Power and Privilege

Discussions about power and privilege may be emotionally challenging, triggering feelings of guilt or defensiveness. However, it is important to recognize that in our society, heterosexuality confers power and status, such that it is an advantage to be straight. As a result, those of us who are heterosexual have certain automatic privileges that tend to reinforce and perpetuate the power imbalance between straight people and LGBTQ people. Heterosexual privileges may come to be seen as “normal”, thereby reinforcing a belief in their legitimacy.

The school environment, like any other location in our society, is a setting where these power dynamics are at work. For example, the teaching staff is likely to be predominantly heterosexual, enabling them to reinforce their dominant position by disseminating their own values. LGBTQ youth and staff who are “out” may be tolerated, as long as they don’t talk about or display their sexual orientation or gender identity in any way. This amounts to a double standard, since people who are heterosexual and whose gender identity is in harmony with their body (cis-gendered) display their sexual orientation and gender identity in a range of conscious and unconscious ways, such as:

  • talking about their husband or wife;
  • talking openly about their personal lives;
  • dressing according to their personal taste.

We are not to blame for privileges we have due to our sexual orientation and gender identity. Often there is nothing we can do to eliminate our privilege. As individuals and as teachers, we can take stock of them and take responsibility for how we use them by attempting to offset the power imbalances they reinforce. Gaining awareness of the ways in which we benefit from our privilege helps ensure that we do not perpetuate conscious or unconscious heterosexist or homophobic beliefs.

Daily effects of straight privilege

To learn more about the privileges that benefit straight people in our society, click here.