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The Illusion of Safety

Little Rock River bridge lit up in honor of Orlando victims

     As an English teacher, I often think of ways to ensure I have an inclusive classroom. I do want each student to feel that they are an important functioning part of our class. So, that includes race, religion, and gender. I need to include the girly girl and the tomboy. I need to embrace the Muslim, Christian, Jew, Buddhist, Hindu, and yes, even in the Bible belt students who are proud atheists. I've also been careful with my language and the language of the students regarding sexual orientation. The horrific shooting at Pulse nightclub in Orlando this week highlights the fact that as an educator, I have much to learn.
     What does the law say? In 2014, the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights announced that Title IX – the civil rights law that prohibits sex discrimination in federally-funded education programs and activities – also bars discrimination on the basis of gender identity.

“Title IX’s sex discrimination prohibition extends to claims of discrimination based on gender identity or failure to conform to stereotypical notions of masculinity or femininity and OCR accepts such complaints for investigation,” reads the 46-page document. “Similarly, the actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity of the parties does not change a school’s obligations. Indeed, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) youth report high rates of sexual harassment and sexual violence.”

     Educators need to know that they can be held liable for any student on student sexual harassment if it denies one student access to a free and appropriate public education. Our students have to be able to speak freely about their orientation in order to help protect themselves. Educators must be able to listen and observe their students in order to openly discuss and report harassment.
     Luckily, despite the fact that our state is conservative, we have the words of one of our State Board of Education members to elucidate the illusion of safety the LGBT community experiences in the United States. Jay Barth wrote in the Arkansas Times, "However, as the events of Sunday morning show so clearly, the removal of those legal barriers does not provide true freedom. That freedom includes the absence of fear that one's body might be damaged just because of who one is. The Pulse killings will ideally be the start of a path to that true freedom for LGBT Americans." Barth speaks from personal knowledge of the illusion of safety and of the hope for true freedom. It is interesting and almost comforting that Barth begins his article with a reference to Ta-Nehisi Coates's argument regarding the safety of the black male body. Even the readership of the Arkansas Times should be familiar with the argument. Springboarding from this point of reference, Barth helps the readers envision a similar argument with the "gay body." Barth mentions the data regarding hate crimes but not the specifics of the data. The data is not the point. The point is that hope exists despite the lack of safety. The fifteen-hour filibuster in the house on Wednesday should bolster the hope for the future safety of all Americans.
     As a member of NCTE, I rely on the council's combined knowledge and experience during turbulent times. This week they have provided resources which are linked below. In brief, NCTE responded, "As the news of the tragedy in Orlando began to filter across the country, a growing cry of “what can we do?” accompanied the grief. For educators, one answer may lie in rethinking our curriculum and our instructional approaches to ensure we’re creating safe spaces in which our LGBTQ students can thrive and all students can confront stereotypes and prejudices." As long as my students are living with an illusion of safety, I need to do what I can to ensure their safety in my classroom and in my school.

The Fragility of the Gay Body  
Title IX and  Sex Discrimination
"Hope will never be silent." ~ Harvey Milk

Barth, J. (2016, June 16). The fragility of the gay body. Arkansas Times, June 2016. Retrieved from

Comments are welcome!

Suzanne M. Rogers, M.Ed
District Director of Professional development, AP English teacher, ELA Coach and cradle United Methodist.
Arkansas, USA


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