Teachers' discourses on young lesbians in the portuguese school context
Joao Paulo Petiz4
1.Psychology Centre of Porto University, Faculty of Psychology and
Educational Sciences, University of Porto, Portugal. Dirección
2.School of Psychology, University of Minho, Portugal.
3.School of Psychology, University of Minho, Portugal.
4.School of Psychology, University of Minho, Portugal.
5.Psychology Centre of Porto University, Faculty of Psychology and
Educational Sciences, University of Porto, Portugal.
Discursos de profesores sobre jóvenes lesbianas en el contexto de la
Dirección para correspondencia
This paper aims to analyze teachers' discourses on young lesbians in
the Portuguese schools. To that end, we carried out semi-structured
interviews with 24 Portuguese teachers of middle and secondary schools.
After having analyzed the retrieved data from the interviews, we
identified four main themes: gender polarization; lesbian invisibility;
homophobia; and measures against homophobia. Based on their discourses,
we concluded that these interviewees have a small amount of knowledge
about lesbian women's sexuality. Despite the legislative progress
concerning the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender People's rights
in Portugal, teachers are not prepared to deal with this issue both
inside and outside the school environment. Furthermore, this research
includes some recommendations to deal with homophobia in the Portuguese
school context. This study will hopefully contribute to a better
understanding of the discourses and practices towards young lesbians in
the school panorama, highlighting the importance of promoting
non-discriminatory attitudes in the Portuguese schools.
Key words: Discrimination, Lesbians, School, Citizenship, Portugal
Este artículo tiene como objetivo analizar los discursos del personal
docente sobre las jóvenes lesbianas en las escuelas portuguesas. Para
ello, llevamos a cabo entrevistas semi-estructuradas con 24 docentes
portugueses de las escuelas intermedias y secundarias. Desde el
análisis de las entrevistas, se identificaron cuatro temas principales:
la polarización de género, la invisibilidad de las lesbianas, la
homofobia y ciertas medidas para luchar contra la homofobia. Con base
en los discursos hemos llegado a la conclusión de que quienes educan
cuentan con pocos conocimientos acerca de la sexualidad de las mujeres
lesbianas. A pesar de los avances legislativos en relación con los
derechos de las personas Lesbianas, Gays, Bisexuales y Transgénero en
Portugal, el cuerpo docente no está preparado para hacer frente a esta
cuestión, tanto dentro como fuera de la escuela. Aunado a lo anterior,
esta investigación incluye una serie de recomendaciones para luchar
contra la homofobia en el contexto de las escuela portuguesas. Este
estudio contribuirá a una mejor comprensión de los discursos y
prácticas hacia las jóvenes lesbianas en el contexto de la escuela, así
como a la promoción de actitudes no discriminatorias en los centros
educativos de Portugal.
Palabras clave: Discriminación, Lesbianas, Escuela, Ciudadanía, Portugal
In Portugal, legislative measures have been taken to recognize new
rights to Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender People (LGBT), namely
the inclusion of sexual orientation in the article 13 of the
Constitution of the Portuguese Republic (Principle of Equality)
(Canotilho & Moreira, 2011); the adoption of the same-sex
marriage law on 31st May 2010 (Law N.° 9/2010) - although the article 3
of the same-sex marriage law forbids the adoption of children by
same-sex couples-; and the adoption of a gender identity law (Law N.°
7/2011, 15th March) that establishes procedures for change of name and
sex in the civil register.
However, despite these legislative measures, LGBT people still face
prejudice and exclusion in different contexts and moments of their
lives (Nogueira & Oliveira, 2010).
A considerable amount of research has shown that heterosexist7 and
androcentric8 discourses and practices of violence in workplace, school
and other social institutions are significantly correlated with LGBT
people's suffering, depression and suicide (Oliveira, Pereira, Costa
& Nogueira, 2010; Ragins, Singh & Cornwell, 2007; Smith
& Ingram, 2004).
