Heteronormativity and teaching: A phenomenological study of lesbian teachers

Sandra M Melillo, Florida International University


The purpose of this phenomenological study was to understand what impact “heteronormativity” has on a lesbian teacher's perception of her instructional style, content, and context of curriculum taught. Through taped interviews with lesbian educators, this research examined the lived experience of the lesbian teacher. The framework for this study included theories related to historical, sociocultural, and psychosocial development while the methodology included a qualitative design using primary elements of a phenomenological study outlined without ignoring the influence associated with contextualism. Due to the sensitive nature of the study nine women who were the focus of this research were volunteers with the first serving as a “gatekeeper” to assist in the pilot study. The subsequent group evolved as a result of “snowballing” to gain more participants. The data in the form of narrative derived from the interviews was transcribed, color-coded, and organized into four themes and associated sub-themes, based upon the perceptions of these educators. These themes characterized the coming out process of a lesbian, which directly paralleled the personal and professional development of the lesbian educator, emerged as a result of the analysis. They included: (a) self-acknowledgement; (b) self-indentification; (c) coming out to other lesbians by overcoming fear and establishing relationships; (d) coming out to others by overcoming heteronormativity by using support groups in defining a lesbian's role as a teacher. The results of this study showed that the acceptance of the lesbian culture, shared with the acknowledgement, rather than compliance or defiance, of cultural hegemony can allow the lesbian educator to develop a curriculum and a classroom climate that will foster understanding and even generate social change among colleagues, parents, and students, one person at a time.

Subject Area

Curricula|Teaching|Womens studies|Social psychology|Higher education

Recommended Citation

Melillo, Sandra M, "Heteronormativity and teaching: A phenomenological study of lesbian teachers" (2002). ProQuest ETD Collection for FIU. AAI3059787.