LGBTQ Literature Creates Social Justice in the Classrooms and Beyond

Previously, I shared the information from a workshop that I created and presented on LGBTQ literacies. What follows is the information from a talk that I gave at another conference. Once again, I wish to share my work with the public because I do not believe in keeping information within the confines of academia (What is the purpose of knowledge if it only remains within the ivory tower and tiny bubble that is the university?). I wish to add to the dialogue on LGBTQ literature, and I want your feedback.

You Go, Gurl!: How LGBTQ Literature Creates Social Justice in the Classrooms and Beyond (Teaching LGBTQ Literature in Community College Literature and Writing Classes)

A Talk by Michael Carosone

Presented at the Transitions and Transactions II Conference at the Borough of Manhattan Community College of the City University of New York; the theme of the conference was "Literature and Creative Writing Pedagogies in Community Colleges."

"Out of the crooked timber of humanity, no straight thing was ever made." -- Immanual Kant

Overview:
When they talk about diversity at a college, in a classroom, in a curriculum and in literature, what they really mean is diversity in terms of race, gender and class (and maybe ethnicity), but what they never mean is diversity in terms of sexuality, sexual orientation -- especially homosexuality and gay identity and sensibility -- and gender identity and expression, and all aspects of queerness. The deviant other is still ignored, silenced and marginalized. This is because of the institutionalized homophobia, heterosexism and hetero-supremacy that are inherent in all colleges and universities -- alive and strong, even in 2014, even in New York City. It is time for a change. True diversity includes all identities, even sexual identities.

Personal Statement:
Years ago, when I taught my first English 101 class at LaGuardia Community College, I created the theme for my course to be "Reading, Writing and Researching Gender and Sexuality." Of the 15 weeks of instruction during the semester, only two were spent on homosexuality, gayness, queerness and the LGBTQ community. However, those were two weeks too much for some students who complained to the chairperson and who posted homophobic and hurtful comments towards me and my course on RateMyProfessor.com. This was when I realized that there is still much work to be done in eradicating the homophobia and heterosexism that exists in higher education, especially at a community college like LaGuardia, where the student population is comprised of students from many different countries, and the cultures of many of these countries are not welcoming to LGBTQ individuals. However, a college must define its own culture -- a culture that embraces LGBTQ people and ideas.

This Is How LGBTQ Literature Creates Social Justice:
In his poem, "An Open Letter to My Students," Gerard Wozek eloquently explains how the teaching of LGBTQ literature creates social justice in the classroom and beyond.

But here are my thoughts: LGBTQ literature, and the teaching and reading of it, whether in the classroom or outside of it, creates social justice because it declares to the students and everyone else that LGBTQ people exist, that they are human, that they are worthy, that their lives matter, that they have voices and that their voices will no longer be silenced, ignored, marginalized, oppressed, discriminated against and violated. When LGBTQ literature is taught, read and analyzed in the community college English classroom, the clear message is that it is important enough to study and to include in the curriculum; therefore, LGBTQ people must be important enough to be considered as human beings and citizens. Thus, ideas of equality are created, minds are enlightened, hope is tangible, ignorance shrinks and discrimination weakens. This is how LGBTQ literature creates social justice in the classroom and beyond.

Questions to pose:
1. What is LGBTQ literature?
2. Where can we find it?
3. Who writes and reads it?
4. Why should/must we teach it?
5. How can when teach it?
6. How do we include it in our curriculum and give it the same importance as we do other literatures?
7. How do we bring it from the margins to the center?
8. How do we stop the excuses on why we cannot teach it?
9. How can LGBTQ create social justice in community college literature/writing classes?
10. How do you queer, gayify, bend or lavenderize your curriculum and classrooms?
11. Why are so many English instructors reluctant to teach LGBTQ literature or any LGBTQ topics/issues? And how is this a form of homophobia?
12. Why is a homosexuality (LGBTQ) as an identity often ignored by so many educators? Why is it not viewed as an important identity like other identities? What does this tell us about how homosexuality is viewed by many educators?
13. Is the education system, and the discipline of English in particular, truly honest about diversity, multiculturalism and social justice if it ignores LGBTQ voices, issues, people, history and culture?
14. How can we queer/gayify/bend/lavenderize straight teachers to make them understand that a sexual identity is also about a sensibility and not only about sexual activity, and that they need to wear lavender lenses at times, in order to understand the compulsory heterosexuality, heteronormativity and hetero-supremacy that they perpetuate in the classrooms?
15. How can LGBTQ teachers help heterosexual teachers to include LGBTQ content in their classrooms?
16. What are the politics behind the institutionalized homophobia that persists in education?