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Speaking our truths: Literacy, sexuality and social change

Zan Meyer Goncalves, University of Massachusetts Amherst


This is a study about how lesbian, gay and bisexual undergraduate students from both minority and dominant cultural/racial/ethnic groups use language for social action. It is an ethnographic study of the Speaker's Bureau (an educational outreach program of a gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender resource center) and includes two case studies of student speakers from the Bureau. The aim of this study is to explore the literacy practices that may help student speakers to interrupt heterosexist discourse inside and outside the classroom. ^ The ethnographer uses critical discourse analysis to examine two phenomena: First, the ways student speakers use Speaker's Bureau literacy practices to attempt to change heterosexist attitudes on campus; and second, the ways individual student speakers use individual literacy practices to address their private need to construct a viable self and their public aim to help create a more just community for that self. ^ This study illustrates the ways in which the telling of personal stories on Bureau panel presentations serve to build bridges of understanding between the speakers and the audience by humanizing gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people and their struggles. The dialogues that follow the personal stories show how the genre of the panel presentation positions speakers as educators and experts on sexuality, identity, and social justice. This study also details the various speaking and writing opportunities that assist speakers in developing a positive sense of a “gay” self and how they use these opportunities to create a safe place for that self to exist. ^

Subject Area

Cultural anthropology|Ethnic studies|Rhetoric

Recommended Citation

Goncalves, Zan Meyer, "Speaking our truths: Literacy, sexuality and social change" (2000). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI9978500.