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Sexuality remains one of the most controversial topics in today’s social research. One of the most problematic is the issue of homosexuality in the context of leadership and education. Whether or not to come out members of the LGBT community decide for themselves. However, choices that are to be made by LGBT faculty are surrounded by considerable controversy. In their article, LaSala, Jenkins, Wheeler and Fredriksen-Goldsen (2008) discuss the problem of coming out, promotion, and leadership decision-making for LGBT faculty and propose new ways to endure the most formidable burdens associated with the stress of being LGBT faculty.
LGBT community and coming out
The researchers begin by discussing the problem of homosexuality, transgender relations, and bisexuality among faculty members. In the context of faculty and higher education, the LGBT problem has two main facets: on the one hand, the number of LGBT professionals who choose to disclose their sexual identity continues to increase; on the other hand, the number of faculty members who want to explore these problems and need support and funding also grows. LaSala et al. (2008) suggest that getting tenure for LGBT research is becoming much more problematic, while LGBT faculty is facing considerable barriers to being open in their sexual behaviors. LaSala et al. (2008) analyze the direct experiences of the social work faculty in terms of LGBT research. They also involve self-identified LGBT individuals in their study. The researchers expect that the analysis of these experiences will help these people avoid heterosexism, heterocentrism, homophobia, misunderstandings and hostility in their relations with the world.
One of the primary questions analyzed by LaSala et al. (2008) is whether or not LGBT faculty should come out. In other words, self-identified LGBT faculty should decide whether or not to disclose their true sexual identity in academic settings. By being honest with the rest of the faculty, LGBT members can avoid the stress of pretending and hiding their lifestyles, but they may also encounter harassment and prejudice (LaSala et al., 2008). LaSala et al. (2008) write that being in the closet or hiding is still the most common method of managing sexual identity by LGBT people. LGBT faculty members also try to explore their academic environment to determine whether they will meet resistance or rejection in their sexual decisions. Many LGBT faculty members use their professional work to disclose their identity, instead of stating directly that they are not heterosexual (LaSala et al., 2008). In this way, these professionals win some time to feel safer and less cautious, while their heterosexual colleagues are getting used to accept their sexual identity.
One of the most interesting concepts discussed by LaSala et al. (2008) is that of tokenism. Tokenism usually occurs in the organization areas, where the proportion of a particular type of personality and characteristics is below 20% (LaSala et al., 2008). Tokenism means that the effort to be more inclusive is symbolic and perfunctory, brings no tangible results and is only partially inclusive. Among LGBT faculty members, tokenism is associated with higher visibility and increased risks of isolation and role encapsulation: LGBT professors are much more likely to be scrutinized for their mistakes and be given a marginalized position without any real chance to grow professionally (LaSala et al., 2008).
Implications for scholarship and academic professionalism
These difficulties have profound implications for academics and scholarship. First, colleagues and leaders who hold heterosexist beliefs may discourage LGBT faculty and scholars from seeking funding to support their studies (LaSala et al., 2008). Simultaneously, with the growing number of LGBT organizations, faculty members and doctoral students have greater chances to protect themselves from discrimination. Moreover, despite certain risks, being open and active in LGBT research, faculty members can enlighten the rest of the community about the diversity and uniqueness of the oppressed population (LaSala et al., 2008). These professionals have much to say about LGBT issues. They can teach the society about social justice and ways to overcome social barriers to gender equality and inclusion.
My initial reaction to LaSala et al. (2008) was surprise. We are used to believe that gender discrimination is no longer relevant, and LGBT people have equal chances with their heterosexual peers to make successful careers and communicate their ideas to the general society. However, despite certain developments in the social field, the problem of coming out for LGBT individuals, especially education professionals and leaders, remains quite acute. It seems that even the most comprehensive policies cannot eradicate the attitudes and beliefs held by scholars and doctoral students with regard to LGBT faculty. Not surprisingly, many of them choose sophisticated ways to disclose their identity and make others accept it. Still, I was pleased to see the support and understanding, with which LaSala et al. (2008) discussed these problems and the arguments they used to justify LGBT faculty members, who choose to come out. Unfortunately, one article will hardly reverse the situation facing LGBT scholars in their academic settings.
The Most Important Information
The most important information provided in this article is not the reactions faced by LGBT faculty members, when they decide to come out, but the main reasons why these attitudes remain extremely prevalent in the academics. The most controversial is the situation involving LGBT faculty of color, as they face double pressures due to their sexual identity and ethnic origin (LaSala et al., 2008). LaSala et al. (2008) assert that heterosexual individuals often take advantage of their social privilege over gays and lesbians, while academic communities may either be indifferent or oblivious to such displays of discrimination and abuse against LGBT faculty. Despite certain positive shifts, LaSala et al. (2008) are still confident that LGBT faculty members, including those of color, pay a very tangible price for being open and authentic, which also compels them to carefully consider all possible consequences of coming out in their academic institution.
Changing Behaviors, Attitudes, and Beliefs
The basic message sent by LaSala et al. (2008) is about the ways, in which heterosexual scholars and doctoral students should not behave. Another message is about the way, in which higher education institutions can help LGBT faculty avoid the difficulties of oppression and sexism. LaSala et al. (2008) provide a very comprehensive description of tokenism and its implications for scholarship practices. We often make symbolic moves to accept LGBT individuals without changing our core attitudes and beliefs. The chief reason why LGBT faculty develops sophisticated ways to disclose their identity is because they do not expect to be accepted by the heterosexual majority. Based on what LaSala et al. (2008) say about the problem, I will become more supportive of the LGBT community and learn to accept their social position as equal and socially just. Being heterosexual does not mean being privileged, and LGBT individuals do have the right to pursue their career ambitions and educate the society about gender oppression and discrimination. In terms of sexuality, I will try to learn to behave in ways that do not make me look and sound privileged. Simultaneously, I will not allow others to discriminate against my position. Unfortunately, I do not think that my new position will have any real impacts on the current state of gender things in higher education. The problem of sexism and homophobia is so complex that one individual does not have any real chance to improve the social position of LGBT faculty members. However, every positive change grows from within, and I hope I will become a good role model for other students and faculty members, as they are striving to create an atmosphere of equity in their academic setting.
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