Heterosexism within educational institutions: Coping efforts of lesbian, gay, and bisexual students in West Texas



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Texas Tech University


This investigation illuminates the lived experiences of selfidentified lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB/lesbigay) college students in West Texas, particularly with regard to heterosexism withineducational institutions. In addition, this work explores the strategies participants used to cope with the heterosexism they encountered in their daily interactions with others, as well as how these strategies were constructed, maintained, and internally revised over time.

Accounts of participants' lived experiences indicate that from the elementary to the university levels, the Texas educational institutions in this investigation contributed, both actively and passively, to their many psychosocial stressors, as well as their marginalization. Some Texas educators were either unaware of or chose not to abide by the gay-affirmative philosophies of various professional organizations in education, failing both to provide equity with regard to sexual orientation and to establish a gayaffirmative environment devoid of physical and verbal harassment. For example, early in their school careers, a number of participants were punished and labeled as homosexual because they engaged in what educators and fellow classmates considered to be inappropriate gender behavior, particularly non-normative play. Having been labeled as homosexual, these participants were nonetheless unable to obtain judgment-free and accurate information regarding lesbigays from either parents or school personnel. By allowing epithets to be used for homosexuality while otherwise disallowing profanity and racism, school personnel not only tacitly condoned marginalization of lesbigays, but failed to furnish a gay-affirmative environment. Moreover, participants experienced a diminished sense of security and faced persistent danger to their physical and/or psychological safety. According to participants, only rarely did Texas educators intervene when, as frequently occurred, LGB students were targeted for verbal and physical harassment.

In response to the aforementioned psychosocial stressors, participants reported a wide variety of coping efforts, both adaptive and maladaptive. Behavioral strategies targeting the problem situation far outnumbered emotion-focused coping. While many coping efforts were idiosyncratic, five or more participants reported assertiveness, counseling, cultural inversion/pride, direct action, social support, and use of the Internet as helpful. Moreover, ignoring, social withdrawal, and suicide attempts were each considered detrimental by four participants.



Gay students, Heterosexism, Gays, Stigma (Social psychology), Homosexuality and education, Lesbian students