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Experiences of gay and lesbian educators who work in Massachusetts schools participating in the Safe Schools Program

Elizabeth Anne Knowles, University of Massachusetts Amherst


The silence and invisibility of gay and lesbian educators has perpetuated the oppression of heterosexism in our schools. Some affected areas are educational policy, curriculum, and the school environment itself. Gay and lesbian students and educators are at risk in most schools because safe working and learning environments do not always exist for those who are not heterosexual. In 1992, Massachusetts Governor William Weld created the nation's first Governor's Commission on Gay and Lesbian Youth to investigate the epidemic of suicides by gay and lesbian adolescents. School environments, with regard to homophobia, were outlined. Students and teachers testified of verbal and physical abuse of gay and lesbian students. The Safe Schools Program was created to address these issues and to promote safe and supportive school environments to assist gay and lesbian students in realizing their full learning potential. Through in-depth interviewing, data was gathered from "explicitly out" (Griffin, 1992) gay and lesbian educators who work at Massachusetts schools participating in the Safe Schools Program. From the interview data, portraits of each participant were shaped and common themes identified, to answer the question, "What is it like to be a gay or lesbian educator working in a Massachusetts school participating in the Safe Schools Program?" Data was viewed through the lenses of oppression theory, heterosexism and identity theory. Participants stated their negative experiences were tied to homophobia, mostly internalized, which paralleled past studies. Their positive experiences were related to being "out." They described reaching a level of self-acceptance to be "out" at school and in their daily lives. For the participants, working in the Safe Schools Program was a positive experience. For the schools they work in, there has been forward motion toward a safer environment. Gay and lesbian educators make the Safe Schools Program a success and the Safe Schools Program gives them the social and legal permission to do the work. Future research could study experiences of gay or lesbian educators who are closeted and work in participating schools, who are "publicly out" (Griffin, 1992) and working in Safe Schools Programs, or who reside in other states.

Subject Area

School administration|Bilingual education|Multicultural education|Educational psychology

Recommended Citation

Knowles, Elizabeth Anne, "Experiences of gay and lesbian educators who work in Massachusetts schools participating in the Safe Schools Program" (1997). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI9721466.