Teaching Gay in School

And the potential impact of the Safe Schools Act

Yesterday, several senators – including Pennsylvania’s own Bob Casey (D) – sponsored a new bill that aims to keep schools safe for gay and transgender students. The Safe Schools Act, which is co-sponsored by Illinois Republican Mark Kirk, was first introduced to Congress by GLSEN. It’s the first bill of its kind to gain bipartisan support in the Senate, with several Republican and Democratic senators signing on to get it passed, according to the Windy City Media Group.

If the bill succeeds, it would require federally funded schools to abide by codes of conduct protecting LGBT students from bullying and harassment. Schools would also be expected to report on incidences to the Department of Education.

“Bullying and harassment affect millions of students every year,” said Sen. Casey in a statement this week. “While we have federal laws to provide support to promote school safety, there is nothing currently in place to comprehensively and expressly address issues of bullying or harassment. … The bill is a crucial step towards ensuring that no child is so afraid to go to school or that he or she stays home for fear of bullying.”

A recent poll by the USA Network found that 85 percent of Americans would support a new federal law to require schools to enforce specific rules to prevent bullying.

But the Safe Schools Act isn’t the only issue impacting gay issues and education in America right now. The New York Times recently reported that several schools are coming under fire for implementing gay studies into the curriculum. According to the article, the Jesse Bethel High School in Vallejo, Calif., has been showing films and assigning homework related to gay life ever since a lesbian (and the ACLU) accused the school of discrimination in 2008.

But recently, religious leaders and parents began taken offense to the material, saying that the school should not decide what material – specifically gay content – their children should learn about. Opponents are accusing gay activists of attempting to recruit children, while gay rights leaders are pleading for fair representation in light of gay teen suicides in this country.

The Times reports that an angry mother was upset when her nine-year-old was assigned a crossword puzzle with the word “lesbian” in it, used to describe two women who love each other.

Former action movie star Chuck Norris, who’s now a conservative opponent of marriage equality, weighed in on the issue recently in a commentary he wrote for World Net Daily chastising what he calls “pro-gay school propaganda.”

Norris, like many other anti-gay spokespeople, accuses the school system of homosexual and liberal bias, saying that drop-out rates can be attributed to liberal curriculum. “If the power-to-be over our public schools, like government and unions, continue to oppose conservative curricula and impose overarching liberal educational revisions and laws,” he writes, “public schools will continue to experience an exodus.”

Others argue that everything from family instability to poor performance, drug and alcohol problems and bullying often lead students to drop out before graduation. And the fact that so many gay teens have considered suicide after being repeatedly harassed at school is a very serious signal that the climate in many of these public schools is dangerous for anyone who may be viewed as “different.” As younger people come out as being LGBT (at earlier ages than ever) this bullying and harassment will persist unless schools consider new, more effective ways to educate students about gender and sexual orientation.

One hopes that we – as a people capable of intellectualizing – reach a point where simply acknowledging the presence of differences in our culture – and specifically in the classroom – will not be viewed as somehow endorsing those differences. In the same way that one can learn about world religion without becoming a believer, students should be able to learn about race, gender and sexual orientation without the fear that the material somehow undermines a parent’s own morality lessons in the home.

The problem seems to be among parents who – because of their own bias, namely homophobia – do not want their children to value anyone who may be gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender at any cost (fear of the unknown, perhaps?). But for there to be peace at school for everyone – where learning is ideally in the spotlight – the Safe Schools Act and other efforts to educate students and administration alike is definitely a step in the right direction.

Learning should not be a privilege in this country based on survival of the fittest philosophies. The ruling class – when behaving badly or infringing on someone else’s ability to learn and go to school without fear of abuse – needs to face consequences, especially when what’s at stake are kids.