Despite the growing awareness of LGBT issues, thousands of people keep homophobic beliefs and attitudes towards gays, lesbians, and bisexuals. Schools are not secured from the risks and impacts of homophobia since not all students display acceptance or, at least, tolerance to transgender individuals. This is, probably, why gender scholars are becoming more attentive to the problems of homophobia in schools and propose ways to overcome these difficulties among students. Unfortunately, many school educators do not realize that their effectiveness depends not only on the formal curriculum but also on their daily behaviors and decisions. This is what Hanlon (2009) calls “the hidden curriculum”.
According to Hanlon (2009), the hidden curriculum is everything teachers tell their students about LGBT, sexuality, and gender through their everyday decisions and actions. The hidden curriculum encompasses numerous ways in which teachers reinforce gender roles, norms, and beliefs in the classroom (Hanlon, 2009). The most problematic aspect of the hidden curriculum is that, according to Hanlon (2009), educators do not always realize the things they do in term of gender roles and norms. Teachers and education professionals may assign gender roles and impose gender beliefs that do not favor the inclusion of LGBT individuals in their classrooms. Many teachers are afraid of changing the binary structure of gender relationships – the binary structure, which is no longer relevant and does not reflect changes in the quality of human relationships in the contemporary society. The hidden curriculum norms severely impact transgender students (Hanlon, 2009).
One of the primary sources of these curriculum problems is the way teachers talk: language connotes sexist attitudes and, at times, teachers do not even notice how they send misogynist messages to their students (Hanlon, 2009). The context is another source of discriminative messages and an essential element of the hidden curriculum. Very often, teachers limit their discussions of gender and LGBT issues to health classes and sexually transmitted diseases, and this certainly does not help generate respect and tolerance to gender diversity in the classroom (Hanlon, 2009).
The current state of research suggests that teachers themselves are guilty of spreading the message of homophobia among their students. One of the key barriers to overcoming homophobia in schools is teachers’ failure to address homophobic remarks or their reluctance to deal with students’ homophobic behaviors openly (Hanlon, 2009). The presence of teachers does not keep students from making homophobic statements and expressing their negative attitudes to LGBT issues. Self-censorship and fear of parents’ opposition makes it extremely difficult for teachers to include LGBT materials in their curriculums and teach their children the basics of gender relationships in the modern society (Hanlon, 2009). Apparently, many teachers welcome the inclusion of LGBT materials in their curriculums, and many of them also respect and accept transgender and homosexuality, but they do it secretly, and fear often triumphs their initial willingness to overcome homophobia in the classroom (Hanlon, 2009).
It is a pity that teachers ignore the growing number of LGBT parents, whose children attend public schools. Dykstra (2005) is right: children of transgender parents also attend kindergartens and preschool facilities, and they need an environment that fosters positive transgender attitudes. Gender is a social construct, and teachers can significantly influence the way transgender and heterosexual individuals perceive their social roles in a diverse society. Therefore, teachers should talk about difference (Dykstra, 2005). They have to create a classroom, where students can ask questions about sexuality and gender (Dykstra, 2005). Of course, the risks of parents’ opposition to sexual openness should not be disregarded, and it could be beneficial if teachers could involve parents in a series of educational activities to teach them and their children the foundations of sexuality, diversity, and transgender in the classroom.
Culture profoundly impacts sexual beliefs and behaviors. In many cultures, non-heterosexuals experience excessive pressures and have to manage their sexual dynamics in ways that enable them to retain their individuality without compromising their social position. This is the reason, why the Muslim society has become a popular target of LGBT research. In a society where religious identification and traditions are powerful and actively enforced, non-heterosexuals face considerable challenges trying to manage their sexual behaviors and beliefs. Members of Muslim communities report much stronger religious adherence as compared to their white and African American counterparts (Yip, 2004). Islam is not simply a religion for Muslim communities; it is a complex cultural cluster that permeates each and every aspect of their everyday decisions (Yip, 2004). The image of Islam is strongly correlated with duality in gender relationships, and the hegemonic status of heterosexuality leaves no room for self-realization for non-heterosexual Muslim individuals (Yip, 2004). This strong rejection of non-heterosexuality is believed to have its roots in the Qur’an, the literal word of God which Muslims are not allowed to compromise (Yip, 2004). With marriage being the ultimate form of self-realization and recognition in the Muslim world, non-heterosexuality is believed to present a serious threat to conformity, kinship relationships, closely-knit family unions, and family honor.
In the Muslim culture, homosexuality is often equaled to cultural and social treasure. Against the background of dualistic moral purity, non-heterosexual Muslims are perceived as traitors of their culture and social obligations (Yip, 2004). Unlike the western society that at least features some form of gay culture, individuals in the Muslim culture do not possess and cannot have any definable gay identity (Yip, 2004). Sexual morality is considered as one of the main criteria of their moral and religious purity. Still, even the strongest laws of morality and dual sexuality cannot control the emergence of sexual pluralism and LGBT identities which, in the Muslim society, are considered as dissident (Yip, 2004).
