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Integrating LGBT awareness in education

The theme of the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHO) last month was Combating Homophobic and Transphobic Bullying in Our Schools. While programs directly addressing bullying are important, on their own they address only half of the issue. We should look to a situation whether rather than simply being treated sensitively, gay life is treated in the education system as a normal part of life. We should reconsider how lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are considered, or more usually ignored, throughout the school curriculum. It shouldn’t just be a case of ‘Now we’re going to talk about gay people’.

When I studied W. H. Auden’s ‘Funeral Blues’ at a Junior Cert level in English, our class was commended for not being so immature as to ask if he was gay, which of course Auden was. With its lines,

He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last forever, I was wrong.

it is as good as any poem to show the universality of feelings of attachment and grief, and the biographical context is as relevant as it would be for any other poet. We also studied The Merchant of Venice for the Junior Cert, and discussed the varieties of love, platonic, romantic and erotic in different relationships in the play. Why not consider whether Antonio’s feelings for Bassanio, a man for whom he was willing to put his life on the line for the sake of a some of money, could be seen as unrequited love? Not the only way of understanding the relationship, but neither an unreasonable one. The came principle of mentioning gay relationships when relevant should be true in Irish. And while the syllabuses of foreign languages do not include literature, as they did once, why shouldn’t the occasional French boy in comprehension be writing to his copain.

Someone gave, in conversation on this, the example of the History course, that in a profile of Edward Carson, it mentioned that it was his cross-examination of Oscar Wilde that led to the latter’s prosecution for ‘gross indecency’, without any explanation for what that meant. Similarly, in the case of Roger Casement, that his diaries recounting sexual relations with men were used against him in his trial is relevant to his biography.

Somewhat more positively, in discussing modern social and cultural history, the role of Hilton Edward and Micheál mac Liammóir could be mentioned. They were two Englishmen who met in Ireland, and who founded the Gate Theatre in 1928, managing it throughout their careers. They were arguably the one couple who were allowed to be gay in Ireland of the time, and were effectively, if not in words, acknowledged as such by the establishment. A later social history would include decriminalisation in 1993 in the context of other social change.

In Political Geography, the different legal position of gay or transgendered people should be considered just as other differences between countries are, from Argentina on one end of a scale, with full marriage and gender recognition rights, to countries like Iran, where gay men have recently been executed.

The Civic, Social and Political Education course (which has large room for improvement in any case) should consider LGBT rights in its context as an ongoing political debate, in Ireland and elsewhere. A curriculum of Religious Education that allowed criticism as much as consideration and comparison would discuss religion’s position on gay people as much as it does other matters of social policy.

And of course, Latin, Greek and Classical Civilisation lend themselves without much effort to mentioning the occasional gay historical character or mythical figure, with even a transgender character in the case of Tiresias.

In an article of a good while back (bookmarked for future blogging purposes), Donald Clarke made a comment that while well meant, misses crucial points, when he wrote ‘A person who disapproves of somebody on the basis of his or her recreational activities with consenting adults is a bigot’. Being gay is not something pertaining to a singular and private aspect of our lives; what man describes their relationship with their wife as ‘recreational activities’? But as important, we can’t allow being gay to be thought of as something that begins at 18. Being gay should be treated as a normal part of life in school, there no more or less than in life. This is simply about correcting the relative invisibility of gay people in what arises in school courses.

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