Despite the recognition that LGBT people are still discriminated in
certain contexts -namely in the school context- and the growing
importance of research on sexual citizenship and LGBT issues in the
Portuguese academia (Almeida, 2006, 2010; Carneiro & Menezes,
2004; Costa, Nogueira & López, 2009; Costa, Pereira, Oliveira
& Nogueira, 2010; Nogueira & Oliveira, 2010; Oliveira,
2010; Rodrigues, Oliveira & Nogueira, 2010; Santos, 2005),
lesbian women seem still invisible in all these contexts (Cascais,
2004; Oliveira, Pena & Nogueira, 2011).
Heterosexism and androcentrism are rooted in the belief that some
sexual and gender manifestations are "normal" and acceptable, while
others are "deviant" and reprehensible (Zavalkoff, 2002). As Butler has
shown (1993), heterosexism and androcentrism are both integrant parts
of the hegemonic heterosexuality, that is, a normative system that
affects not only behaviors, but also the process of constitution of the
In this regard, it will be crucial to explore some studies performed in
several countries that demonstrated how harmful the school environment
and its characteristics might be to LGBT young people. Thus, research
on LGBT young people in the school context has demonstrated that the
environment in middle and secondary schools is generally non-supportive
and unsafe for many of these young people. LGBT young people report
experiences of harassment, discrimination and other negative happenings
in school, often related to their non-normative sexual orientation and
gender identity (Kosciw, Greytak & Diaz, 2009).
Negative experiences in the school context include physical and verbal
violence (Bontempo & D'Augelli, 2002; Kosciw & Diaz,
2006; Remafedi, 1987), sexual violence (Bochenek & Brown, 2001;
Fineran, 2001), social exclusion and isolation (Ueno, 2005), and other
interpersonal problems with their peers (Pearson, Muller &
Wilkinson, 2007; Russell, Seif & Truong, 2001).
These experiences have a negative impact on several levels: increase of
the absenteeism due to feelings of discomfort and insecurity, growing
problems with discipline and lower levels of school engagement and
academic success (Kosciw & Diaz, 2006; Murdock & Bolch
2005; Russell et al., 2006). Furthermore, the victimization in school
has been related with an increase of health risk behaviors among LGBT
adolescents, as drug abuse, suicide intention and harmful psychological
effects (Bontempo & D'Augelli 2002; Espelage, Aragon, Birkett
& Koenig, 2008).
Nevertheless, despite the prevalence of heterosexism in schools, as in
all society, LGBT youth is not a uniform group. Their experiences may
vary according to their individual characteristics, localization,
characteristics of their schools and communities (Kosciw, Greytak
& Diaz, 2009).
Some studies have analyzed the differences between schools regarding
their size, number of students, socioeconomic level of the students,
ethnical diversity and the development of the area where the school is
located, as factors of protection or risk for LBGT students (Goodenow,
Szalacha & Westheimer, 2006; Kosciw, Greytak & Diaz,
2009; Preston, D'Augelli, Kassab & Starks, 2007; Szalacha,
2003). The study developed by Szalacha (2003) has shown that schools
with a larger number of students presented a more tolerant school
environment to LGBT young people, than other types of schools. Other
studies have shown that LGBT young people who attended larger schools,
in urban areas, with young people from poorer social classes and with
more students from ethnic "minorities", have had lower levels of
victimization and less absenteeism for safety reasons, than the ones
from sexual "minorities" who attended small schools, with no students
from different social classes and from different ethnic groups
(Goodenow et al., 2006; Kosciw, Greytak & Diaz, 2009).
Moreover, according to the study performed by Kosciw and Diaz (2006),
in the USA, the characteristics of a larger community can affect LGBT
people's experiences at school. For example, one found differences
between rural, urban and suburban communities. LGBT young people used
to experience more violence related with sexual orientation and gender
identity in rural communities, than in urban or suburban areas (Kosciw
& Diaz, 2006). One of the explanations for that result is that
an urban school, which has more diversity, can offer the students a
wide range of social "niches", providing them with more opportunities
of social belonging (Goodenow et al., 2006). Another explanation is the
lack of diversity in many rural communities and a bigger concentration
of individuals with "conservative" values towards sexuality and gender
roles, as well as religious beliefs that condemn and stigmatize
homosexuality and gender non-conformity (Preston et al., 2007; Kosciw,
Greytak & Diaz, 2009).
