UOTeachOUT events call attention to issues of gender, equity

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LGBT issues have come to the fore in a big way recently.

Oxford, Alabama, apparently would like people to produce a birth certificate upon request so they can prove to authorities that they are legally using the “correct" facility. North Carolina's General Assembly recently decided that its opinion on the LGBT community is the only one that matters, drawing fire from a growing list of influential people and companies.

These topics are bound to percolate into the American classroom. Whether they merely beg questions or challenge students to consider their own gender identity, teachers must be attuned to the issues and know how to integrate equity into their instruction.

That’s why UOTeachOUT, an annual series of events led by the Department of Education Studies, is more vital than ever.

Julia Heffernan is the director of UOTeach, the master’s program that leads to a teaching license. A self-described “publicity machine,” she also leads UOTeachOUT along with Tina Gutierez-Schmich, equity director of Bethel School District, and a dynamic team of students from her EDST 455/555 Equal Opportunity: Homophobia class. UOTeachOUT began in 2010 as an outreach project for that class.

That year, Heffernan reached out to area school districts to see if they needed UO support on these matters, and the answer was a deafening yes. The program’s slate of events expanded to meet these needs.

A notable example is the Pink Prom, the only LGBT-specific prom in the state with the support of a school district. While districts supported the concept, it was a political minefield that no one district was eager to cross, so Heffernan’s students agreed to handle running the show with the school’s support. It now has been hosted by five different school districts without incident.

“I don’t think there is any such thing as fairness or equity, or access, unless it’s always being tested on anyone who’s kept as an outsider,” Heffernan said. “I think that we lose track of outsiders all the time. We lose track of who’s not being seen, who’s not getting heard, who’s not getting their needs met, who’s not getting educated. ... And so pretty much all the projects I’ve done over the last eight or nine years have had the word ‘out’ in them. I keep wanting to highlight that there are outsiders getting missed."

Indeed, only 2 out of 10 LGBT students are taught about LGBT people, history or events in their schools. Half report hearing homophobic or transphobic remarks from their teachers. Three in four are verbally harassed at school. The statistics only get more troubling from there.

Homophobia is just one example of oppression in education. Others include transphobia, racism, patriarchy and many more. Surrounding these topics are decades-old bubbles of fear and ignorance that education studies works to burst.

Rhue Buddendeck was a student of Heffernan’s when she conducted an outreach project and social experiment called "Bathroom Takeover," temporarily converting a number of bathrooms on campus into gender-inclusive bathrooms. A condition of the project was that each converted bathroom had an attendant outside to explain what was going on.

“People would come up and say, ‘So, can I use this bathroom?’ and I would say, ‘Well, are you a human being?’” she recalled with a laugh. "The most rewarding part was when people would stop and say, ‘Wow, I never thought it was a privilege to have a bathroom I could just walk into.’ One thing I got out of this class and this project was that if you don’t have to think about it, it’s a privilege."

Other UOTeachOUT 2016 events include BBQueer, a presentation by author Robin DiAngelo, the GSA Youth Summit, a free screening and discussion of the films “A Place in the Middle" and “Kumu Hina," and a public art project called “On Being Seen.” For more information, visit the UOTeachOUT website.

—By Cody Pinkston, College of Education