What is it? What can we do about it?
This fall, six gay teens committed suicide after being harassed
or bullied. Among them was Tyler Clementi, an 18-year-old student
at Rutgers University, who killed himself after his roommate and
another student streamed online a secret webcam of Clementi kissing
a man in his dormitory room.
is a two-part lesson for students in grades 5-8 (ages 11-15) that
is aimed at increasing students' understanding of homophobia.
The first part focuses on personal viewpoints on and experiences
of our differences; the second part focuses on what students can
do to make their classroom and school safe for everyone.
Tell the class: We are going to discuss some important and sensitive
issues today, so we're going to develop some group guidelines
so that everyone feels comfortable and safe. If the class has
already developed such guideline, go over them again and add any
if necessary. Discuss the following and why they are important.
Whatever is discussed here stays here.
to pass: You have the right to pass if you don't feel comfortable
name calling or finger-pointing.
to disagree: We may have differences and we should feel free
to discuss them without having hard feelings towards each other.
talking about groups of people, use the word some and not all.
from your own point of view: Use I-statements and don't present
other people's viewpoints as your own.
Are there any other guidelines we should add?
Share with the class an anecdote about a time when you felt different
when you were a teenager. Describe what happened and how it made
students index cards and ask them to answer the following questions:
is one way in which you are "different"?
do you feel about it?
students 5 minutes to write down their responses, and another
5 minutes to share ways they are different with the person sitting
next to them. Then ask for volunteers to share ways they are different
and chart their responses.
the students to share their feelings about being different. What
does it feel like to be different? Write some of those responses
on the board. Ask for reflections on what students shared.
Looking at Isms
Ask students to define the following terms briefly. If they don't
know, give them the definitions below.
The systematic mistreatment of people based on their race. Like
the other "isms," racism can manifest itself on either
an individual or institutional level.
The systematic mistreatment of people based on their gender.
The systematic mistreatment of people based on their age.
What do each of these isms have in common? What are some examples
of racism, sexism, and ageism you've seen in your life?
students to call out examples, separate them on the board into
two categories: individual and institutional, like this:
teacher assumes I can't write well because English isn't my
is no basketball team for girls in this school.
kids don't want to hang out with me because because I'm
get followed around the department store because I'm black.
what you are doing. Point out the differences between individual
and institutional discrimination. Explain that individual discrimination
is between individual people. Give an example such as a boy thinking
a girl can't play basketball. Explain that institutional discrimination
is when the prejudice has the backing of an institution like a
school, a workplace, a store, a police department, etc. For instance:
The school has a policy that allows boys but not girls to play
on a school basketball team.
the students: We're now going to discuss another form of prejudice
and discrimination that involves homosexuality -- that is, gay
or lesbian people.
Make sure everyone knows what the words gay, lesbian, homosexual,
bisexual, and heterosexual/straight mean. Make sure you give an
opportunity for the students to ask any questions they want to
about this. They are defined as follows:
sexual desire or behavior directed toward a person or people of
one's own gender
Gay: a homosexual person, especially a male
Lesbian: a female homosexual
Bisexual: a person who is sexually responsive to both people of
Heterosexual/Straight: sexual feeling or behavior directed toward
a person or people of the opposite gender.
the students you will use an activity called "fishbowl"
to help them explore these issues in more depth. Begin the conversation
by asking 5-7 students to make a circle with their chairs in the
middle of the room, or around a table if that works better. Ask
everyone else to sit around the circle in their chairs to create
a larger circle around the smaller circle. Only people in the
smaller circle (the fishbowl) can speak, but students in the outside
circle students will have opportunities to go inside the circle.
by asking a question and inviting students in the fishbowl to
speak to it in a "go-round" with each student responding
without being interrupted. Next, designate a specific amount of
time for clarifying questions and further comments from the fishbowl
group. After 15 minutes or so, invite students from the larger
circle to participate in the fishbowl conversation by tapping
a fishbowl student on the shoulder and moving into that student's
seat. Remind the students about the group guidelines discussed
at the beginning of the lesson. If a student fails to follow a
guideline, give another reminder.
the following questions and/or create some of your own:
you found out that a good friend of yours was gay or lesbian,
what would you do and feel?
you ever witnessed someone who is gay or lesbian being teased
or made fun of? How do you think they felt?
you found out that an adult in your life (parent, teacher, friend
of family, family member) was gay or lesbian, how would you
do you do when you hear your peers making fun of someone they
think is gay, lesbian, or bisexual?
you know someone who is gay? If so, how do you feel about the
fact that they are gay?
comfortable are you around gays/lesbians? Why do you think you
feel that way?
there something that has influenced the way you feel about gay/lesbian/bisexual
the fishbowl, reconvene the full class for a discussion. Ask:
How did it feel to be in the fishbowl? How did it feel to be outside
the fishbowl and just listening? How was it to share your thoughts
and feelings about this topic? Did you learn anything new? How
do you feel?
Do a go-round: Ask students to share one thing they learned or
one feeling they had during today's session.
what we discussed in our last session. Ask: Did any thoughts or
feelings come up after our discussion last time? Ask students
to share anything they have been thinking about or feeling since
the last session.
Ask if anyone has ever heard the word "homophobia."
Ask what it means. If no one has an accurate definition, define
it for them: Homophobia is a prejudice against (fear or dislike
of) homosexual people and homosexuality. Ask the students if they
can think of any examples of homophobia.
if anyone has ever witnessed homophobic behavior. What does it
look like? What does it sound like? How does it feel?
you did in the previous lesson, begin two lists on the board,
one labeled "individual" and the other "institutional."
Record students' responses in the appropriate category.
ask students: What are some examples of homophobia you have seen
in school? What kinds of things do people do or say when they
tease or bully someone about being gay? How and where does this
happen? (In the cafeteria or playground? Online?)
students: How do you think this would feel to the person who is
being teased? How do you think it would feel to anyone who was
gay, had gay family members or friends, or who might be questioning
whether they are gay or not? Help students make the connection
between those feelings and the feelings students discussed in
the last session about other forms of discrimination.
ask students to give some examples of how what we hear in the
media (or in society in general) might contribute to homophobia.
Where does homophobia come from?
can we make our classroom for everyone?
students: What can each of us to do to make sure that our classroom
is safe for everyone, including gay, lesbian, or bisexual students--or
students who are questioning if they may be gay? Brainstorm a
list of ideas and chart them.
can we do if we see someone being teased or bullied because they
are gay--or for any reason?
can we make our school for everyone?
students if they can think of ways we can help make our school
safe for everyone, including gay, lesbian, bisexual and questioning
some students seem to be wrestling with their attitudes about
homophobia, you may want to conclude the lesson here, and consider
ways the class can continue its examination of homophobia in the
future that will enable all student to increase their understanding
of this issue.
if students seem ready to act on this issue, ask them if they
would be interested in developing a class-wide project to help
make the school safe for everyone, including gay and lesbian students.
Invite ideas from the class and chart them.
there seems to be a consensus on one good idea, adopt it. If there
are lots of ideas and no consensus, have students vote to decide
on the top idea. Then help students begin organizing their project
by soliciting their responses to these questions:
What is the idea?
What problem is it going to address?
Is it realistic?
What are 3-5 tasks that need to be done to make it happen?
Who needs to be consulted (principal/administrator, teacher,
How do we get other students to buy into the idea?
What materials do we need?
responses will form the basis of an action plan. Support students
to insure that they actually implement their plan.
Ask students to share one thing they learned or one feeling they
had during today's session.
did this activity work in your class? Please share your stories
and other feedback with us! Email: email@example.com.