Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Social Work (MSW)


Social Work


Lyle S. Hallman Faculty of Social Work

First Advisor

Martha Keniston Laurence

Advisor Role

Thesis Supervisor


This study looks at social work education from the standpoint of lesbian students and faculty. The literature indicates that many social workers manifest signs of homophobia, and that this affects the provision of services to gay and lesbian clients. The purpose of this study is to explore how issues of same-gender sexual orientation are addressed in schools of social work and to make recommendations for change. My approach is based on the view that “knowledge” is reflective of the values and experience of those who create it and that education serves to perpetuate and reinforce dominant social values. Looking at institutions from the standpoint of marginalised groups can reveal the ways in which those institutions promote an oppressive ideology. I interviewed fourteen lesbians, including undergraduate and graduate students, recent graduates and faculty members from five Ontario schools of social work. These open-ended interviews focused on the participants' experiences and perspectives on social work education. I also facilitated two reflecting group discussions, each with five of the research participants, which supported and clarified the findings that emerged from the interviews. The findings of this study suggest that social work education is structured by a hidden curriculum which promotes heterosexuality as the only normal and legitimate form of sexual and relational expression. Content on same-gender sexual orientation is excluded from the curriculum and discourse on lesbian and gay issues is suppressed. The lack of a supportive and safe climate in schools of social work limits disclosures of same gender sexual orientation, reinforcing the institutional silence by keeping lesbian and gay experience closeted and invisible. Heterosexual students receive little or no education on same-gender sexual orientation and consequently are unprepared to provide services competently to lesbian and gay clients. The results of this inquiry suggest the need for a multi-faceted approach to change in social work education. CASSW accreditation standards should be changed to require the inclusion of content on issues of same-gender sexual orientation. Schools of social work should adopt policies which prohibit discrimination and harassment based on sexual orientation and statements of philosophy which clearly express opposition to heterosexism and other forms of oppression. Lesbian and gay faculty and students should be actively recruited as part of an effort to increase diversity in schools of social work. Issues of same-gender sexual orientation should be addressed in continuing education for faculty and in faculty evaluation. Feminist theory and critical pedagogy are identified as valuable resources in addressing heterosexism and lesbian and gay issues in social work education.

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