A recent report from the New York Civil Liberties Union confirms that our public schools are having a hard time introducing LGBT people to our children. The report states that current sex education curriculums 'reinforce negative gender stereotypes, and stigmatize LGBT students and families'.
The report included the following examples:
'More than half of the school districts did not acknowledge, much less discuss, sexual orientation, and only 17 percent discussed gender identity or transgender people. A work sheet used in one district explained same sex attraction under 'Taboo Definitions'.
'Lessons and role-playing exercises nearly uniformly assumed boy-girl pairings. Only five districts in the entire state used materials that acknowledged same-sex parents, even though New York has legalized same sex marriage and an estimated 18,000 married same-sex couples live in the state.'
Schools are in a position where they need to take an assertive and compassionate approach with those who object to educating children to respect and accept LGBT people. For many schools, this may be extremely difficult. Fear-based campaigns make advertisements to scare parents about what children will be taught in classrooms.
Negative consequences are abound for LGBT people, and their supporters, in districts all over the country. A school district in Ann Arbor, Michigan suspended a teacher for playing a song in support of LGBT youth. Beaverton School District, located in a suburb of Portland, Oregon fired a student teacher who came out after a student asked him why he was not married. On a positive note, Beaverton School District ended up working with LGBT rights groups to build the school district into a model for diversity inclusion.
When questions of people's human rights are at stake, we may no longer abide those who want to limit or erase those rights. By refusing to acknowledge the existence and validity of LGBT people, we are teaching our children that LGBT people should not be considered equal in our society. Thus, not educating our children about LGBT people is the same as educating to discriminate.
Consider all of the places children hear about or know LGBT people. At school, they hear the words, gay, queer, sissy, and fag being used in a condescending manner. When the t.v or radio are on, they hear reports about gay rights, same sex marriage, and gender rights. They know family members or friends who are LGBT. They may see and feel adult discomfort when LGBT people are brought up.
Our children have seen LGBT people, they have heard rumors about us, they have heard us called names, and they have seen us beat up. They may identify as LGBT themselves. It is essential to teach them about respecting and accepting us.
Unfortunately, we have grown up in a society where LGBT people are viewed as abnormal. Homosexuality was listed among the sexual disorders in the DSM until the 1970's. Transgender people are currently in the process of being de-classified as mentally ill. Regardless of medical definitions, as long as the view of abnormality keeps roots in our minds and hearts, we will continue to mis-educate our children.
The gay, lesbian, and straight education network (GLSEN) supports LGBT youth in our schools. They oversee a multitude of nationally recognized programs and they provide toolkits for helping educators to teach respect and acceptance of LGBT people.
It is ok to educate them about the fact that our ancestors made incorrect decisions when it came to human rights. That now we have an opportunity to make things better. That they are a part of the solution. That there are whole cultures of people who have been treated badly, and that justice means making sure that all people are treated with dignity and respect.
We can teach them this while respecting our ancestors for their efforts. That sometimes it takes time to learn that something we are doing is wrong. That our grandmothers and grandfathers were doing the best they could with what they knew at the time. Now we know more. And we know differently. And by working towards equality and respect for all, we are respecting our ancestors, and we are helping them too.