, and education could eradicate or at least moderate them. Right?

I can't help but think of a line from season 5 of Queer as Folk. As the characters struggled with Proposition 14, a fictitious state measure designed to repeal same-sex domestic-partnership rights, one of the couples considered a move to Canada. Said Melanie to Lindsay: "There are plenty of straight people who don't hate us. But the ones who do no longer have to do it behind our backs. They can do it in the White House, in the churches, on television, in the streets. Is that the kind of place we want to live? Is that the kind of place we want to raise our kids?" Maybe the classroom could have been added to Melanie's list.

But back in my class the students rose to the occasion. After Bryan's assertion and my admonishment to remember the discussion rules, others spoke out. One girl explained how her provincial views about homosexuality were challenged when her best friend came out. Another student shared her story: Her gay father and his partner were an important part of her life. There were compassionate tears from several who acknowledged that gay and lesbian friends and family struggled with challenges straight folks never had to face. And of his volition, Bryan wrote a letter of apology one day later.

The new school year has started. And as politicians and special interest groups battle against the gay rights movement, I'm proud to say that in room 156 at my school, optimism and compassion govern. My students will continue discussing controversial topics, including gay issues. And GLBTQ: The Survival Guide for Queer and Questioning Teens has joined other reference books in my lending library.

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"Fag" in my

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