Summarizing, schools are spaces of multiple relationships and
affections, which depend on their own characteristics, their type of
students, as well as on the characteristics of the community where they
are located. All these factors together may result either in a
protective environment or in a threatening one, for LGBT youth.
2. Practices of professional educators in the school context
Studies have revealed that professional educators exhibit homophobic
attitudes (Butler & Byrne, 1992; Clark, 2010; Fontaine 1998a;
Fontaine, 1998b; Sears, 1992) and influence attitudes and behaviors of
the other students (Fontaine, 1998a; Sears, 1992), who see them as role
models or mentors. However, despite this homophobic scenery in schools
has already been proved in literature, most of the schools do not
approach the homosexuality theme, neither the prejudice of the teachers
in their classrooms (Clark, 2010; Fontaine, 1998b).
Most teachers don't feel prepared to deal with this topic and only a
few received some type of additional training on homosexuality in
particular (Clark, 2010; Ferfolja & Robinson, 2004; Fontaine,
1998b; Sears, 1992), as well as on sexualities, identities and gender
issues in general.
Literature indicates that people with more traditional attitudes
towards gender roles are more likely to hold more negative attitudes
towards homosexual people (Herek, 1991), and negative attitudes towards
homosexuality are related with the lack of information about it and
less contact with homosexual people (Klamen, Grossman & Kopacz,
Seeing the heterosexist and homophobic environment in schools and
considering the lack of specific training for the teachers on sexuality
and on school environment for LGBT youth, it is crucial to create
education policies which include training for the teachers on this
subject (Clark, 2010; Riggs, Rosenthal, & Smith-Bonahue, 2010).
The training on diversity and social justice must include an explicit
work against the "violence of gender norms" (Robinson &
Ferfolja, 2001; Robinson, 2005), as well as instill responsibilities
into the teachers, not only to stop heterosexist and homophobic
discourses, but also to encourage them to work with their students in
order to deconstruct gender and sexual stereotypes (Clark, 2010), which
are passed down through generations, recognizing that the teachers and
the school community also have responsibility to educate for diversity
and for non-discrimination.
3. Young Lesbians in the School Context
LGBT issues have been addressed from a neutral and universalist point
of view by Richardson (2000) as if sexual citizenship had to be treated
as a static concept, regardless of the LGBT people's lives. An approach
that treats LGBT equally nullifies the specific experiences of these
people, particularly of lesbian women, and it may be considered as
retrogression to a subtle policy of male domination (Louro, 1997;
Some researchers have proposed an alternative model to the universality
of LGBT sexuality issues, suggesting a diversity of rights paradigm
(Cooper, 1993; Rosenbloom, 1996), based on the idea that lesbian women
have specific experiences of discrimination, and so it is crucial to
promote campaigns equally specific for lesbian women's rights (Robson,
In the debate on women's rights, there were also tensions between those
who defended the universalist perspective and those who promoted the
model of differentiated sexual citizenship (Amáncio & Oliveira,
2006). Feminist studies have given visibility to women as an oppressed
group, that needed visibility and reflection (Amáncio &
Oliveira, 2006; Louro, 1997; Nogueira, 2001), but even in feminist
studies lesbian women were rarely recognized as science subjects
One of the most remarkable findings regarding lesbian women's
recognition has been their invisibility in the public sphere. Several
authors identified the phenomenon of lesbian women's invisibility in
several citizenship contexts (Fassinger, 1995; Kendall, 1996; Saari,
2001), and this invisibility is clearly related with heterosexism,
contributing to the absence of lesbians in the public sphere (Nogueira
& Oliveira, 2010), namely, in school.
