Identity is more than gender and sexual behavior

February 18, 2015 by Mara Kerkez, University of New Mexico
Identity is more than gender and sexual behavior

New Mexico is one of the most ethnically diverse states in the U.S. which is reflected at the University of New Mexico. UNM consistently strives for and receives high rankings for diversity making it what a university should be in the 21st century. While progress has been made, there is still work to be done.

Kristopher Goodrich, program coordinator and assistant professor of Counselor Education in the UNM College of Education, Department of Individual, Family and Community Education, is working on a comprehensive research program involving best practices for successfully counseling lesbian, gay bisexual, transgender, questioning and intersex (LGBTQI) students and schools. Intersex is a descriptor for a population of people born with sexual characteristics that do not conform to one or the other gender, possessing characteristics of both male and female. Intersex was once referred to as hermaphrodite, which is now viewed as a derogatory term.

LGBTQI students face different issues

"The research program for LGBTQI students and schools began when I was in the doctoral program at Syracuse University working with Dr. Melissa Luke, co-author on most of my publications, as well as my new book, Group Counseling with LGBTQI Persons." Goodrich said. "Together, we contemplated on how to best serve those students because we know they're at risk. They tend to have more academic failure, higher dropout rates, health related issues, substance abuse issues and worse, thoughts of or attempted suicide."

Goodrich's work grew out of his experience at the Q Center, an LGBTQI youth center in Syracuse N.Y., where he advised students facing very different issues in school. As an educational consultant, he conferred with various schools and noted a deficit in knowledge, awareness and skill concerning issues faced by LGBTQI students and schools.

"I began to see the lack of knowledge when it came to LGBTQI students," Goodrich said. "There were also misconceptions pertaining to this group of students, starting with the notion that everything is related to , which we now call affectional orientation."

Affectional orientation, an alternative term for sexual orientation, is based on the perception that sexual attraction is only a single component of a larger dynamic. Current opinion is that sexual orientation reduces all desires and emotions, as well as power and connection, to sex.

"There's more to one's identity than just sex or sexual behavior," Goodrich said. "There's a whole cultural experience related to the community as a whole, and there are multiple sub-communities within that larger community that have their own history of both conflict and harmony."

There are also differences for LGBTQI students because each group has distinct concerns and needs. Knowledge about those specific populations and how to work with them is important.

The ideal teacher

According to Goodrich, the ideal teacher would have a level of competency related to affectional orientation as well as gender identity. "I think we've made great strides in terms of affectional orientation. People at least have awareness that there are different sexual or affectional orientations and that they may have specific needs in schools. But when it comes to gender identity we're still way behind. I've done research that shows that even in entry level teacher training or counsel training programs the majority of school counselor educators, or teacher educators don't actually address gender identity within their own courses or course work," he said.

Goodrich added that there needs to be more awareness around language in the classroom, beginning with use of affirmative language when addressing students with different identities. "Non-affirming language could be anything from calling someone by a gender they don't identify with, or using disparaging remarks like fag, homo or dyke," he said. "Some teachers unknowingly address students by gender attributions they don't identify with or require them to come dressed to class in a way that might not be reflective of their affirmed gender."

Another component of teaching teachers how to teach LGBTQI students is addressing school violence. "Bullying is somewhat over-utilized and mis-utilized," Goodrich said. "The criteria for bullying involves some imbalance of power, is continuous or on-going, and has intent from the person who is causing the bullying, which is the hardest of the three to discern."

School violence is a word that better fits the different types of mistreatments or situations some LGBTQI students experience.

LGBTQI youth subjected to ongoing abuse

According to the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) physical acts of violence against [LGBTQI] youth in school are almost always part of an ongoing pattern of abuse. The more violent acts generally include multiple perpetrators. These offenders will often target the same youth for years. [LGBTQI] youth report that among their verbal abusers, the vast majority are other students; however, teachers are also reported to make derogatory comments or hateful statements. In one study, approximately one fourth of [LGBTQI] youth shared that they were very afraid of being physically abused on their way to and from school, in hallways and in locker rooms. In response to the threats and attacks they experienced, some of them reported carrying a weapon to school for defense.

The U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 is a federal civil rights law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in federally funded education programs and activities. All public and private elementary and secondary schools, school districts, colleges and universities receiving any federal financial assistance must comply with Title IX, which now explicitly includes effectual orientation, and gender expression.

Providing safe havens

Establishing places on campus, and informing of their location, places where they can report bullying or violence, is a major step in helping the LGBTQI community feel a bit safer.

"LGBT people are not only a part of this community, they are an important part of this community," Goodrich said. "If we are to work for effective change, we must be responsive to everyone. The changes that we make for the most marginalized people among us can only affect positive change for all of us."

Goodrich's book, Group Counseling with LGBTQI Persons will be available in spring through the American Counseling Association Press.

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