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School Experiences of Gay and Lesbian Youth: The Invisible Minority Paperback – 1 Feb 1998

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About the Author

Harris is a Regents Professor in the College of Education at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque.

Harris is a Regents Professor in the College of Education at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque.

Rofes is a doctoral student in social and culturalstudies.

Rofes is a doctoral student in social and culturalstudies.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) HASH(0x9f2f1048) out of 5 stars 2 reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x8d98e4f8) out of 5 stars Diversity, Diversity, Diversity 15 April 2009
By S. Perez - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Mary Harris's "School Experiences of Gay and Lesbian Youth" presents itself enigmatically. On the surface, I expected a chapter book, shifting from one major issue affecting Gay and Lesbian youth to the next major issue. Interestingly, I soon discovered it to be more like a mini-textbook, a collection of articles from distinct authors in diverse parts of the United States. Consequently, it was a bittersweet read, because I felt like Harris could have very well unified and commented on some of the overlapping concerns present throughout all of the articles. On the other hand, it was encouraging to have some literature addressing issues based on "sexual minorities." As a result, I mentioned the word "enigmatically" because the volume adjusted itself from percentages and studies, to provocative expressions and voices of struggle. For example, some articles focused on the diverse negative experiences and behaviors these youth resorted to, including transferring schools, dropping out, use of drugs and alcohol and the number of suicide attempts. It also presents a number of diverse percentages, including the percentage of gay/lesbian students according to their race/ethnicity, the percentage of students who faced positive experiences and those who faced negative experiences. In these instances, it was a collection, rather than a stimulation. By contrast, in those instances when the voices of those sexually oppressed students are heard, it infuses anger, and immerses the war cries of justice. It was overwhelming to witness how many, if not the majority of these students are academically brilliant, only to face dead end options at the hands of oppressive, segregating institutions.

Despite being a descriptively slim volume, it is nonetheless, an important book. The articles relate some of the unfortunate circumstances that lead many gay and lesbian students towards undesirable decisions. In school cultures where homophobic attitudes are held by the majority, an educational, academic environment becomes nothing more than a hostile environment. As a result, sexual minorities are deeply threatened and resort to disoriented actions. Also, it is no secret that many role models, teachers, counselors, principals, are irrational, narrow-minded and in many instances, simply cruel and discriminatory. Harris's, book expresses the voices of sexual minorities and their frustrations in reaching out to these illusionary campus leaders. In fact, it is inflamingly uplifting and displaceable to read how teachers, counselors and principals perceived the act of being gay, particularly addressing it as a "passing" phase, or ignoring it altogether. Here, I credit the book with a provocative stance. In fact, it is in those very moments when these credible youth express themselves that the book is at its most valuable.

There are rare instances where these students relate some of the positive experiences in schools, and in these instances the reader may very well feel a sense of hope and support. However, change is more apparent when people feel like the well falls no deeper, when the patriarchal system overtly privileges those who need little privileging while oppressing those students who find themselves at wits end. In essence, Harris's text accounts for those themes of social alienation that are highly disregarded and consciously overlooked.

The book will enlighten anyone who reads it, but I would deem it essential for educators, counselors, principals and all individuals working in today's schools. As open or as liberal as the topic of sexual minorities may seem, it is inevitably a hidden discourse when peering into the lives of gay and lesbian youth.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x90bc6db0) out of 5 stars Invisible Minority 13 April 2009
By All readers that love good books - Published on
Format: Hardcover
School Experiences of Gay and Lesbian Youth: The Invisible Minority is a 1997 anthology by Mary Harris consisting of 7 research articles about the experiences of adolescents in US schools. The chapters deal with gay and lesbian youth career decision making issues, disclosure vs. non-disclosure issues, homophobic and heterosexist attitudes as experienced by the victims and perpetrators, gay and lesbian adults remembering their coming out experiences, and school responses to the needs of Gays and lesbians.

The title itself is very revealing. It tells the reader that gay and lesbian youth are invisible. In other words, nobody wants to acknowledge them or deal with the problems that they face. The research in the book suggests that while some adults are sympathetic to these adolescents, many, including their parents treat the issue as a phase that will pass and suggest to gays and lesbians that they work towards overcoming "their problem". Other adults may suggest that gays and lesbians keep their choice to themselves. Little do these adults know that they are inflicting psychological harm to children who already deal with the fact that they are considered social rejects. And because of their invisibility, the possibility of finding peers facing the same issues, and educated teachers and other school professionals that can properly guide them and advise them is slim.

This book allows readers to see the tremendous loneliness, suffering and misperceptions that gay and lesbian youth must contend with. It suggests that public schools must create adequate and safe spaces for gays and lesbians, and educate staff and students to respect everybody's gender identity. Unfortunately, while this may be possible in some schools and communities, most public schools in the US are not ready to seriously address issues of gays and lesbians. In fact, the preferred approach has been to adopt the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy. Unfortunately this approach continues to relegate gays and lesbians to a marginalized status, face, harassment, discrimination and physical and psychological harm.

Since the book was published in 1997, there has been a little more openness about GLBTQ issues in the US thanks to the work of activists, and some public figures that have disclosed their gender preferences in the media. However, the status of GLBTQ remains considerably marginalize and GLBTQ continue to experience extreme discrimination, harassment, psychological and physical harm. At this point in time, this book can hopefully lead people to dialogue about the issue and create more awareness.

The book has some shortcomings. The main one is that the data samples in the articles are often too small to draw experimentally valid conclusions about experiences of gays and lesbians. The small data samples reflect the fact that non-disclosure is the preferred policy of this minority and finding subjects willing to participate in research is very tough. Yet, those minimally familiar with GLBTQ know that even if the data samples are not large enough to draw experimentally valid conclusions, the conclusions drawn by the authors seem accurate.

Another issue that requires more exploration is the fact that GLBTQ are not a monolithic group. Aside from having marginalized gender identities, they belong to various cultural, religious, economic and ethnic groups that may compound their problems. In other words, GLBTQ can be rich, middle-class or poor, White, Black, Hispanic, Christian, Muslim, Atheist, Buddhist, Asian, Jewish, etc. Coming out and living within the plurality of groups deserve additional research.
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