The few studies which analyzed the different experiences of
discrimination between lesbians and gay men in the school context
referred that the homophobic violence is more visibly directed against
gay and bisexual males (Yep, 2002) than against lesbians and bisexual
females (D'Augelli, Pilkington & Hershberger, 2002; Kosciw
& Diaz 2006; Poteat & Espelage 2007). Nevertheless, it
is crucial to analyze these data prudently, to not contribute, once
again, to the lesbian's invisibility as a specific experience of
discrimination. One should rather try to understand these data, and
question if they can, once again, be related to sexism and
heterosexism, which attribute greater importance to the masculinity and
Before the absence of studies on sexual citizenship of lesbian women in
the school context, it will be crucial to promote a greater discussion
and debate around the lesbian theme. One should not forget the weight
of sexism and homophobia that are perpetuated in schools and promote
the invisibility of these women; and should try to understand how the
weight of homosexuality and the category "woman" influence the school
In this study, we analyzed teachers' discourses on the existence of
discrimination of young lesbians in the school context. In particular,
we were interested in knowing the teachers' discourses on gender, the
lesbian invisibility and the existence of homophobia in schools, as
well as the measures proposed by them to eradicate violence and
homophobia in the school context. Thus, this study aims to give
visibility to the way in which schools view citizenship of young
lesbian women, understanding the extent to which educational contexts
may be discriminatory and, consequently, promote social exclusion.
The aim of this section is to describe and to explain the procedures
that were adopted towards the method designed for the present research,
to briefly present the instruments, to characterize the participants
and to describe the process of collection, analysis and interpretation
of the results.
Considering a Social Constructionist Paradigm, according to which the
reality is an individual and social co-construction, the qualitative
methodology was essential for the development of this investigation,
since it would be the only option to collect and analyze meanings,
discourses and the constructions of the reality of the participants -
in this case, regarding their experiences with lesbian students in the
In this study, we carried out interviews with 20 women and 4 men, out
of 24 participants, aged between 31 and 58 (Mean = 41 and Standard
Deviation = 7,71). All the participants, except one, are currently
teaching in middle and secondary schools. With regards to academic
qualifications, the group is composed by 21 graduates, 3 of them
postgraduate, and 3 with a Master's degree.
Regarding the civil status, 14 participants are married, 8 are single
and 2 are divorced. Fifteen of them have got children and 9 haven't
got. Finally, regarding the religious affiliation most of the
interviewees mentioned being catholic (19 participants), one
participant declared himself as an atheist and 4 of them did not
identify themselves with any religion.
To perform this research, each researcher used as data collection
instrument a semi-structured interview script, which follows a
semi-structured orientation so that each interviewer might ask the
participants more flexible questions.
The interview script was divided into 3 essential parts: the first part
was about the informed consent, where the participant (teacher) read
the conditions of participation in the study; the second part
corresponded to the collection of the participants biographical data;
and, finally, the third part of the script consisted of the interview
itself (i.e., the semi-structured questions that allowed to give an
answer to this research).
The third part is essentially comprised by two types of question:
general or specific of the school context. Firstly, with more general
questions, the participant was questioned about information such as:
"Do you know any lesbian woman? Do you think that a lesbian woman lives
her sexuality equally in any Portuguese region? If not, in which region
is it more difficult to be a lesbian? And in which environment? Do you
think lesbians are discriminated in society in general? What could be
done to reduce discrimination against lesbians?". The second type of
question, regarding the school context, included questions such as:
"What do you think about the school environment towards a young
lesbian's life? What do you think about the lesbians' discrimination in
the educational system? Has any female student in school told you that
she was a lesbian? What reactions? Do parents and the school stand-up
for these young lesbians? Who is there or should be there for them?
Should there be any measures to fight homophobia in schools? Which
Once again, the only purpose of the questions was to provide a general
orientation to the interview. They followed a pattern but each
researcher always made them more flexible according to the interviewee.
The sample process had as base the theoretical sample. This means that
the number of inquired participants is related with the theoretical
needs and with the saturation of the answers (theoretical saturation),
and not with the statistical and quantitative analysis of the data.
The request of the interviews was made through a direct contact with
the participants by email or by telephone. It is important to highlight
that during the process of selection, one used the snowball technique,
i.e., the contribution of some participants by suggesting other
possible candidates to be part of the study.
The interviews were held with teachers from several middle and
secondary schools in several localities of Continental Portugal and
Azores. The interviews were held in quiet places to enable its adequate
audio recording and had an average duration of 30 minutes. After a
complete transcription of each interview, it was made a qualitative
analysis in the data analysis software NVivo8, a computer program which
helped the researchers in the qualitative data analysis, allowing them
to store, organize, categorize and manage the data.
4.4 Assumptions of the Data Analysis
In order to analyze the data of the study, the researcher opted by the
thematic analysis of the interviews. The thematic analysis may be
considered a qualitative method whose aim is to identify, analyze and
describe patterns within data (Braun & Clarke, 2006).
