Taking the world by the lapels

Here at Casa de Karen, I do not have a television.  There are a few shows that I keep up with on my laptop, but this has its limitations and flaws.  One of these limitations is that I am at least a week behind in watching Glee.  So I had not seen last week’s episode yet when I had a conversation with a local teacher on Monday.

This conversation took place because this teacher had come to one of my introductory meetings for parents before they enroll their kids in my middle school class.  I was interested in her feedback, and she kindly agreed to talk with me.  At one point our conversation drifted to another sexuality educator and her work.  The teacher pointed out that this other educator is very adept at talking with people from a wide range of political, religious, and other backgrounds.  She was clearly suggesting that I ease my message somewhat, be more accommodating to less-open perspectives on sexuality.  As an example, she said the other sexuality educator would speak with groups who were not willing to talk about gay and lesbian issues, who did not consider homosexuality a moral or acceptable choice for their young people.  From the teacher’s mannerism, it seemed she thought this was a good idea on behalf of the educator, that she was willing to make accommodations in order to move people forward at their own pace.

When someone is giving me feedback, I typically just listen.  But at this point, I interrupted.  “That is not something I would ever be willing to do.”  She seemed taken aback – why would I not be willing to speak with a group who was unwilling to consider open conversation about sexual orientation?  “Too many kids are killing themselves over this.  Too many…”  She seemed further taken aback by the passion in my voice.  She nodded like she understood, cut me off, and changed the subject.  Now, looking back, I wonder if she did understand.

Sexual orientation is something that is inherent to who a person is, and the kind of hate that is pounded into some young people is astronomically difficult to live through.  Last week’s Glee showed a high school student attempting suicide after what appears to be one day of harassment and hate because of his newly discovered sexual orientation.  Far too many young people live through years of such treatment, and some of them attempt to kill themselves – or do kill themselves – because of the experience.  The ones who don’t go to such extremes still experience deep, and sometimes lasting, periods of emotional pain.

I’m glad to see Glee taking on, again, this issue of teen suicide because of sexual harassment based on sexual orientation.  I am disappointed, deeply disappointed, to hear of a colleague who is willing to sweep this issue under the table.  I want to take the world by the lapels and force it to collectively watch the It Gets Better Project video by the Fort Worth City Council Member Joel Burns (watch below).   I want it to watch the It Gets Better Project video by 14 year-old Jamey Rodemeyer from last spring (this video is not available for embedding, so you’ll need to click through to YouTube to watch it.).  Then I want to tell the world about Jamey’s suicide last autumn and tell it how, at a dance after his death, a song was dedicated in his name, and his classmates and peers chanted, “We’re glad you’re dead.”  And I want to look the collective world in the eye and ask if it still thinks it is acceptable for any group to say that sexual orientation is off the table as a topic of conversation.

In my classroom, that would be an unacceptable answer.

Joel Burns:

For more information on the It Gets Better Project, visit their website.

About Karen Rayne

Dr. Karen Rayne has been supporting parents and families since 2007 when she received her PhD in Educational Psychology. A specialist in child wellbeing, Dr. Rayne has spent much of her career supporting parents, teachers, and other adults who care for children and teenagers.


  1. I agree that this issue is not addressed enough! Your mention about years of emotional pain reminds me of a conversation I had with a good friend recently. Really, she has only become a “good friend” rather than an acquaintance since this conversation.

    This friend has recently started dating a transgender man. He had met her just before he shared his true gender identity with everyone. She was, and is, still very excited to be dating him, even though she generally dates women. He does not plan to seek corrective surgery.

    I immediately started chatting with her, considering him as heterosexual. However, he does not consider himself so, even though he is a man interested in women. Apparently all the trauma he experienced while telling people he was a lesbian has left a bad taste in his mouth with the word/idea of heterosexual. I was happy to be corrected, but sad that he has experienced so much yuck.

    The other thing about this conversation that your post reminds me of, is that this conversation happened at all. My friend’s other friends have not been able to have any kind of normal conversation about a new love interest. They can’t get past the whole man/transgender issue. That is just not a big issue with me, but then I have several transgender friends and am often involved in a community that talks about these things, and sexuality in general, very openly. It makes me sad that more people are not so open 🙁 and agree that you should never compromise like that when you give classes, or speak to anyone, really. Kudos to you!

  2. Someone has to tell them they’re wrong. I don’t see why it isn’t you. Perhaps I don’t understand what you see as the accommodations you’d have to make which are unacceptable. Would you mind saying a little more on that?

  3. This is a good question, John. I am happy to tell groups that they’re wrong, and I’m happy to talk with them respectfully and openly about why this is an important topic and how they can go about incorporating a healthier message into their communities. However, it is a rare thing that a group wants that. For the most part, if a group is homophobic, they make it clear up front that any conversation about sexual orientation and how to incorporate a healthy message will not be tolerated. This is one of those topics that everyone asks about upfront – and they want to make sure that the speaker’s message matches their own. I have found that in one-on-one conversation with individuals, we are often able to make some ground, and so I have long conversations with the people who do the hiring of speakers about why my message around sexual orientation is important – and life saving. I am happy to support them in moving their community or group into a space where they’re ready to hear that message as a whole. What I am not willing to do is let the conversation be swept under the carpet and ignored. Does this help clarify my position and approach for you?

  4. Thank you, Karen. It does clarify and it sounds like a right way to do the work.

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