Presentation looks at LGBTQ issues in young adult literature

Meixner presents data on LGTBQ issues in young adult literature to crowd. (Delisa O’Brien / Staff Photographer)

The Business Building lounge got a bit more literary on Thursday, April 21, as senior English secondary education major Kate Ondrof and assistant professor and director of the English secondary education program Emily Meixner presented Ondrof’s summer MUSE project at a Sigma Tau Delta-sponsored event.

Titled “Approaches for Addressing Sexual Identity and Gender Variance in the Secondary English/Language Arts Classroom: An Examination of English Journal 1969-2010,” the study aimed to look at gay and lesbian issues in young adult novels and see the way that they were being presented in the classroom. Ondrof tracked mentions of the issues in the articles, reviews and letters to the editor found in English Journal in order to look at the progression of coverage of the topic over time, consolidating her data into trend reports.

According to Meixner, English Journal is the “most widely published journal by the National Council of Teachers of English.”

The two originally set out to answer the questions of how many articles relating to LGBTQ teachings, students and teachers were published during this period, which LGBTQ texts were being recommended to the secondary English/Language Arts curriculum and what kinds of instructional strategies were being taught to teachers of this subject.

Meixner and Ondrof decided to start with the year 1969 because of the Stonewall Uprising, a series of protests and riots that caused the gay rights movement to enter into the mainstream. They noted that in the ’70s, the sexual orientation of characters and authors was rarely discussed or otherwise mentioned only using euphamisms. The only article to actually talk about homosexuality categorized it simply as a phase.

As the decades progressed, LGBTQ literature slowly worked its way into the school system. The ’80s and ’90s saw an increase in positive representations of gays and lesbians in young adult literature, and English Journal no longer warned teachers about gay elements in the novels it reviewed. More LGBTQ literature began being used in high-school and middle-school classrooms as well.

“The conversation shifts from ‘Should we include this?’ to ‘How can we include this?’” Ondrof said.

However, bisexuality remained unmentioned in literature, and articles pertaining to LGBTQ issues still received backlash from magazine subscribers, as shown in a handout the audience received before the lecture began.

The last era looked at ranged from the ’90s to the present day, where Ondrof believes there is “less public resistance, but more behind-the-scenes, institutional resistance.” Related articles found in English Journal during this time period have focused on practical methods of addressing LGBTQ issues in the classroom.

Ondrof began the presentation by showing a few statistics pertaining to sexual orientation issues in middle and high schools. According to the figures given, nine out of 10 LGBTQ students in these grade levels have experienced harassment at school as of 2009, yet as of 2007, only 10 states had laws protecting students against discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Ondrof will be presenting her findings at the NCTE convention in November.