Recent Vilnius University Graduate’s Thesis Addresses Heteronormativity in School

After defending her thesis to receive a Master’s degree in education this spring, Vilnius University graduate Akvilė Giniotaitė shared her work with LGL. Her thesis explores how non-heteronormative sexuality and gender expression are approached in Lithuanian schools. Seeking perspective into how attitudes learned and reinforced in school contribute to a heteronormative society, she analyzed state educational guidelines and curriculum, as well as conducting interviews with pupils and teachers about their views on gender, expression, sexuality and sex education.

The concept of heteronormativity has received so little attention or research in Lithuania that discussing it necessitates first defining it, summarizing the components of a heteronormative society and its negative impact on non-heterosexual and gender non-conforming individuals. Heteronormativity as explained through social constructivism theory provides the introduction to Giniotaitė’s analysis, as she acknowledges school as one of the main environments where people learn social norms and values that they carry into adulthood.

Giniotaitė observes that even where educational guidelines as well as teachers themselves in theory state a supportive position on discouraging gender stereotypes and promoting a culture of non-discrimination, implicit biases and simple lack of knowledge of how to handle themes of gender and sexuality often hinder progress in practice. For instance, many of the teachers interviewed seemed to view bullying and harassment on the grounds of gender expression or perceived sexuality as a natural part of children’s social behavior, and had little to say about homophobic views learned from family or mass media. Some viewed homosexuality as inherently too sexual for public expression (ignoring equivalent, socially acceptable expression of heterosexuality), or as an abstract that most teachers and students would be unlikely to encounter among their acquaintances. While some teachers stated in interviews that they would support a pupil’s decision to come out at school, their answers in other areas suggested that they’re unprepared for such a situation in reality.

Other themes in Giniotaitė’s thesis include shortcomings in sex education, as well as the school’s role as a source of social and moral as well as academic education.