The stigmatisation of minorities as a topic in schools07.07.2020
In Germany, it took a long time for the persecution of gays in the Third Reich to be recognised as National Socialist injustice. There was no memorial in Berlin until 2008. In the meantime, society has become much more willing to condemn all forms of discrimination, and yet trans- and homophobic insults are still heard every day in schoolyards across Germany. Simply pointing out the injustices inflicted on these groups does not adequately address the problem.
Within the framework of inclusive education, two strategies have been developed to facilitate engagement with LGBTQIA* (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Pansexual, Transgender, Genderqueer, Queer, Intersexed, Agender, Asexual, and Ally community. Queer) issues.
Strategy 1: Dramatisation
This strategy is designed to increase the visibility of LGBTQIA* people in everyday life. The letters stand for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex and asexual, while the asterisk points to the existence of other sexual orientations and genders. The dramatisation principle is based on the contact hypothesis, which posits that interpersonal contact with a minority can reduce prejudice against it. Dramatisation is a concept taken from gender-sensitive education. Building on the ideas of education theorist Hannelore Faulstich-Wieland, it means specifically addressing gender as a social construct. Collaboration with out-of-school queer education projects has proved useful in this context: with their own trainers and education materials, these projects challenge gender roles, prejudices and stereotypes and encourage students to ask questions. Often, the trainers themselves are LGBTQIA* people. These out-of-school queer projects do not provide sex education; instead, their work is about raising awareness and anti-discrimination.
An important aspect of the collaboration between schools and non-school educators/initiatives is that no grades are awarded. This enables students to engage with an issue without being under pressure to give a “socially correct” answer with a view to achieving a good grade. It is an important aspect in the first steps towards sensitising students to various forms of discrimination.
Close liaison between trainers and teaching staff is essential for gaining an impression of students’ level of knowledge and engagement; it also enables specific topics or difficult issues to be addressed if necessary.
Efforts to dismantle prejudices around sexual identity should not be postponed until adolescence, but must begin in childhood. This is important, as a child’s exploration of their own sexuality does not start with puberty: many children realise much earlier that they are trans*, gay or bisexual. Non-discriminatory behaviours should therefore be practised from an early age.
Strategy 2: Normalisation
This strategy goes beyond one-off interaction, for example in a queer school project. Essentially, this is about understanding queerness not as an outlier topic but as a manifestation of the diversity of today’s society. Opportunities for normalisation can be found in identifying queer perspectives in various areas of learning: for example, by exploring the development of LGBTQIA* rights in politics or history lessons, by examining queer rural-urban migration in geography class, or by looking at gay behaviours in the animal kingdom in biology lessons or talking about HIV when learning about contraception. There are many different ways to integrate queer issues into the curriculum. The core aspect of both strategies must be to strengthen the minority position and make it more visible.
Transferability to other minorities?
The inclusive approach described here is suitable for addressing other minority topics when learning about history more generally. Prejudice against Roma in Germany is a good example. One option is to collaborate with Roma organisations and invite their representatives into classrooms. The history of this minority can and should be addressed as a broad topic in history and politics lessons as well. Given that Sinti and Roma have been present in Europe since the early Middle Ages, there are plenty of entry points here; this is also the case with Jewish history.
Avoid ironing out historical differences
The transferability of historical examples has limits, however, particularly when the conversation turns to the Shoah, the National Socialist genocide against Sinti and Roma and the persecution of gay men under National Socialism. From 1933 to 1945, between 50,000 and 63,000 men were imprisoned for homosexuality; around 10,000 were then transferred to concentration camps, where they were completely at the mercy of the SS. Many were assigned to punishment brigades and were forced to perform particularly gruelling and dangerous work. They were also subjected to brutality and discrimination at the hands of other prisoners. Nevertheless, the persecution of gay men under National Socialism did not constitute genocide, not only because of the numbers of victims. Jews, Sinti and Roma were said to have negative and supposedly immutable racial traits, and it was this that laid the ground for their systematic murder, both individual and collective. However, the persecution of gays under National Socialism was initially driven by the idea of “re-educating” through imprisonment. Later, the emphasis shifted to “prevention”: homosexuality was seen as a “plague” that required the isolation of alleged “seducers” from the rest of society. Although there should be no difference in the remembrance of victims of persecution, it is important, when seeking to raise awareness of history, to recognise the specific features of each mass crime. In all cases, the perspectives of the victims and persecuted should be at the forefront.
Further reading (in German):
Dienerowitz/Schmid: „Bildung verqueeren“, http://lernen-aus-der-geschichte.de/Lernen-und-Lehren/content/14319
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Ingolf Seidel has been working for the "Learning from History" educational portal since 2009 and is responsible for editing and project management. In addition to the army, he conducts seminars on (historical) political education and designs educational modules.
Those born afterwards bear no direct responsibility. They may choose to ignore history or identify with perpetrators or victims. What can be done to awaken young people’s interest in history and motivate them to engage in building peaceful relations between communities?