Kim Hackford-Peer. “In the Name of Safety: Discursive Positionings of Queer Youth.”

Hackford-Peer, Kim. “In the Name of Safety: Discursive Positionings of Queer Youth.” Studies in Philosophy and Education, vol. 29, no. 1, 2010, pp. 541-56. Accessed 1 Nov. 2016.

To remember:

  • the discourse of innocence is still applied to queer youth, however, the application has shifted to focus largely on the ways that queer youth are innocent victims in a society structured around heteronormativity (541).

  • a common response to this innocent victim discourse has been to position queer youth within a discourse of activist educators. ‘‘Discourses not only represent the world as it is (or rather is seen to be), they are also projective, imaginaries, representing possible worlds which are different from the actual world, and tied into projects to change the world in particular directions’’ (Fairclough 2003, p. 24) (541).

  • I share this reflection in order to briefly illustrate the pervasiveness of two dominant discourses commonly wielded by people engaged in the project of making schools or spaces in schools safe for queer youth. I refer to these discourses as the discourse of innocent victims and the discourse of activist educators (543).

  • High school students as a population are viewed as being in the process of becoming adults, a discursive positioning requiring movement from powerless (innocence) to powerful (activist) (544).

  • While it is true that the discourses of innocent victims and activist educators can be used to position queer youth in limiting ways, it is also true that queer youth can use the discourses to tactically position themselves in their schools and relationships (554).

  • Talburt et al. (2004) suggest that we begin to ‘‘see schools not as purified spaces nurturing innocent children but as concentrated sites of contestation around issues of power and identity’’ (p. 2). Tension is not always a bad thing; in fact it can be productive. Viewing schools as a place where tensions exist and create learning opportunities is a positive way to reframe our understanding of schools (554).

  • Sometimes the discourses speak queer youth, and sometimes queer youth speak the discourses. The promise lies in the use of the discourses to do more than just create safe spaces or zero-tolerance bullying policies. The policies are not necessarily enforced and the spaces and policies do not usually challenge the climate of the school, which is typically entrenched in heterosexism and may even support homophobia (554).

  • Mayo (2006) reminds us that while queer adults have gained more access to queer possibilities and futures, this right is not just important for queer adults. It is crucial that queer youth also have access to queer possibilities and futures so that they may flourish both in their current situations as well as in their future participation in their communities and as citizens. Unfortunately, many adults block access to these queer spaces of imagination and realization because they position youth within the discourse of innocence. These young people are said to be too young to have to take on the burdens of the adult world and the heterosexism implicit within it, or they are too young to really know what their sexuality is so they should not take on homophobia if they can avoid it (554).

  • It can be said that the very provision of safe spaces for queer youth blocks access to queer spaces of imagination (555).


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