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Rainbow Center Lecture discusses the difficulties of the gifted and GLBT

By Christine Peterson
On November 9, 2011

  • Lecturer Shawn R. Cherry discusses the difficulties gifted and gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students face with studets in the Rainbow Center. Ari Mason/The Daily Campus

It is one thing to be gifted or to be identified as gay, lesbian, bi or transsexual (GLBT), but it is another to be both in this modern-day society and face the emotional and social issues that arise from it. This week's "Out to Lunch" lecture, hosted by the Rainbow Center, featured Shawn Cherry, who is currently conducting research on the parallels between being GLBT and gifted or talented (G/T).

The presentation, titled "Twice Different: Meeting at the intersection of G/T and GLBT," addressed the problems that gifted and talented GLBT students face every day of their lives, and the magnification of the problems for those who are both.

Cherry began with some shocking statistics, revealing that 50 percent of GLBT youth attempt suicide and 30 percent of all teen suicides are committed by people who identify as GLBT. These figures put into perspective the real problem that these ostracized groups suffer from.

Cherry's lecture dealt not only with GLBT students, but also with those who are categorized as gifted and talented. In schools, the average G/T population is between 5 and 20 percent; the GLBT population ranges from 1 to 10 percent. It is the intersection that Cherry focuses on: the 0.05 to 2 percent of the student population that fits into both of these categories, thus "twice different."

Cherry explained that very little is known about this population because of the difficulty in finding research subjects.

Cherry discussed the "old paradigm" of what it means to be gifted. Being labeled as such meant one had a high I.Q, that one was elitist and naturally gifted with this intelligence, and of course the only way to quantify it was through testing. This is a severely dated definition, and the "new paradigm" reveals that there are many different types of giftedness, which can be examined through what one produces. A person can be gifted in one area and not another, an example of the true diversity of the G/T group.

Even with the revised definition, though, people still believe that because the students are gifted and smart, they do not need any help at all.

"But it ends up being that the gifted and talented population needs more help, not because they are less well-adjusted, but they are just dealing with so much more," Cherry said.

Three of the most common issues that G/T students suffer from are "advancement over age peers, internal asynchronies and membership in groups with special needs." These gifted students suffer isolation in school because of these issues that need addressing.

Cherry introduced the class in his presentation to a Polish psychiatrist named Kazimierz Debrowski, who worked with gifted children and adults and proposed the theory of "overexcitabilities" and the five subcategories attached to it: intellectual, imaginational, emotional, psychomotor and sensual. The first three are more commonly thought about, but the ideas of psychomotor and sensual giftedness are less common. Psychomotor overexcitabilities could describe someone's talent for sports, while sensual describes the gift of heightened senses like taste and smell.

With all of these overexcitabilities, G/T students tend to experience things with a heightened intensity, sometimes occurring in just one area.

"They are often categorized by curiosity, asking probing questions, problem solving and theoretical thinking. When a normal student sees something and has a thought, a gifted student will have ten," Cherry said.

But these overexcitabilities, coupled with the recognition of being GLBT, lead to certain social and emotional characteristics. Simply being GLBT, students face developmental challenges that heterosexual, non-gifted peers do not, leading to alienation. Falling into both categories though might cause a gifted student to recognition they are GLBT much quicker than their peers. In relation to Debrowski's theory of overexcitability, these students might then start analyzing all of the ways they are different.

Cherry cues in on the fact that addressing these issues in high school is too late. Some of the examples he provided of gay teen suicides were as young as 13. Cherry stresses thus the need for programs that could help cater to students that fall into both of these categories. Here at UConn, we have one of the best gifted and talented programs in the state.

Not helping these students causes the common issue of homophobia and prejudice of anyone labeled as "different."

"Homophobia locks everyone into rigid gender-based roles and discourages close, intimate friendships with members of the same sex," said Cherry.

In addition to this, bullying and harassment occurs for both G/T and GLBT students. Not surprisingly then, the students do not want to go to school and suffer from serious underachievement.

"For educators it shouldn't matter what your sexual orientation is, or your beliefs; you should just be helping to nurture these students who need it," Cherry said.

This lecture, Cherry explained, was to open people's eyes to the reality that the "twice different" population suffers from. The G/T and GLBT students exist as a group that suffers a severe lack of attention, which, through his work, Cherry hopes to change.


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