Representing Sexual Orientation in Think About It

Posted by On Friday, August 21, 2015

Every year, Senator Al Franken introduces the “Student Non-Discrimination Act,” which would prohibit discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation. And every year, the act has been defeated.

“There remains no federal law that explicitly protects these students and provides them and their families recourse when they face bullying that limits their educational opportunities,” said Senator Franken, explaining the importance of the bill. “No student can achieve if he cannot feel safe at school. No student will excel if she spends each day in fear of just being herself.”

While Senator Franken’s law failed to pass this year (again), there are nonetheless promising signs that the federal government is taking sexual orientation discrimination seriously. According to recent Title IX guidance documents, schools should train students and employees about same-sex sexual violence. In their 2014 Title IX FAQ , the US Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) explains that “Title IX protects all students from sexual violence, regardless of the sex of the alleged perpetrator or complainant, including when they are members of the same sex” (B-2). Later in the document, the OCR specifies that training for both employees and students should include information on same-sex sexual violence (J-1 & J-4).

Similarly, as we wrote about here, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) recently evolved its position on sexual orientation, arguing that Title VII protects employees from discrimination based on sexual orientation. The EEOC’s ruling could influence Title IX Cases as explained by Erin Buzuvis, a Professor of Law and co-founder of Title IX Blog:

“…even though it doesn’t govern the education context, the EEOC’s decision helps strengthen arguments by students or school employees who may have been excluded from participation, or fired, or denied admission, or harassed because of their sexual orientation, by giving courts and attorneys a road map of persuasive reasoning to follow.”

At CampusClarity, we believe it is important to create an inclusive course that adequately addresses the challenges all students face, regardless of their sexual orientation. We also recognize that the opportunities for us to improve our coverage of this issues, and we welcome comments from students and other users of our courses.

As part of our commitment to inclusivity and to help schools comply with their Title IX requirements, Think About It includes specific situations and scenarios that revolve around characters’ identities as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or queer.

One of the central narratives of the course involves a gay man. Tom Batak is one of four main characters whom students follow throughout the course. His biography explains that he has yet to disclose his sexual orientation to his Filipino parents. As users continue to follow Tom’s story, they see him come out to his roommate as gay (Healthy Relationships > Time Bomb), and they consider questions around an unhealthy relationship Tom is involved in.

Throughout the course, users are challenged to think about issues around sexual orientation and gender norms, including interactive scenarios involving same-sex couples or someone insulting a person because of their sexual-orientation.

Even when lesbian, gay, bisexual, and queer identities aren’t directly discussed, the course remains inclusive of all sexual orientations. Examples of this can be found throughout the section of the course about hooking up as well as the dialogues around male sexual assault. Similarly, this inclusivity can be found through visual representations as well as text representations in places like the Dating After College video that shows a couple in which the sex of the partners is intentionally ambiguous.

We feel it is especially crucial for schools to address same-sex intimate partner and sexual violence because individuals in the LGBQ community face unique challenges when reporting. For instance, for individuals reporting same-sex sexual violence may mean outing themselves as either LGBQ or engaging in same-sex relations, whether they’re consensual or not.

Survivors can also be reluctant to report out of fear that their peer group will not believe them or will ostracize them. This problem is exacerbated for individuals in the LGBQ community, who may feel that the community they have found at college is the first one accepting of their identity. Losing that community would be devastating to those students, exactly at a time when the most need the support of friends.

Furthermore, as explained in a recent Huffington Post article, some survivors may fear “causing additional problems for their schools’ LGBT communities, many of which are already struggling to overcome discrimination and bias and which may be the only support networks available to some gay or trans survivors.

Same sex relationships (both sexual and romantic in nature) are not immune from violence.

As the school year begins, take a moment to assess the inclusivity of your school’s orientation programming and how it addresses same-sex sexual violence.

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