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Race and Queerness in the U.S. Schooling System  

Ryan Schey

Despite the ubiquity of categories of race, sexuality, and gender in K–12 schools in the United States, there is limited research documenting how these categories influence the experiences of students, reflecting constraints on knowledge production, particularly with respect to queer of Color theories in education. Within the research that exists, scholars have used varying paradigms of difference, some of which erase and others of which recognize and theorize the relationships between race and queerness. Many studies have described intersecting structures of domination in U.S. schools and the lack of attention to intersectionality in school-based supports for queer youth. Fewer studies document examples of student resistance and activism, suggesting needs for future theorizing, research, and practice. Although the bodies of students, educators, staff, and family members in K–12 schools have been and continue to be understood through categories of race, sexuality, and gender, there is limited empirical research discussing the ways that race and queerness are co-constitutive of people’s experiences in the U.S. schooling system. In part, scholarly knowledge production has been constrained because of schools’ hostility to queer research and critical projects more generally, with queer research, and especially queer of Color research, often producing oppositional knowledge in tension with schools as state-sanctioned institutions. When research has been conducted about race and queerness in U.S. schools, scholars have used three main paradigms to conceptualize, or problematically erase, the relationship between race and queerness: discrete, additive, and intersectional perspectives. Discreteness suggests that race and queerness are separate, disconnected identities. The other two perspectives recognize interrelationships. An additive perspective suggests that identities are a sum of parts, whereas an intersectional perspective suggests identities as co-constitutive and resulting in unique, qualitatively different experiences. Research attending to the relationships of race and queerness has revealed that U.S. schools are unwelcoming if not outright hostile to queer youth, resulting in negative consequences such as lowered academic achievement and poorer psychological well-being. The particular experiences of and reactions to such marginalization vary with respect to intersections of race, ethnicity, sexuality, gender, and social class. Although school-based supports such as supportive educators, inclusive curriculum and policies, and extracurricular clubs are beneficial, too frequently these supports lack attention to intersections of race and queerness, limiting their beneficial impact. These tensions show the need for intersectional coalition building approaches to a key element of anti-racist queer educational activism. Importantly, queer youth enact resistance and activism in schools in ways that are individualized and collective. Some resistance has been school-sanctioned (such as writing) and other instances beyond what schools sanction (such as violence). Collective forms were most common as queer youth of Color often drew on embodied and community knowledges to advocate for themselves and peers. In the absence of broader support, queer youth often used privilege, such as whiteness, as protection and thus reified oppressive values and practices. Future educational research needs to focus further on the intersections of race and queerness to help inform educational theories and practices to help queer youth, both white and of Color, learn and flourish in U.S. schools.