History, SEL, Self-Reflection, Community Building
- Timeline Reproducibles
At a weigh-in on March 24, 1962, welterweight champion Emile Griffith is called a “maricón” by his opponent, Benny “Kid” Paret. The word in English can be likened to the epithet “faggot,” but “maricón” means much more and is far worse. The word is often used to deliberately attack, demean, emasculate, and belittle a member of the LGBTQ+ community. For several decades, members of the LGBTQ+ community have been taunted, insulted, and disparaged. Throughout this activity, students will build awareness of the prevalence of anti-LGBTQ+ slurs, discuss the impacts of slurs on others, learn about milestones in the American Gay Rights Movement, and discuss ways to build a more inclusive community.
STEP 1. INQUIRE
First, provide students with a summary of Emile Griffith’s story that serves as the backdrop of Terence Blanchard’s opera, Champion. Consider showing the first few minutes of Dan Klores and Ron Berger’s 2005 documentary, Ring of Fire: The Emile Griffith Story. If students have not already done so, have them read the opera’s synopsis. Highlight the disparaging comment that Paret made to Griffith at weigh-in and set the stage for the activity students are about to engage in.
Have students stand in the middle of the classroom. Post signs on either ends of the classroom that read “Strongly Agree” and “Strongly Disagree.” Tell students you will read a variety of statements that will allow the class to reflect on their experiences hearing and responding to anti-gay slurs. After each statement is read, students should silently move along the continuum to designate the extent to which they agree or disagree with the statement. Again, before beginning, point out the corresponding signs you placed in your classroom and remind students they may stand anywhere along the continuum. Students should respond with their first reaction and commit to being honest. The rules of engagement used in the Philosophical Chairs activity should apply in this activity. Remind students of the rules of engagement before beginning. Finally, allow time for your class to comprehend, consider, and discuss (if they feel comfortable doing so) each statement before moving to the next statement.
- I have heard the phrase “that’s gay,” “stop being gay,” or “no homo,” before.
- I often hear the word “gay” used in a derogatory manner.
- When I hear “that’s so gay,” it is often aimed at an object, not a person.
- Phrases such as “that’s so gay” and “no homo” are insulting to LGTBQ+ individuals.
- Expressions such as “that’s so gay” and “no homo” are okay to use.
- It bothers me when I hear others saying phrases such as “that’s gay” and “no homo.”
- It would be impossible to get our campus-body to be more mindful of the words they use.
- I think about how others might feel before saying something like “that’s gay.”
- I am willing to stand up against anti-gay slurs.
- Your words can be very harmful to others.
STEP 2. REFLECT
Once all the statements have been read, have students form a circle (or any other configuration) so that everyone may see one another. Reflect on the activity by asking the following questions:
- Was there a particular statement that was more difficult to respond to than others? Which one and why?
- Did anything surprise you throughout the activity?
- Was there ever a time during the activity in which you were an outlier? How did this make you feel?
- Have any of the statements read or comments shared made you think differently about something? If so, what was the statement, what did it make you feel, and how has it made you think differently?
- What do people mean when they refer to something as “gay?” Where do you think this stems from? Why does “gay” continue to be used in a derogatory manner, fully well knowing it is harmful to others?
- Be honest with yourself: how often do you really think about certain words before you say them? (Students should reflect on this, but do not need to respond aloud.)
- Does the fact that some slurs are common use make it okay to use them in everyday speech?
- In what ways, specifically, do anti-gay slurs harm others?
- How would you feel if part of your identity was used as an insult?
- Think about a particular time in which words were used to harm you, chipping away at aspects of your identity. How did those words affect you?
Bring the discussion back to Champion. Ask students to imagine themselves in Emile Griffith’s shoes. What do you think he felt when Paret called him a “maricón”? How do you feel about his coaches telling him to “save it [his response] for the ring?”
STEP 3. DISCUSS
Students will next learn about milestones in the American Gay Rights Movement. Create several sets of cards with events from the timeline below written on them. Do not write the date on the cards. Break students up into small groups of three or four individuals. Pass out a stack of timeline cards to each group. Have each group read through the stack and arrange them in chronological order. Once they feel comfortable with their order, have them guess the years in which each event occurred. Outside resources such as the internet should not be consulted. Once each group has completed the task, have the class complete a gallery walk observing their peers’ timelines, identifying similarities and differences. Have students come back together, and as a whole class arrive upon a shared agreement for the proper timeline of events. Once settled, share with students the accurate timeline.
The American Psychiatric Association lists homosexuality as a sociopathic personality disturbance.
President Dwight D. Eisenhower signs an Executive Order banning homosexuals from working for the federal government or any of its private contractors.
Illinois repeals its sodomy laws, becoming the first U.S. state to decriminalize
The board of the American Psychiatric Association votes to remove homosexuality from its list of mental illnesses.
Wisconsin becomes the first U.S. state to outlaw discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
Massachusetts becomes the first state to legalize gay marriage.
The U.S. Senate repeals “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, allowing members of the LGBTQ+ community to serve openly in the U.S. Military.
The U.S. Supreme Court declares same-sex marriage legal in all 50 states.
The U.S. Supreme Court rules that federal law protects LGBTQ+ workers
The State Department announces the first U.S. passport with an X gender
marker has been issued, identifying X for non-binary, intersex, and gender
non-conforming persons applying for a U.S. passport.
STEP 4. RESPOND
After sharing with students the correct order of the timeline, ask them if there is anything that surprises them—the order, the dates, and/or any specifics of a particular event. Remind students that the history detailing the fight for LGBTQ+ rights in the U.S. is neither ancient history nor complete. Systemic change begins locally, with individuals. Ask students:
- What are ways you can build a more welcoming and inclusive community at our school?
- What does kindness look and sound like in action and speech?
- What challenges are there to building an inclusive community?
- How might we advocate for others and stop the use of slurs?
Conclude the activity by using the GLSEN’s Head, Heart, and Feet activity. On the board or a large sheet of butcher paper, draw a large picture outlining a person with a large head, a heart for the torso, and two big legs. Pass out three post-its to students or have them write directly on the image a word or phrase that represents what they learned on the head, what they felt on the heart, and what actions they plan on doing on the feet.
NOTE: While the activity may be uncomfortable for some participants, it is important for students to understand the prevalence of anti-gay slurs and the effect they can cause on others. The Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network, GLSEN’s, 2013 National School Climate Survey noted that “71.4% of LGBTQ+ students heard “gay” used in a negative way (e.g., “that’s so gay”) and 64.5% heard other homophobic remarks (e.g., “dyke” or “faggot”) frequently or often at school” (GLSEN).
No Name-Calling Week
Participate in GLSEN’s No Name-Calling Week, a week organized by K–12 educators and students to end name-calling and bullying in schools. The week, which is typically celebrated nationally during January, is focused on putting an end to anti-LGBTQ+ harassment and bias-based bullying. Consult with your school’s GSA and encourage students to take the lead on planning a week-long advocacy and awareness event. The GLSEN’s website contains numerous resources that will benefit educators, students, and school leaders.
Standing on the Shoulders of Giants
If students are interested in learning more about LGTBQ+ history and the figures who have made a lasting impact of gay rights over the years, have students learn the stories of the following individuals: Sylvia Rivera, Bayard Rustin, Audre Lorde, Gloria Anzaldúa, Angela Davis, Harvey Milk, James Baldwin, Blair Imani, and Patricio “Pat” Manuel.