Friday, March 4, 2011

Gay Agenda or Teaching Tolerance?

In a move that has pissed off religious conservatives, California state senator Mark Leno (Democrat from San Francisco) proposed a bill in December that would require textbooks to include gay history and portray it “in a positive light.” With all the recent media coverage of bullying and gay suicides, the time would seem ripe for this bill. However, homophobic parents and religious leaders are vowing to fight it.

In 2008, a lesbian student at Jesse Bethel High School in Vallejo, California, filed suit with the American Civil Liberties Union accusing the local school district of discrimination. As part of the settlement, administrators recently agreed to show films and assign homework depicting same-sex families, starting with elementary school-aged students.

In November parents and religious leaders attacked the school board for “pushing their gay agenda” on their innocent children, irate that their kids would be forced to hear such terrible words as “gay” and “lesbian,” all paid for by their tax dollars. However, Leno’s legislation does not call for any curriculum related to sexuality or sex education. Rather, it is more akin to requiring an accurate and sympathetic portrayal of African American or female historical figures.

Many parents believe they have the right to control everything their children hear or experience, a notion that is both ludicrous and unhealthy. There is no way to prevent a child from hearing the word lesbian and why try? It won’t stop a child from becoming gay or cause a straight kid to suddenly convert. It encourages ignorance, fear and bigotry. But if parents really are so concerned, then they need to place their kids in a private parochial school or home school them, and not expect the rest of the world to roll over for them. The job of public schools is to help children understand reality, not to shelter them from it. We don’t ignore the Holocaust, slavery, genocide of Native Americans or Japanese internment simply because they are painful or difficult to discuss (though history textbooks have done a remarkable job of obfuscating these events).

In the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD), teachers introduce words like “gay” and “heterosexual,” beginning in kindergarten. At Mission High School in SFUSD, there are school assemblies to honor Gay Pride Month. There are now 4,000 Gay-Straight Alliance clubs across the nation. Many schools have also performed the Laramie Project, a play about Matthew Shepard, a gay college student in Wyoming who was killed in a homophobic attack.

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