“Being gay isn’t a lifestyle.”

In Baden-Württemberg, tens of thousands of supporters have signed an online petition against the topic of sexual diversity in school lessons. They protest against the supposed re-education of the students. The social psychologist Ulrich Klocke investigated the effects of a similar curriculum at Berlin schools in 2012.

Mr. Klocke, how serious must one take the protest against the thematization of homosexuality in the classroom in Baden-Württemberg?

Protest should always be taken seriously because it conceals fears. Here it is obviously the fear that the sexual orientation of young people could be influenced by addressing the issue of sexual diversity in schools. The petition speaks of an LSBTTIQ (gay-lesbian) lifestyle, which suggests that it is a kind of lifestyle that one chooses like a living room set. However, it is concealed that sexual orientation is a relatively stable phenomenon and there is no evidence that it is influenced by seduction or conditioning.

The initiators of the petition speak of negative side effects of a gay-lesbian “lifestyle”.

They probably fear that non-heterosexual persons are portrayed too happily, which is why young people could then decide to become lesbian or gay. This is a completely absurd assumption that is in no way scientifically tenable.

Does the majority here feel threatened by the minority?

I do not believe that the majority is really against taking this issue into account at school. But that may be true of the petition’s initiators. The actual circumstances are completely hidden. The topic of homosexuality has played almost no role in school lessons so far. It is absurd to assume that the mere thematisation leads to a minority gaining power over the majority here.

How does such an aggressive defensive attitude come about in our supposedly enlightened society?

We must bear in mind that homosexual relations continued to be prosecuted until the late 1960s and that paragraph 175 was not finally deleted from the penal code until 1994. That some people, who were still socialized in a time of the criminalization of homosexuality, rebel against it, is not so amazing at all.

Is school a homophobic place?

Homophobia manifests itself above all in the behaviour, less in the attitudes of young people. Three quarters of young people are in favour of homosexual couples having the same rights as heterosexual couples. Faggots and lesbians, on the other hand, are extremely popular swearwords, especially among sixth-graders. Approximately half of the pupils of this age group are blasphemous when they think they are lesbian or gay.

With what consequences?

For non-heterosexual adolescents or those who are still unsure of their sexual orientation, this is a problem. These adolescents are more at risk than others, more often depressed and suicidal. The petition claims that there is no evidence that bullying and exclusion experiences promote these risks. That’s not true. There is a whole series of scientific studies that prove this.

How can the acceptance of sexual diversity be influenced among adolescents?

The more frequently sexual diversity is discussed by teachers, the more positive are the attitudes of young people. Knowing that bullying is outlawed at their school also has a positive influence on attitudes and behaviour. Teachers intervening against discrimination improves students’ attitudes to lesbians and gays, and the living example also leads to a more positive attitude. If the young people have teachers, friends or relatives who are open about being lesbian or gay, this has a positive influence on their attitudes and behaviour.

In which age group is it even possible to exert influence?

Suitable teaching materials are available for all age groups, for example on the website of the Berlin Senate Department for Education. Teachers can also borrow a media kit containing material for schools.

How well or badly prepared are the teachers for this task?

Our research has shown that teachers rarely work with such teaching materials. And there are obviously only a few teachers who intervene every time homophobic abuse occurs. From this it can be concluded that there is still some qualification needed. Corresponding measures are now in place in Berlin. And there are efforts to integrate these topics into teacher training.

Do migrant youth from Turkey or the former Soviet Union in Berlin have a more negative attitude towards lesbians and gays than others?

I would advise not to differentiate this discussion according to ethnic or cultural groups. This leads to defensive reflexes among the groups mentioned and to the opinion among teachers that the problem is limited to a few groups, which is not the case. In our Berlin study we found more negative attitudes among young people with a Turkish or Arabic migration background, but no differences in behaviour.

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