Identity, Discourse, and Safety in a High School Discussion of Same-Sex Marriage

Document Type


Publication Date

Winter 2013

Publication Title

Theory and Research in Social Education




Scholars have called for discussions of same-sex marriage in schools as one way of ending the curricular silence around lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning (LGBTQ) people. Yet, concerns about how students might talk about LGBTQ people can contribute to teachers' reluctance to initiate such discussions. Queer theory suggests that discussions of same-sex marriage require students to negotiate high school cultures that often assume and enforce heterosexuality. Further, students are likely to draw on the larger societal debate, a debate that often characterizes LGBTQ people very differently (and often stereotypically). Informed by discourse analysis, the author examined one discussion of same-sex marriage in a high school classroom and considered the ways students managed both their arguments and their identities. He also examined students' arguments to see how they contest what it means to be LGBTQ. Results of the analysis suggest that the assumption of heterosexuality pervaded the same-sex marriage discussion and that student arguments tended to focus squarely on the nature of LGBTQ people. These findings suggest that romantic notions of classroom safety might be inadequate when discussing same-sex marriage and that teachers need to carefully consider issues of student identity and the discourses available to students before they introduce same-sex marriage as a controversial political issue discussion topic.