A new initiative to help high school communities discuss LGBTQ sexuality goes beyond the usual anti-bullying messages. San Francisco State University faculty will lead a team of researchers and educators who will work with schools and conduct research in three states to prompt a new kind of dialogue about lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LTGBQ) sexuality and youth.
"Too often, the only way queer youth become visible in schools is through anti-bullying campaigns," said Jessica Fields, associate professor of sociology at SF State. Fields will co-lead the project with Laura Mamo, associate professor of health education at SF State.
"We want to demonstrate a way that schools can foster a sense of belonging for LGBTQ students and for the many forms of LGBT sexuality in all students' lives," Mamo said.
With a $500,000 grant from the Ford Foundation, the researchers and their collaborators will launch interactive, multimedia storytelling installations in schools in San Francisco, New York City and Minnesota's Twin Cities area.
In three high schools, researchers will work with young people to create an archive of stories that will be presented to the whole school community, for example through exhibits and special assemblies.
"Schools play an important role in the production of society's rules and norms," Mamo said. "We want teachers, students and parents to understand that sexuality is a part of the ordinariness of everyday life, it's not just about sexual desire."
The storytelling program will encourage all participants -- regardless of sexual orientation -- to reflect on what it means to be human and to find connections among their hopes, fears and desires.
"Storytellers will be able to reflect on how they encounter LGBTQ sexualities in their daily lives," Fields said. "That could be through finding out that their favorite pop star is gay, being raised by LGBTQ parents or discussing how sexuality relates to current events or humor."
The researchers will conduct a study exploring the challenges and opportunities associated with this approach. The findings will provide a blueprint for schools that want to implement similar programs, and will be shared with policymakers, providing them with a broader understanding of the lives of LGBTQ youth.