Thursday, June 9, 2005

Gay-Bashing in School

The New York Times reports on the march of the bigots into the public schools.

Emboldened by the political right’s growing influence on public policy, opponents of school activities aimed at educating students about homosexuality or promoting acceptance of gay people are mounting challenges to such programs, at individual schools, at statehouses and in Congress.

Chief among the targets are sex education programs that include discussions of homosexuality, and after-school clubs that bring gay and straight students together, two initiatives that gained assent in numerous schools over the last decade.

In many cases, the opponents have been successful. In Montgomery County, Md., for example, parents went to court to block a health education course that offered a discussion of homosexuality, while in Cleveland, Ga., gay and lesbian students were barred from forming a high school club of gay and straight youths.

Leading figures on both sides of the fight say they have never seen passions about public school activities run so high. They agree that much of the reason is conservative groups’ eagerness to meet their adversaries with a forcefulness more common to modern-day election campaigns.

“The intensity of the culture wars has heated up over the last few years,” said J. Michael Johnson, a lawyer with the Alliance Defense Fund, a conservative group that specializes in issues involving religion. “People are becoming more aware that they have rights, and they’re feeling more emboldened to defend them. Across the country, people are saying enough is enough.”

Mathew D. Staver, president and general counsel of another conservative group, Liberty Counsel, said: “We’re concerned about the effort to capture youth through indoctrination into the homosexual lifestyle. Students are a captive audience, and they are being targeted by groups with that as an agenda.”

Yes, Mr. Staver, there’s a whole slew of us out there waiting in Speedos and Birkenstocks just dying to convert your little darlings over to our side. There are toaster ovens and steak knife sets at stake here!

After-school clubs known as Gay-Straight Alliances, which draw together students to share common experiences and concerns, have become a particular source of conflict. The issue has roiled a number of communities, including Ashland, Ky.; Klein, Tex.; Hanford, Calif.; and Cleveland, Ga., where a small group of gay and lesbian students were denied permission this year to form an alliance at White County High School.

Federal law often frowns on administrators’ barring some clubs while allowing others, but Cleveland school officials told the students that they would abolish all after-school organizations before allowing a gay-straight alliance.

“They’re just scared of change,” said Kerry Pacer, 17, who is leading the students’ effort. “We live in the Bible Belt. Anything that threatens change, people here don’t want that.”

Complaints over the students’ endeavor led State Senator Nancy Schaefer to introduce a bill that would have required a parent’s written permission before a student could join any after-school club. The legislature later deferred to the Georgia Department of Education, which is now considering a modified approach allowing each local school board to develop its own policy.

Ms. Schaefer dismisses the compromise as too weak.

“I just don’t feel like homosexual clubs have anything to do with readin’, writin’ and ‘rithmetic,” she said.

No, you blithering idiot, they have to do with life and living, which is what education is all about.

What’s most telling about this battle is that it was started not by “outside agitators” — a phrase that should ring familiar with those of us old enough to remember the civil rights battles of the 1960’s — but the students themselves who have once again proved that they are far more tolerant and willing to learn about other people and what matters in their lives than their parents or the real outside agitators like Focus on the Family and the Family Research Council. Both of these groups have a rather peculiar fixation on gays (Dr. Freud, call on line 1) and they have channeled their energy into outright promotion of bigotry. (If you think “bigotry” is too harsh a word, check out what AMERICAblog has found out in terms of the connection between Tony Perkins, head of the Family Research Council, and David Duke, the Louisiana Klansman who crawls out from under a rock every so often to run for office.)

Speaking from first-hand experience, a kid knows by the time he hits Grade 8 whether or not he is gay. He may not acknowledge it to his family, friends, or himself, but he knows. (Yes, a lot of people know earlier, but I’m slow on the uptake, okay?) He doesn’t need to “learn” anything about it other than he’s not alone, that it’s a part of who he is by the grace of genetic hardwiring at the factory, and that if society has a hard time accepting it, it’s not his fault. These sanctimonious bible-thumpers don’t care about the kids anyway — all they want is to make noise and money. No one ever went broke by underestimating the fear and bigotry of the American public.