The current data analysis followed Braun and Clarke's (2006)
recommendations, namely the six steps that a thematic analysis must
include: i) become familiar with the data; ii) generate initial codes;
iii) search for the themes; iv) review the themes; v) define and name
the themes; vi) produce the report. From this structure it was possible
to obtain the following results.
5. Analysis and Discussion of the Results
As previously mentioned, the analysis of the interviews was based on
the thematic analysis. At the end of the analysis it was possible to
get 4 main topics that will be analyzed in detail.
5.1 Gender polarization
Participants produced discourses based on a dimension of gender
polarization, i.e., discourses that establish and reiterate traditional
gender roles and norms. Gays and lesbians were perceived as people that
reverse social roles assigned to men and women. According to
participants' discourses, homosexual men behave and define themselves
according to traditional female roles, whereas lesbian women behave
themselves following male gender roles.
Teachers recognize people as homosexual when they do not behave
according to the "gender role assigned to their sex", explaining the
heterosexism patent in the participants' discourses and the difficulty,
or impossibility, that they have to think about sexuality as
independent of sexual identity and vice-versa. Besides having mentioned
the heterosexist discourses, the presence of sexist social
constructions was also evident in teachers' discourses sexist social
constructions, e.g., they referred to the existence of different social
roles for men and women, reinforcing gender polarization.
"I can already see the difference, by the kind of the games or the
clothes they choose, children who are more aggressive, not as feminine
as they should be, or boys that walk to the board swaying their hips
and all the class starts laughing." (TM-40F-A)
"And I can also notice it here in Azores, that the roles "man/woman"
are still deeply rooted. The woman's role, the man's role. And then
that is also going to influence sexuality." (AR-36F-A)
Gender polarization influences the way of recognizing, respecting and
"accepting" "non-heteronormative sexualities". Consequently,
participants do not conceive the sexes, the genders and the sexualities
as independent and with an equal value. The question of homosexuality
will continue to be seen as something non-normative and, consequently,
5.2 Lesbian Invisibility
Throughout the teachers' discourses, some references were made to a
certain lesbian invisibility in the school context. Our interest was to
know the participants' discourses on the lesbian invisibility and its
(in)direct consequences. This invisibility includes explanations,
presented by the interviewees, for their notions of existence or
non-existence of lesbian women in society, or for their level of
knowledge in this area. Regarding this topic, most of the individuals,
in one way or the other, demonstrated that the visibility of the
lesbian population is much reduced.
"Maybe because I don't attend the same places they do or, I do but I
just don't notice them. But I think it's normal that I don't notice
them, because sexual orientation is not exactly written on people's
"(...) maybe because lesbian women hide themselves as a couple of
friends, for example, if we see two girls holding hands or with one's
arm above the other's, unless they kiss each other on the lips or show
a more intimate gesture, they are considered as friends."(SC-33F-C)
The lesbian invisibility is a constant in the participants' discourses.
Teachers report that they have little knowledge about the existence of
lesbian women in their life contexts, including school, and that the
affective behavior of a lesbian relationship may be understood as that
relation of friendship. This situation would not be perceived similarly
if it involved a relationship between gay men.
There were some references which demonstrated that lesbian women are
starting to become more visible in society, especially due to the
adoption of the same-sex marriage law. Nevertheless, those references
were made using gay men as an example. Sexuality of (lesbian) women is
not visible or recognized.
"(...) since the gay marriage has been approved, it's effectively much
more visible in the streets people assuming their homosexuality through
love gestures (...) I think people feel more protected and that allows
them to expose themselves (...)it doesn't mean that there are more or
less [homosexual] people, maybe I'm just more aware of this, maybe I'm
more alert, maybe they are more comfortable and so, they let things be
more visible." (AF-49F-C)
The adoption of the same-sex marriage law had some positive
repercussions on the visibility of homosexual relationships, as it is
mentioned by some of the participants.
However, another aspect has become important through the analysis of
the interviews. In several situations, towards the lack of knowledge of
lesbian women and their invisibility in society, they chose to talk
about the male homosexual context, establishing a parallel between gay
men and lesbians. This means that, despite the reduced visibility that
lesbian women have to many of these people, a lot of the participants
had knowledge and information about male homosexuality.
