Homophobia and Heterosexism in Public School Reform

Constructions of Gender and Sexuality in California’s Single Gender Academies
Elisabeth L. Woody
Policy Analysis for California Education


This article examines heterosexist assumptions and the role of homophobia in students’ experiences in California’s public “Single Gender Academies,’’ in an effort to include issues of sexuality in current discourses on adolescent gender identity and public school reform. Interviews with students, conducted as part of the most comprehensive research on public single-sex schooling in the U.S. to date, reveal a critical link between students’ notions of sexuality and definitions of masculinity and femininity. Alongside dichotomous, static notions of gender, the ideology and structure of the Single Gender Academies largely promoted heterosexist assumptions of students’ sexuality. Such assumptions pervaded school policies and practices as well as peer relations and students’ sense of gender identity. Students, in turn, both actively constructed and resisted a theory of gender which framed boys and girls in opposition and promoted heterosexuality as the norm. This article provides an analysis of homophobia among students and the influence of academy assumptions on students’ attitudes. Such a focus allows for an investigation of gender and sexuality at both individual and institutional levels. While the research is based on data collected at public single-sex schools, the findings provide insight into students’ articulations of gender and sexuality across a variety of school contexts.

This article was originally published in Equity and Excellence in Education by Taylor & Francis Group.

Suggested citationWoody, E. L. (2003, June). Homophobia and heterosexism in public school reform: Constructions of gender and sexuality in California’s Single Gender Academies [Article]. Policy Analysis for California Education.