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by Ian K. Macgillivray
Rowman & Littlefield, 2003
Review by Kevin Purday on Jun 5th 2007

Sexual Orientation and School Policy

This book is the published outcome of a large part of the doctoral work undertaken by the author in the School of Education at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Essentially, the book is a case study. It is centered on the attempts to re-educate all the relevant players in one school district (High Plains) about the need to stop discrimination against the GLBTIQ members of that community. The acronym refers to both sexual orientation and sexual identity. The letters GLB stand for the three non-heterosexual or not purely heterosexual orientations of Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual. The letters TI stand for the two alternative identities of Transgendered (people registered at birth as male but who seem themselves as female, people registered at birth as female but who see themselves as male, and anywhere along the male/female spectrum) and Intersex which includes a surprisingly high proportion of the population (between 0.18% and 1%) who are not fully male or female or are one gender as regards the exterior but the other gender as regards interior organs or are both male and female -- the main conditions being: neither fully XX nor fully XY, Klinefelter's syndrome (XXY), synchronous hermaphroditism/ovotestes, androgen insensitivity, adrenal hyperplasia syndrome, vaginal agenesis, gonadal dysgenesis, and hypospadias. The final letter, Q, stands for Queer and is being used as a highly positive catch-all term.

The book deals briefly with the history of how and why the school district came to add sexual orientation (with sexual identity somewhat unsatisfactorily subsumed within that) to its non-discrimination policy. Officials who were themselves gay, although not openly so, aided the process as did people who had gay relatives. The 'why' is because of the appalling abuse suffered by GLBTIQ students at the hands of both fellow students and, it is very sad to say, teachers and administrators. However, the essence of the book seems to lie in the debate between the moral conservatives and the High Plains Safe Schools Committee. The name of the committee indicates its basic approach to the issue of tolerance towards GLBTIQ students i.e. that they needed to feel safe at school. The committee argued that sexual orientation (and sexual identity) needed to be made explicit in the non-discrimination policy so as to flag up the issue and stop the abuse. The moral conservatives countered that the non-discrimination policy was all-inclusive and no one group needed to be singled out for mention since other groups, such as disfigured people, would then feel excluded and, furthermore, it was neither possible nor desirable to list every group in a non-discrimination policy. The committee, as the author admits later in his book, to a certain extent invited trouble by writing into the policy that diversity should be 'valued' rather than asking for diversity to be 'respected'.  This then provoked a huge debate because the moral conservatives rightly -- as the author admits -- argued that 'valuing' is tantamount to accepting that being gay, lesbian or bisexual is normal (it was sexual orientation and not sexual identity that was really the issue) and that this was a position which went clean against their religious beliefs. So the crux of the argument came down to a constitutional issue about the rights of individuals to hold religious views (even if those views seem bigoted to others) versus the rights of individuals not to be discriminated against on the grounds of race, color, religion, sexual orientation, etc. This debate is covered in depth and at length.

The non-discrimination policy was implemented despite the opposition but the author recounts how making a policy is one thing but getting it put into practice by everyone is quite another matter.

The book is well written and persuasively argued although some aspects of the argument are wearyingly repeated. There are numerous appendices containing technical aspects not suitable for the body of the work. There is a good index and an excellent bibliography. This is a book that teachers and administrators would do well to read. There is a great deal of intolerance towards GLBTIQ students in most countries. Only in Buddhist societies has this reviewer noticed an almost total lack of discrimination towards both younger and older people who are GLBTIQ. The book raises serious issues and most certainly does a lot to raise awareness. It is to be recommended to anyone working in education.

 © 2007 Kevin M. Purday

Kevin Purday is a consultant in international education working mainly in Europe, Africa and the Middle East. His main focus is on helping schools to set up the International Baccalaureate Middle Years and Diploma Programs. He has taught both philosophy and psychology in the I.B. diploma program.


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