Queensland academics have called for more books with queer characters to be included on secondary students’ reading lists to better reflect the diversity of sexual identities.
In their research, Dr Kelli McGraw and Dr Lisa van Leent from the Queensland University of Technology found only two of the 21 texts recommended for study in secondary English classes by the Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority had obliquely queer characters or themes.
F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby features Nick, a character with “homosexual leanings,” and in William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, Viola disguises herself as a man.
Dr McGraw and Dr van Leent write that in those in charge of the text lists should “address the persistence of heteronormativity in Australian schools by listing texts that represent diverse sexual identities and issues of sexual difference and diversity.”
The majority endorsement of marriage equality in 2017 was a “watershed moment in Australian history” and high school reading lists should reflect that, an accompanying editorial in the Australian Association for the Teaching of English’s (AATE) journal English in Australia reads.
Dr McGraw and Dr van Leent said the curriculum “should be adapted to the real conditions in which teachers work.”
“For example, real conditions equal 10 per cent of the population identifying as LGBTIQ+,” they wrote.
“Given the statistics and experiences of LGBTIQ+ students in our schools, it would seem the word ‘equity’ applies to them.
“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.
“We resist the notion that students studying English in secondary school are not mature enough to discuss sexuality, as well as the notion that conversations about diverse sexual identities are inappropriate for English teachers to engage, particularly once students are in Years 11 and 12 and preparing to enter the adult world.”
But the academics’ call has angered the Daily Telegraph newspaper, which reported that it “would see high school students forced to study LGBTIQ literature in a bid to destroy ‘heterosexual privilege’.”
Australian Catholic University academic Dr Kevin Donnelly told the Telegraph the push showed the “cultural left” are “attempting to invade the education system to spread radical gender ideology” and pressuring teachers to become “new-age warriors of political correctness.”
But University of Melbourne literary professor and English in Australia editor Larissa McLean Davies said it was important to have conversations about sexuality and pointed to literary greats such as Romeo and Juliet and The Great Gatsby as an example.
“Literature is a fundamental part of English and has always been a way of understanding the human condition and talking about difficult issues,” she said.
“Teachers are trained professionals working with texts and understand the issues so what better environment to have these discussions.”
(Photo by Jacek Chabraszewski/Adobe Stock)