It is here evident, once again, how the existence of lesbian women is
silenced and seen as the feminine version of the masculine
homosexuality. It alerts to the need of recognizing female
homosexuality as it is: recognize it as something with its own
existence, with its specificities, and not just as a variant of a
masculine phenomenon where, once again, women are observed through male
lens. In schools, specifically, the non-recognition of the existence of
lesbian students and the consequent non-recognition of their needs
leave these female students more vulnerable to homophobia and its
One of the central aspects in the comprehension of these interviews is
the discourse that teachers have on the existence of discrimination or
homophobia in the school context.
Most of teachers considered the school context as a space of
discrimination and homophobia. Discrimination is perpetrated by
"It starts by the school curriculum itself, what they call Sexual
Education, which is not Sexual Education, but sex classes. The sniggers
and the subjects which are all directed at heterosexuality. That...in
the school, since the beginning."(CO-58M-C)
One of the reasons of discrimination in the educational context is the
school curriculum, namely the Sexual Education ones. If the teachers
aren't trained and aren't sensitive towards sexuality and diversity
issues, it won't be easy for them to promote a supportive environment
where students can effectively learn. It is not enough to implement the
curriculum about diversities in schools; firstly, it is important to
provide schools with the necessary tools for the success of the
students and of the school community.
Within the school context, students were considered the main
responsible ones for discrimination or homophobia, towards their
"(...) there were already some sniggers in the classroom, that our
teachers don't understand very well, but there's always someone who
says teacher, so-and-so were kissing and hugging behind the gym"(...).
You know that young people are very cruel to each other's and,
sometimes, when there are differences, it's very hard. If they are
different, they are quickly labeled." (MF-50F-C)
Nonetheless, the teachers described their own professional class as
discriminatory towards these students.
"(...) some colleagues, as I said, might comment that they don't
understand, that they think that it's not normal, that it's unnatural."
"(...) one of them actually said that she really didn't understand, that
it was weird, how could two women like each other (...)" (IA-35F-A)
At last, the support staff members were also described as perpetuators
of discrimination against LGBT people within the school environment.
"(...) one member of the school staff took two girls to the Head of
school because they were holding hands in the hall, and assumed
themselves as lesbians(.)" (CO-58M-C)
In this school context, described as homophobic, the students were
identified as the main contributors to the perpetuation of homophobic
discrimination. Teachers were also seen as discriminatory towards their
students and colleagues. Equally, the support staff members were
referred as perpetrators of discrimination in the school environment.
These data corroborate the studies previously performed, regarding the
increasing violence among peers in the school context, and yet the fact
that the teachers, the administrators and all the school board
personnel exhibit homophobic attitudes, which influence the students.
Attitudes of the teachers and school board personnel exert influence on
Although most of the individuals had assumed that the school is a
discriminatory space, there were some people who presented an opposite
position, demonstrating, for example, positive conducts adopted by the
schools, towards lesbian students or teachers. However, the number of
teachers who shared this point of view was substantially smaller than
the number of those who admitted that the school is a homophobic
"In my school we have colleagues who are lesbians. And they are
perfectly accepted. No one talks about their sexuality, but it's tacit.
They are perfectly accepted." (TM-40F-A)
5.4 Measures against homophobia
In the previous theme, it has become evident that, according to the
participants, homophobia and discrimination still exist in schools.
Thus, it would be essential to analyze the measures that these teachers
can or cannot propose in order to soften these situations. Among them,
political measures and education courses on diversity, sexualities and
gender issues are found.
The discourses of some participants showed that the main measure to
fight homophobia and discrimination is the respect for diversity, in
the broad sense of the word. More than informing about different sexual
orientations, one should promote human rights as something of all and
every single person.
"In first place, uphold the human rights, the respect for the others.
That's what I tell the kids, that from violence to homophobia,
everything passes by the lack of respect that one has forthe other
The vast majority of the teachers reported that inclusive education
courses on diversity are the most effective way to end the
discrimination and homophobia in schools.
