Public Release:  New grant launches initiative to shift how LGBTQ sexuality is discussed in schools

Multimedia storytelling project promotes belonging, recognition of LGBTQ youth

San Francisco State University

SAN FRANCISCO, Feb. 28, 2013 -- A new initiative to help high school communities discuss LGBTQ sexuality goes beyond the usual anti-bullying messages. San Francisco State University faculty will lead a team of researchers and educators who will work with schools and conduct research in three states to prompt a new kind of dialogue about lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LTGBQ) sexuality and youth.

"Too often, the only way queer youth become visible in schools is through anti-bullying campaigns," said Jessica Fields, associate professor of sociology at SF State. Fields will co-lead the project with Laura Mamo, associate professor of health education at SF State.

"We want to demonstrate a way that schools can foster a sense of belonging for LGBTQ students and for the many forms of LGBT sexuality in all students' lives," Mamo said.

With a $500,000 grant from the Ford Foundation, the researchers and their collaborators will launch interactive, multimedia storytelling installations in schools in San Francisco, New York City and Minnesota's Twin Cities area.

In three high schools, researchers will work with young people to create an archive of stories that will be presented to the whole school community, for example through exhibits and special assemblies.

"Schools play an important role in the production of society's rules and norms," Mamo said. "We want teachers, students and parents to understand that sexuality is a part of the ordinariness of everyday life, it's not just about sexual desire."

The storytelling program will encourage all participants -- regardless of sexual orientation -- to reflect on what it means to be human and to find connections among their hopes, fears and desires.

"Storytellers will be able to reflect on how they encounter LGBTQ sexualities in their daily lives," Fields said. "That could be through finding out that their favorite pop star is gay, being raised by LGBTQ parents or discussing how sexuality relates to current events or humor."

The researchers will conduct a study exploring the challenges and opportunities associated with this approach. The findings will provide a blueprint for schools that want to implement similar programs, and will be shared with policymakers, providing them with a broader understanding of the lives of LGBTQ youth.

The project, titled "Beyond Bullying: Shifting the Discourse of LGBTQ Sexuality and Youth in Schools" is supported by the Ford Foundation's Sexuality Research Initiative. The grant will enable graduate students to assist with the project and receive research training.

"We are thrilled to be working with the Ford Foundation, an organization dedicated to social justice and human rights," Mamo said. "These values are consistent with our research and scholarship at the Center for Research and Education on Gender and Sexuality and the Health Equity Institute as well as with the broader SF State mission."

The initiative is a collaboration between SF State's Center for Research and Education on Gender and Sexuality, where Fields is on the faculty, and the University's Health Equity Institute, where Mamo is on the faculty.

"Both entities share a commitment to questions of sexuality and social justice," Fields said. "This project really combines our research strengths."

For the two-year project, Fields and Mamo will partner with researchers Nancy Lesko from Teachers College, Columbia University and Jen Gilbert from York University in Toronto. In each of the three cities, the researchers will work with community organizations, multimedia partners and public school districts.

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