Skip to main content
queer on campus Bethany Gizzi with her child, Lee.

Bethany Gizzi with her child, Lee.

June 28, 2022

Queer on Campus: A Study in Contradiction

My students, and my non-binary child, are fighting to claim their identity in a society that gives them rainbow visibility but can’t guarantee equality or safety.

Share

Share On Facebook
Share On Twitter
Share On Pinterest
Share On LinkedIn
Email

It’s a strange time to be queer.

There are signs of acceptance and backlash in so many spaces in my life right now. During Pride Month there are signs of pride and allyship everywhere: at the grocery store, on social media, and in the commercials for businesses that also happen to give campaign donations to anti-LGBTQ+ politicians.

While popular culture would like to convince us that LGBTQ+ equality has arrived, more than 300 anti-LGBTQ+ bills have been introduced in state legislatures so far this year, and eight states have already signed anti-LGBTQ+ legislation into law. In New York, the State University of New York Board of Trustees recently directed that all SUNY campuses must update their policies on chosen names and pronouns to ensure the inclusion of transgender, gender-nonconforming and non-binary students on our campuses. Yet six other states have followed Florida’s lead with the introduction of anti-LGBTQ+ education legislation, seeking to restrict curriculum and making schools unsafe for LGBTQ+ students and teachers.

While popular culture would like to convince us that LGBTQ+ equality has arrived, more than 300 anti-LGBTQ+ bills have been introduced in state legislatures.

I’ve been lucky to be able to support the development of an affinity group for LGBTQ+ employees on my campus, serve as the faculty adviser for the student Pride Alliance, participate in the LGBTQ+ committee of my statewide union, and serve as a certified Safe Zone trainer. I’ve had the ability (and safety) to incorporate my queer identity into the work that I do, yet my husband goes to work every day with an underlying fear that his co-workers will find out that he is a trans man.

The contradictions are everywhere.

It is within this environment that I teach gender and sexuality studies. As a sociologist, gender and sexuality have always been a core area of study and focus in my work, and I have been teaching the Sociology of Sex and Gender course for more than 20 years. About seven years ago, I worked with my department colleagues to develop an interdisciplinary Gender and Sexuality Studies degree program — one of only a handful offered at the community college level.

As part of the degree program, students are required to take an Introduction to Gender and Sexuality Studies course, which I developed and have taught each fall semester. Teaching this course has provided me with the greatest opportunity to be a student of all things gender and sexuality. Utilizing an intersectional approach, my students and I examine the ways that gender and sexuality shape our social experiences, the history of social movements and social change, and the contemporary issues and challenges facing marginalized groups.

Although academic freedom and the union provide a safety net for my curriculum choices, I’m always wondering when the next complaint will arrive, accusing me of promoting a “certain political perspective.”

Whether they are program majors or not, all students benefit from a broader understanding of the centrality of gender and sexuality in our lives and our society. Gender and sexuality studies provides an opportunity for students who wish to pursue the study of gender and sexuality and incorporate that knowledge into their work, but it is also important for any student who is a member of our diverse human society that wishes to create a more inclusive and vibrant future. All of them will encounter the contradictions of a society in which equality and inequality, safe spaces and dangerous ones, coexist.

Yet, I worry about the future of the degree program. Although my college is an inclusive institution, support for social science programs, especially those with a social justice lens, is minimal. With the devastating declines in community college enrollment, our institution is not immune to the pressures to promote workforce development and career programs over transfer programs. Although academic freedom and the union provide a safety net for my curriculum choices, I’m always wondering when the next student (or parent!) complaint will arrive, accusing me of promoting a “certain political perspective.”

I recently came across research that confirms the importance of studying gender and sexuality while also affirming the cultural contradictions surrounding it. A Pew Research study found that young adults are more likely to identify as transgender or non-binary than in previous years, and a survey of LGBTQ+ youth conducted by the Trevor Project indicates that the mental health crisis among LGBTQ+ youth is at an all-time high.

My students, and my non-binary child, are fighting to claim their identity in a society that gives them rainbow visibility but can’t guarantee equality or safety. Creating safe spaces for LGBTQ+ students and providing a place for an accurate and inclusive study of gender and sexuality are more necessary now than ever. Let’s not let the sea of rainbows convince us that there isn’t still work to be done.

About the Author

Bethany Gizzi is a professor of sociology at Monroe Community College in Rochester, N.Y., and president of the Faculty Association of Monroe Community College. She is a member of the AFT Higher Education program and policy council, the NYSUT Higher Education policy council, the NYSUT Women’s and LGBTQ committees and the AFT’s LGBTQIA+ Task Force.

Republished with permission from AFT Voices.

American Federation of Teachers

The American Federation of Teachers was formed by teachers more than 100 years ago and is now a 1.7 million-member union of professionals that champions fairness; democracy; economic opportunity; and high-quality public education, healthcare and public services for our students, their families and o

Post a comment

Log in or sign up to post a comment.