Homophobia is a term we are all familiar with. Disapproval of homosexuality and of gay people is not evenly distributed throughout society, but is largely dependent on age, ethnicity, geographic location, race, sex, social class, education level, partisan identification and religious status. In the UK, HIV/AIDS charity AVERT reports that religious views, lack of homosexual feelings or experiences, and lack of interaction with gay people are strongly associated with such views.
The fear of and negative attitudes towards homosexuals has been traced to Ancient Greece, but the term homophobia was only coined in the 1960s by George Weinberg, a Manhattan psychologist. The word was coined from a blend of (1) the word homosexual and (2) phobia from the Greek Phóbos, meaning “fear” or “morbid fear”. While Weinberg is credited as the first person to have used the term in speech, it first appeared in print in an article written for the May 23, 1969, edition of the American pornographic magazine Screw, where the word was used to refer to heterosexual men’s fear that others might think they are gay.
With the increasing acceptance of gays and the change of laws in the United States, including the repeal of the “Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell” law and the federal courts ruling that same-sex marriage is now legal, you would think that we were advancing towards acceptance of the LGBT community. Yet there are still hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people who abhor or fear gays and transgender persons. Stories of hate crimes are in the news all the time. And Heaven forbid that you express publicly on Facebook or other social media your support of LGBT rights—you’ll be “flamed” by trolls until you feel like a pig at a luau.
What does all of this have to do with a teacher being able to teach? A news item showed up in my Facebook feed today about a Kansas school teacher, Tom Leahy, being asked to resign because he chose to use a short film to teach his class of 13-14 year old 8th graders a lesson about tolerance.
Mr. Leahy teaches social studies at Conway Springs Middle School in the tiny Kansas town, which is predominantly Catholic. It wasn’t that he showed the film that got him into trouble with parents and the school board, but the film that he chose to use. The short, titled “Love Is All You Need?” is a hugely popular, heart-rending, anti-bullying clip, with more than 12 million views on YouTube, that holds a mirror to homophobia by inviting people to imagine a world where homosexuality is the norm and straight people are ‘othered’ like gay people are now.
The teacher decided to play the video after a number of students expressed what he felt were shocking anti-gay views in a class discussion. Mr. Leahy told the Wichita Eagle that “I didn’t want just a dorky little film…I wanted something that was important, something that was serious. So that’s the one I came up with. I’m not saying what I did was very smart. It really wasn’t – but I’m a spur-of-the-moment kind of guy, and it seemed right at the time.”
Personally, I don’t fault Mr. Leahy for his choice of lesson material. However, afterwards the school was barraged by complaints from parents who were unhappy with the subject and tone of the clip. Mr. Leahy was put on leave last month, but now says he’s been told not to return (of course the school board declined to comment).
The film [below] features scenes of Church-instituted heterophobia, which some parents objected to, while others attacked the portrayal of suicide. I hope that when you view this short film that you will remain open to its important message about bullying, as well as tolerance.