‘Education is the key to understanding’ ‣ Ocean City Sentinel

We Belong CMC holds first in series of LGBTQ+ information sessions

OCEAN CITY — We Belong Cape May County presented the first of the three-part informational series “Listen, Learn and Love” on LGBTQ+ issues Jan. 7 at the Ocean City Free Public Library.

Stockton University professor and LGBTQ+ inclusivity educator Karen Williams spoke during the first session, providing information on a variety of topics.

Williams is a member of the Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies Department at Stockton, engaging in feminist practice and theory to further the understanding and analysis of gender and sexuality from a range of disciplinary perspectives.

She also is an English and gender studies teacher at Mainland Regional High School. She earned a bachelor’s degree from Stockton University, a master’s degree in educational leadership and administration from University of Pennsylvania and a master’s degree in American Studies from Stockton.

Nearly two dozen people attended the event, which was also available via Zoom.

“I just want to provide the language for people because so many people get nervous. They don’t know what the letters mean, they don’t know terminology,” Williams said. “It’s just breaking down the most basic things for people to understand the difference between sex, sexuality and gender and to provide ways to support the LGBTQ+ community.”

Williams, a 1989 graduate of Ocean City High School, has been a teacher at MRHS for 21 years. She said the district is fortunate to have the support of Chief School Administrator Mark Marrone.

“He is really engaged. He is so supportive and has allowed me many opportunities to get training,” Williams said. “I thank him regularly for creating a positive environment.”

She said research-based data prove the important of inclusion.

“Statistics show how important it is for students who are LGBTQ to see themselves in the curriculum, to be supported by the school system, to be supported by their classmates. Statistics show that if they are supported, they perform much better,” Williams said, noting the education is not just for the LGBTQ community but also to teach the general population how to be more supportive.

She said having a Gay Straight Alliance, such as Mainland’s Rally for Diversity, is also helpful to the community.

“We feel that education is the key to understanding and acceptance,” said Christine Stanford of We Belong.

Ocean City High School has neither a gender studies course not a Gay Straight Alliance, but did recently approve the PRISM Club, which is similar but not the same.

“This has come about because of certain things that have happened in the community schools,” Williams said. “Which shows why teaching LGBTQ information in schools is so necessary.”

She said such courses work as both a mirror and a window.

“If it’s not in the curriculum that gay people have been doing great things, how do we know they exist?” she said. “By teaching it, it provides a window into others’ lives, which is really what education is about.”

She discussed some of the terms used to identify differences in the community, noting queer has been used in a derogatory sense in the past but now is seen as an umbrella term, protecting the privacy of individuals.

Williams said sex as a noun is based on chromosomes and reproductive organs. Biological sex, such as male, female or intersex, commonly refers to physical characteristics. As far as sex as a verb, she did not elaborate.

Sexuality involves terms such as straight, lesbian or gay, bisexual, transgender and others, such as pansexual, meaning romantically and/or sexually attracted to people of all genders.

Williams defined gender as the characteristics of women, men, girls and boys that are socially constructed. This includes norms, behaviors and roles associated with being a woman, man, girl or boy, as well as relationships with each other. As a social construct, gender varies from society to society and can change over time.

We Belong Cape May County has scheduled two other sessions in the series, scheduled for 6:30 to 8:30 pm Feb. 18 and March 11 at Seaville United Methodist Church in Upper Township.

By CRAIG D. SCHENCK/Sentinel staff

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