The New York Times reports on escalating tensions in California over a proposed legislative move to introduce gay-friendly elements into school history lessons, with some of those opposed to homosexuality saying this is an attempt to “queer” public schools.
Introduced in December by State Senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco), the legislation would have history textbooks include information about positive gay-identifying figures and how they have contributed to important historical events.
The purpose of this is discussed by Senator Leno in The New York Times:
To the many educators and gay rights advocates like Mr. Leno — one of the first two openly gay men elected to the Legislature- the need for the law is as self-evident as it is urgent.
“People oppose and fear the unfamiliar,” Mr. Leno said in an interview. “When grade-school students understand the arc of the L.G.B.T. movement over 40 years, that otherness begins to dissipate. That’s desperately needed right now.”
The issue of whether homosexuality should be mentioned in schools has been a high-profiled one in California where Proposition 8, the 2008 voter-enacted amendment banning same-sex marriage in the state, gained considerable support because of how effectively the Yes on 8 campaign was able to draw on fears that information about same-sex marriages would be given to children.
As such, some in the district are now labeling Leno’s bill as being part of a wider “gay agenda.”
Again, from the article:
“These controversial issues don’t belong in the classroom, no matter how many times people vote on marriage,” said Karen England, a member of the State Central Committee of the California Republican Party. “The homosexual activists have repeatedly been pushing for more and more in sexual curriculum when our kids can’t read or write.”
For parents like those who attended the Vallejo board meeting in November, it is a question of their right to control their children’s education. State law does not allow parents to remove their children from particular lessons that are part of a set curriculum.
At the meeting, a mother angrily waved a crossword puzzle assigned her 9-year old daughter that included the word “lesbian.” (The clue: “Two women who love each other in a romantic way.”)
The parents were backed by Pastor P. Daniels Jefferson, the popular leader of the Vallejo Faith Organization, an influential evangelical Christian umbrella group. Mr. Jefferson said that while he opposed bullying, Vallejo’s Christians felt that their voice was being suppressed.
Mr. Jefferson said Mr. Leno’s bill was another step in what he labeled a long-running gay political agenda to “queer” the schools. He called the next 20 years the “most critical” period in the state’s debate over gay rights. “Today’s children are tomorrow’s voters,” Mr. Jefferson said, “and, believe me, nobody’s stupid. People know that.”
The situation is made complicated by a tangling of issues.
The idea that the bill is part of a political agenda smacks of anti-gay sentiment and the accusation that the legislation would “queer” schools really rather speaks for itself in terms of its own inflated rhetoric.
The issue at hand is whether it is right that parents are denied the ability to remove their children from classes.
A school student questioned by The New York Times who goes to a school in California that already discusses LGBT issues raises a key point in relation to this particular circumstance: that, if her school didn’t discuss LGBT issues with her, she says she is doubtful whether her parents would have.
This speaks to the heart of the matter: evidently, silence on the issue of LGBT identity has not worked in the past as the recent spate of high profiled suicides and cases of pervasive anti-LGBT bullying in schools have shown. Keeping mention of LGBTs a taboo will only let the problem persist.
An age-appropriate dialog in the form of LGBT-inclusive history lessons seems a reasonable step in providing both a venue in which students can discuss relevant LGBT-identity issues and a context wherein LGBT-identifying or questioning students themselves might be able to find reassurance while their straight peers could garner some sense of understanding and perhaps even empathy with their fellow schoolmates.
It is not hard to imagine that all of this could be accomplished in a rather neutral way that does not need to touch on issues that parents find sensitive, especially if parents could be included in establishing such a dialog, but it seems that communicating this to some parents is still going to be a hard task when they feel that their rights are being infringed because they are not able to control this aspect of their child’s education.
You can read the full New York Times piece here where there are comments from both educators, school students and parents with varying opinions.