Respecting our differences

Posted: Wednesday, October 03, 2001

I noticed a flyer for an upcoming class at UAS this weekend. "Fostering Safe Schools by Reducing Homophobia" is an excellent opportunity for our community and school leaders to learn more ways in which to create safe school environments.

As a past employee with the school district, I can appreciate the need for increased dialogue and awareness around homophobia. Daily, I heard negative comments like "fag" or "queer" or "that's so gay." I think we, as a community and as those who work within the schools, need to look at the reasons why youth often use homophobic terms to put down their peers. Regardless of individual beliefs surrounding homosexuality, we owe it to our youth to set the standard for what is and is not acceptable in terms of how to treat others. Schools are places in this society where children from a variety of backgrounds come together and learn to talk, play and work together. Schools are integral in not only preparing children to be full participants in society, but also to be full participants in democracy. Democracy is built on acceptance and practice of the principle of equality of rights, opportunity, and treatment. As adults, we must model these tenets and convey to our youth how important they are for our community's well-being. On many occasions, I have witnessed Juneau's youth show their capacity for acceptance. Many have a friend, brother, sister, aunt, uncle, parent, grandparent who is gay and understand that homosexuality is something that is part of our culture. Let's broaden the scope and discussion.

It seems to me this class will assist teachers and educators to identify homophobic harassment and behavior in their school and take the information back to their co-workers. Through increased dialogue, some fears that surround this issue may begin to ease. Teachers and administrators will be setting the standard in order to help the students examine attitudes of discrimination based on sexual orientation. Increased awareness and discussion about homophobia does not equate to teaching students to be homosexual or heterosexual. It is about teaching a respect for differences. It is about having open, honest conversations with our young people. All children have the right to learn in an atmosphere free of fear, hatred, intolerance, and harassment. Teachers, parents, students and all community members are essential to building a movement toward a better future for all.

Julie Oster


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