by Lori Waters
James T. Sears spoke of homophobia and heterosexism last week before an audience of students faculty and La Verne residents gathered in Founders Auditorium.
Posing such questions as “should homosexuality be taught in public schools?” Sears, a gay author and educator, encouraged his audience to explore their own ideas and feelings.
Sears began his talk by describing broad issues of heterosexism and how such discrimination shows up in everyday life.
He talked about the criticism that some children’s cartoons have received for apparently having homosexual qualities, such as the “Teletubbies” who carry bags that resembled purses.
Bert and Ernie from Sesame Street also have been criticized for having a close male friendship. Peppermint Pattie, a Peanut’s character, has likewise been called “too gay” because of her tom-boy ways.
These characters, although childhood favorites, were thought of as inappropriate for children to watch, Sears said.
Sears’ talk also touched on the issue of heteronormativity that is so visible in our society.
He presented the audience with an example of cards that can be found at a local Hallmark store.
Sears noted that most of the cards, at least the romantic ones, that the average “Joe” would find contain images of “him and her.”
“The best cards are animal cards,” he said.
Such notions of “normal” appear in many aspects of education, Sears said.
Discussions of sex in biology classes are a prime example.
Sex education that is taught in schools is always about “him” and “her,” either or, us and them, he said.
“All they do is talk about the plumbing and mechanics.”
Sears said he believes that sexuality, in its various orientations, should be taught in educational institutes.
Without it, there’s “self-censorship of intimacy,” Sears said.
After the lecture, Sears posed questions to the audience:
“What’s the degree of acceptance of homosexuality at the University of La Verne?”
“People basically don’t care,” said Ignacio Urena, Rainbow Alliance president.
Urena said he believes the level of acceptance of homosexuality here is a 1 out of 10, with 10 being the highest.
“I don’t know if it’s hate or just a lack of knowledge,” ULV senior Nate Chabolla said. “I have many gay and lesbian friends and I never changed my opinion on them.”
John Gingrich, dean of the college of arts and sciences & professor of religion and philosophy, spoke about homosexuality and how it has impacted his life.
Gingrich, whose son is gay, said: “I am a professor, and as soon as I mention to my class that I have a gay son, my students shut down. Then after class my students tend to come up (and) talk to me about it.”
In closing, Sears read the following passage:
“We are all gods creatures, and queerness is a verb; it energizes the journey of experience.”
Sears, who currently resides in the Deep South, is a gay scholar, and the author.
During the past 20 years, his writing has been featured in more than 125 books, chapters, articles, essays and scholarly papers.
He is also editor of the international quarterly, Journal of Gay and Lesbian Issues in Education.
For more information, visit: www.jtsears.com.