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  Case: Donít Hold Hands
Ade and Elsa are two 7th grade girls from Indonesia who joined our school couple months ago. I teach them Physical Science. They have well-developed English skills. Although they have an accent, they can communicate with teachers and fellow students. I am very sensitive to the needs of newly-arrived immigrant students, so I paid close attention when I heard rumors from other students about them. Students started spreading that Ade and Elsa were in a lesbian relationship. Apparently Ade and Elsa heard about the rumors; they came to me in tears. I asked them to tell me what was going on. What I found out was very interesting. Ade and Elsa have known each other since they were small children and they have always been best friends. Their families decided to move to the US together. Their fathers applied for jobs in the same company. They both received offers and moved together. Ade and Elsa were excited about going to the same school in US and continuing their friendship. In Indonesia, same-gender friends holding hands is very common and indicates friendship. When children at our school saw Ade and Elsa holding hands they thought that Ade and Elsa were in a lesbian relationship. I have to do something about this. I see two options before me: I will explain to the children in my classes that friends holding hands in some cultures is completely normal, or I will tell Ade and Elsa to not hold hands to avoid these rumors. The second option seems culturally insensitive, but if Ade and Elsa continue holding hands, rumors will continue even if I explain to my students the cultural side of their friendship. What should I do? If you have an original solution to this issue, please advice.
Solution: (Rates are posted for this solution!)
For this particular situation I think you need to do both of your options. First, explain to Ade and Elsa that in the U.S. when people of the same sex it is assumed that they are more than friends. This needs to be done in the most sensitive way but just explain that you understand they are from a place where hand holding is a sign of friendship. Answer their questions and let them know that you are there for them during their transition from Indonesia to the U.S. Then, have a class discussion including Ade and Elsa where you can discuss how cultures all have different ways of showing emotions and feelings for one another. I would even let Ade and Elsa tell the story about their families and answer questions from their classmates. This will open the other students up to the idea of other cultures and their differences. Hopefully the students will be less close minded and understand Ade and Elsa a little bit better.