In this complex cultural atmosphere, non-heterosexual Muslims choose different ways to manage their sexual identity. Silence and secrecy often become the only way for Muslim non-heterosexuals to preserve their individuality without challenging the established sexual and religious norms (Yip, 2004). Many Muslims conceal their non-heterosexuality not because they fear rejection but because they respect their family too much to undermine their social position and taint their cultural reputation in the community (Yip, 2004). With time, many Muslim non-heterosexuals come to view their sexuality as a highly private matter and have to spend their lives in a dichotomous public-private reality (Yip, 2004). Neither is less complex the way Muslim non-heterosexuals negotiate the essentiality of marriage in the Islamic world: many of them choose marriage voluntarily to create a haven for safe sexual self-expression and avoid any public suspicions regarding their sexual orientation. In most cases, non-heterosexual Muslims “come out” to the members of their nuclear family and, most of the time, their confessions do not cross the boundary of the nuclear family to avoid disrespect and rejection (Yip, 2004).
The life of a non-heterosexual Muslim is about constantly negotiating his (her) social and sexual roles. Non-heterosexual Muslims have to devise complex strategies to protect their sexual identity which their communities consider as dissident (Yip, 2004). The pressure to get married can become either a serious barrier to sexual freedom or a convenient instrument of sexual self-defense, depending on the way non-heterosexual Muslims perceive it. At the same time, there is some hope that LGBT Muslims will be able to find their place in society, bearing in mind that the younger Muslim generation is open to a wider cultural repertoire and has greater possibilities to reconsider the diversity of gender relationships in the modern world (Yip, 2004).
As mentioned previously, despite the growing LGBT awareness, the western society is still far from the desired ideal of sexual openness and public tolerance to diversity of sexual and gender relations. In Seidman’s (2004) article, the lack of public acknowledgement and social integration for LGBT individuals is compared to “closet”, in metaphorical terms. Gone are times when non-heterosexuals were openly discriminated against for their sexuality choices, but it is too early to say that members of the LGBT community have acquired equal rights and freedoms with their heterosexual peers.
Evidence whereby non-heterosexuals keep facing rejection and discrimination is abundant. The situation regarding LGBT currently could be briefly described as “tolerated but not equal” (Seidman, 2004, p.178). Different laws protect gays and lesbians from discrimination in housing and job issues, but they are still treated as second-class individuals (Seidman, 2004). The “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy currently implemented in the U.S. Army is one of the best reflections of this discrimination rule (Seidman, 2004).
Today’s gays are being increasingly viewed as normal humans, but they are still denied their fundamental right to get married (Seidman, 2004). The presence of numerous anti-discrimination laws in the U.S. suggests that not everything is well with moving the closet away from the American public scene. It means that only laws and the threat of legal punishment can deter U.S. citizens from making a discriminative remark or acting violently against non-heterosexuals. Still, laws have nothing to do with the internal beliefs of people, and they will never create the conditions needed to internalize positive beliefs about homosexuality and bisexuality. The modern world still divides sexuality into traditional and non-traditional, meaning that, legally, members of the LGBT community have their rights and freedoms protected while, informally, they are still considered as “abnormal”.
In this sense, of outstanding interest is the difference between the liberationist and assimilationist perspectives. Assimilation is essentially about civil rights protection, and supporters of the assimilationist view keep positive beliefs about the social reality, where in spite of the failure to realize the promise of equality and freedom for everyone, there is some hope that the promise will be realized in the nearest future (Seidman, 2004). By contrast, from the liberationist perspective, the American society is inherently faulty, and gays are not the only social group that has fallen as victims of inequality and discrimination (Seidman, 2004). Those who support the liberationist perspective also claim that, having gays and lesbians integrated into the American society does not help make this society better. As a result, only social revolutions can foster social progress towards the ideal equality and citizenship for everyone (Seidman, 2004).
Seidman (2004) believes these two perspectives should be combined, so as to achieve a strong social result. The times when both perspectives were valid and real have passed. At the same time, “this blended way brings together the forward-looking, reform-minded politics of rights activists […] and the broad political vision of liberationists” (Seidman, 2004, p.184). Here, the main question is how to balance the two polarizing views in ways that would maximally benefit the LGBT community. Seidman (2004) recommends extending the rights-based perspective since equality should go beyond politics and entail the right to be heard for the purpose of the social and sexual justice. Again, it is difficult to imagine how these two perspectives will help the society internalize the beliefs about homosexual and transgender “normality”. Theoretically, the model proposed by Seidman (2004) holds a promise to promote sexual and social justice and eliminate the boundary between heterosexual and non-heterosexual citizens. Unfortunately, it does not include a moral angle, which means that the risks of emotional discrimination and bias are likely to persist into the future.