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Silencing, Erasure, and Stigma of Sexual Minority Identity: Heteronormative Bias in Rural School Climate


The current study applied Hatzenbuehler et al.'s (2012) conceptual framework of stigmatization to understand community opposition to school climate interventions for sexual minority youth. This study addressed a gap in the literature on factors in the educational ecology which impact the implementation of LGBT-inclusive programs and curriculum. An analysis of the extensive public records surrounding a student suicide and subsequent federal civil rights investigation in a California district revealed heteronormative forces of silencing, erasure, and marginalization in the school and community environment.

As the primary socializing institutions in rural areas, schools contribute to the acceptance and well-being of sexual minority youth. The theoretical concepts of ecological systems and minority stress emphasize the importance of contextualizing risk factors associated with heteronormative school climate. Elements of school ecology which produce stigmatization evolve over time and may not be perceived by educators as barriers in the lives of local youth.

The federal government's intervention template to address a hostile climate for sexual minority and gender-nonconforming youth incorporated research-based prescriptions, but failed to overcome significant barriers during implementation. An analysis of parent involvement, specifically the tactics of opponents and stakeholder advisory committees, indicated that district outreach occurred in the broader context of social stigmatization.

This qualitative case study analyzed the multiple challenges a rural K-12 district faced during the implementation of an LGBT-affirmative school climate intervention. Opposition to these programs increased when stakeholders conflated sexual orientation with sexual practice or perceived a violation of personal religious beliefs. The erasure of LGBT content from an anti-bullying curriculum and the emphasis on generic anti-bullying, or Golden Rule-based, lessons further marginalized sexual minority identity from classroom discourse. The findings suggest how the replication of heterosexually-biased social structures and the reassertion of community norms perpetuate the stigma associated with sexual orientation.

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