"Always bring someone who can give information to the students and then
discuss it with them in open sessions." (IC-35F-A)
"Firstly, it's necessary to start by the bases.it's necessary to
demystify this, it's necessary to provide the youth with more
information (...) that can be debated, talked, discussed (...).
Definitely, few participants referred the political measures as a
method to reduce discrimination.
"Maybe some political orientation. A law that could help, maybe."
Teachers' discourses demonstrated a lack of training on
sexual diversity issues for teachers, school staff personnel and
society. In particular, most discourses showed that there is a lack of
education courses and resources to deal with the specific issues of
lesbian students. Therefore, it is crucial to promote training on
diversity, sexualities and gender in order to fight (hetero)sexist
discourses and practices in the school context.
It is possible to verify the existence of sexist and heterosexist
discourses and a dimension of gender polarization in the discourses of
the interviewees. There is also some recognition of the lesbian
invisibility in the school context and in society in general. They
recognize the existence of homophobia in the social context in general
and in the school in particular, and that homophobia is practiced by
different actors in these contexts, including students, teachers and
school support staff. The interviewees propose some measures to fight
homophobia in society and in school, specifically political measures
and training courses on diversity, gender issues and sexualities.
Through teachers' discourses, one could verify that the school, as
society in general, practices the violence of denying the existence of
lesbian women, marginalizing them in the social discourse. Schools also
seem reluctant to include the theme of homosexuality in their agenda,
perpetuating, thereby, the discrimination and the prejudice towards
those who transgress heteronormativity, and losing the opportunity to
promote the respect for non-normative sexual orientations in schools
and in the social spectrum in general.
Thus, school is a place which, trying to hide the existence of a
non-heteronormative reality, increases the social exclusion, becoming
itself a potentially unsafe place for lesbian students. In this regard,
it is fundamental to implement in schools a specific training on
genders and sexualities for teachers, auxiliary staff, students and for
all the school board personnel. A more critical view on the role of
school could allow to rethink the current educational practices,
promoting greater gender equity, social inclusion, and the constitution
of a citizenship for all, fighting sexism and homophobia, among other
forms of oppression (Junqueira, 2007). It is important to promote
debate on the way in which young lesbian women live their sexuality, so
that they are not invisible when one talks about the school environment
and violence in schools.
It is indispensable to question, not only what is taught, but how it is
taught and how students understand it. It is also crucial that the
community and the school professionals are attentive to homophobic
language and practices inside and outside the schools. Teachers must
understand that their students may identify themselves as LGBT and, in
no way, their right of having access to a safe and supportive learning
environment can be taken, just like that of heterosexual peers
(Michaelson, 2008) and all other students, independently of their sex,
social class, political ideology, ethnicity, religious affiliation, or
More research works in this area would help to understand the possible
variety of perceptions that teachers have regarding different types of
homophobic expressions, and in what circumstances do the teachers
intervene, or not, when they hear or watch them. It would also be
important that the future studies examined how these teachers'
intervention, or the lack of it, affects the school environment for the
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6 This study is part of the research project: Sexual Citizenship of
Lesbians Women in Portugal. Experiences of Discrimination and
Possibilities of Change, funded by the Foundation for Science and
Technology and the Commission for Citizenship and Gender Equality.
7 Heterosexism considers heterosexuality as the only possible
discourse, neglecting other possibilities of sexuality. Furthermore,
heterosexism may be explained by the equation “heterosexual experience
= human experience”, which makes all other forms of human sexual
expression as pathological, deviant and invisible (Yep, 2002).
8 Androcentrism recognizes the masculine norm as the true and principal
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Liliana Rodrigues: Psychology Centre of Porto University, Faculty of
Psychology and Educational Sciences, University of Porto, Portugal.
Dirección electrónica: frodrigues.liliana@.gmail.com
Andreia Brás: School of Psychology, University of Minho, Portugal.
Catarina Cunha: School of Psychology, University of Minho, Portugal.
Joao Paulo Petiz: School of Psychology, University of Minho, Portugal.
Conceigao Nogueira: Psychology Centre of Porto University, Faculty of
Psychology and Educational Sciences, University of Porto, Portugal.
Artículo recibido: 7 de marzo, 2014 Enviado a corrección: 30 de
setiembre, 2014 Aprobado: 23 de febrero, 2015