The struggle for LGBT rights continues

(Editor’s note: This is part two of a two-part series on gay issues in our community. Part one can be found in our first issue of The WEB.) “The Ames community is atypical of Iowa, and really the nation as a whole, on LGBT issues. But there’s still a lot of discrimination, and a lot of heterosexism.” These words were spoken by ISU professor Warren Blumenfeld, an assistant professor in Multicultural and International Curriculum Studies. Blumenfeld’s stance is shared by many around the community, especially those who have been personally affected by homophobia. However, while it is easy to acknowledge the presence of heterosexism—general bias against homosexual people—it is more difficult to identify the ways in which it manifests itself. Legislation on a topic can usually be a starting point in assessing public attitude towards that issue. Iowa is one of 16 states that protects LGBT people in its anti-bullying laws, and one of 4 or 5 states that covers gender expression. This has become a hot issue, as transgender people recently were dropped from a house bill that would cover workplace discrimination. However, Ames’ equal-rights ordinance was not passed without a great deal of controversy. “We worked on promoting the bill for about ten years, until it was passed in 1991,” said Kathy Hickok, chair of the curriculum committee for Queer Studies at ISU. Examples of opposition to the bill include full-page newspaper ads by conservative organizations such as Citizens v. the Homosexual Privilege Amendment. Despite some bitter disagreement over the amendment, it did get passed, leaving one still searching for answers regarding the prevalence of homophobic harassment. One place where many have found clues is in school curriculum. “Gay issues simply aren’t being addressed in most public schools,” Blumenfeld said. The professor went on to cite situations in which homosexual issues could be covered, but usually aren’t, such as in English classes. He claimed that oftentimes in English classes, an author’s sexual orientation will not be addressed, even if it is relevant to the reading. This likely varies on a case-by-case basis, though—for example, Willa Cather’s sexuality was covered in Honors English 10. Few students also know basic things about the LGBT community, such as the fact that October is Gay History Month. “I’ve heard a lot of feedback from kids who just want to know more about their own culture,” Counseler John Burke said. Burke is the staff advisor to Spectrum, Ames High’s gay-straight alliance. However, the very definition of LGBT people as a culture has also been a point of contention. “Many multicultural education specialists say that gay issues aren’t given as much coverage because homosexuality is not really a culture. Sometimes, they just acknowledge that the backlash from schools and the community would be too great,” Blumenfeld said. Cultural identity is an issue that runs parallel to AIDS education, which many say has “re-medicalized” homosexuals, reducing them to medical group rather than a social or cultural group. Blumenfeld cited four demographics that became “disposible identity groups” after the AIDS epidemic became widely known: homosexuals, hemophiliacs, Haitians, and heroin users. Once it became clear that AIDS was more than a phenomenon among the “four H’s,” federal funding increased greatly. In high school, AIDS is addressed in health class, but only in terms of prevention (condom use, etc), leaving little room for discussion of sexual orientation. This, according to Health teacher Kim Burnett, is left to the biology teachers. The Ames High biology curriculum doesn’t “have any objectives that involve homosexuality,” biology teacher Mike Todd said. However, he went on to say that “we do talk about it, from a scientific point of view, when it is brought up by students in relation to other topics we teach.” Whether or not the school’s (or indeed the community’s or nation’s) policies are fair to all people depends who you ask. However, it will always be a sensitive issue.