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A group of English teachers is pushing for secondary students to study more books featuring same-sex attracted characters and queer relationships to better reflect sexual diversity in the wake of changes to marriage laws.  The campaign comes after researchers from the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) claimed just two out of 21 English texts recommended by the national curriculum authority, The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald and Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, contain protagonists, characters, experiences or relationships outside of the heterosexual norm.

Their analysis, published in English in Australia, the journal of the Australian Association for the Teaching of English, was seized upon by the group to urge teachers to “challenge heterosexism” and “give voice to a wider range of perspectives on love”.  An accompanying editorial, which is read by the group’s 4500 members, said the passing of same-sex marriage legislation was a “watershed moment in Australian history”.  Highlighting the result of the 2017 plebiscite, “English teachers surely need to respond to this endorsement of same-sex marriage on the part of an overwhelming majority of the population.”

In their paper, titled Queering Senior English, QUT’s Kelli McGraw and Lisa van Leent call on creators of authorised text lists to “address the persistence of heteronormativity in Australian schools by listing texts that represent diverse sexual identities and issues of sexual difference and diversity”.  They argue that texts that include queer representation provide an avenue for students to see themselves reflected in literature, yet the sample list distributed by the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) “grossly represents that under-represented queer life”.

Analysing the 13 recommended fiction texts and eight nonfiction texts, the authors point out that queer readings of The Great Gatsby have highlighted the “homosexual leanings of Nick” as well as challenges to constructions of gender.  Twelfth Night, which sees Viola disguise herself as a man and take the name Cesario, could also be interpreted as challenging notions of gender construction.

According to Dr McGraw and Dr van Leent’s analysis, the text list “does show how curriculum choices can marginalise or silence diverse experiences”.  “By queering the senior ­English sample text list in the Australian curriculum, at the very least, LGBTIQ+ youth will see aspects of their lives reflected at school,” they write.  Centre for Independent Research Studies senior research fellow Jennifer Buckingham said selecting books for English students should be based on literary merit rather than “fulfilling an arbitrary quota of LGBQIT characters”.  “It’s fine to recognise and discuss diverse sexualities and to encourage teachers to use sensitive and inclusive language, and teenagers in today’s classrooms would demand it, but it’s a different matter to seek to rebalance history somehow by over-focusing on it,” she said.

ACARA declined to comment but it is understood it has no plans for changes to the curriculum.  Dr McGraw said several states, including NSW, Victoria and Queensland, had their own lists of recommended senior English texts, but they did not appear to be any more inclusive.  Dr McGraw said she did not believe that literary merit was dictated by the content of the text.  “It is dictated by the quality,” she said. “There’s plenty of trashy books about diverse sexuality you can find.”  Damien Riggs, associate professor in social work at Flinders University welcomed the push.  “Children who are gender or sexually diverse get to see themselves reflected,” he said.

Source: Compiled by APN from media reports