When it comes to discussing LGBT things with children, parents are up in arms.
[Image from here]
I recently posted about Tennessee's proposed "Don't Say Gay Bill." The bill would propose that the only sexuality that could be discussed in elementary and middle school classrooms is heterosexuality. Why? State Senator Stacey Campfield (pictured below) says it's all about "age appropriateness." Confusion is already rife at this age. Why confuse them more with discussion of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning topics?
I have a big, huge, monstrous, gigantic problem here.
Several problems, actually.
First, there is a huge gap in the logic. Not talking about something means less confusion! Of course! Why didn't we think of this before! Not educating means more education! The paradox is clear to me now!
I'm calling bull.
You know what a lack of education leads to? Ignorance. You know what ignorance leads to? Fear and misunderstanding and impersonalization. What does this lead to? Bullying, taunting, isolation, abuse, marginalization.
Assault. Suicide. Murder.
Does this seem too abstract? Too unsupported? Too "liberal-on-a-rant"-esque? Well, let's refer to perhaps the most well-known education organization in the United States. The NEA shares in their 2009 GLBTQ report that such students face bullying and harassment that leads to lower grades, dropouts, hostility at home, homelessness, anxiety, depression, higher rates of drug and alcohol abuse, and suicide. The report says that school employees often ignore homophobia in the classroom and around the school. Millions of individuals are victims of bullies, and millions more are the bullies themselves. There are more statistics and facts in the report. Check it out.
Doesn't seem like a big problem? Well, see here:
"Gay bullying has come into the national spotlight the past four years with cases of suicides from Ohio to Florida involving students as young as middle school age."
As young as middle school age.
This bill would restrict discussions and dialogue about LGBTQ issues to the students that need them most. This leads to marginalization of youth, which can be deadly.
Children's lives are at stake.
My sister experienced bullying and discrimination all her life while living in our conservative hometown of Holland, Mich. She wrote an open letter about it that can be read here.
In 2008, Lawrence King, a fifteen year old from Oxnard, California was murdered while at school.
There are so many more examples. I've seen it with my own eyes.
Ignorance is out there, and it's having real life-and-death implications.
Here's another bit of faulty logic in this Tennessee bill. Proponents of this bill are worried about sexually confusing children with discussions of LGBTQ issues. Sure, age-appropriateness is an issue. The details of heterosexual and homosexual sex should not by any means be taught to elementary students. The senator is missing something very important here, though.
Perhaps it's wrong to discuss personal sexual orientation with second graders. But what about families with two mommies or two daddies? Is it okay to talk about homosexual parents? How does it feel to have your family labelled as wrong, something illegal to be discussed in school, a marginalized "against the norm" entity? An elementary child has the right to see himself or herself represented in children's books and the like. Families with one mom, two moms, one dad, two dads, one mom and one dad and a step dad, foster parents, parents of different races, and so on should be represented! Check out the book Heather Has Two Mommies by Lesléa Newman. Not only is it a very age appropriate book, but also one of the most challenged and censored children's books.
Perhaps it's wrong to discuss personal sexual orientation with first graders. But is it wrong to discuss gender non-conformity? What about the boy who gets teased for dancing ballet, or the girl who is taunted for loving Nascar? Where do we draw the line? Check out the book The Sissy Duckling by Harvey Fierstein. Is this book about homosexuality? Would this book be banned under this law?
The Senator is completely ignoring alternative families and gender non-conformity.
Additionally, middle school, containing some of the most confusing years of a person's life, can be key to educating about different types of love and the acceptance for it. This is where discussions of homosexuality are most important, I think.
Just as people of color have been marginalized by being put in an "other" category, LGBTQ individuals and alternative families have been labelled as something "other" than the norm. Just like there is a White privilege, there is a heterosexual privilege as well. Heterosexism is a big problem. We have what anti-racist speaker Tim Wise calls a "the privilege of obliviousness."
We have a long, long way to go in the fight for equal rights. But perhaps we have even farther to go for simple acceptance.
There are perfectly age-appropriate ways to discuss homosexuality in elementary and middle school. There are perfect ways, even, to integrate it into the curriculum.
But here's what I gather: it seems, and I may be wrong here, that the Senator and I are operating under different worldviews, different assumptions. Senator Campfield sees homosexuality as something wrong, something that needs to be restricted, something that we should protect our youth from.
I, however, see my lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning friends and family members and complete strangers not as something adverse to society, but just as people, people who happen to have a different sexual orientation from me.
If Senator Campfield had been taught that lesson in school, maybe we wouldn't be in such a mess.
I know this has been a long, angry-word-filled post. But honestly, I'm sick of this. I'm sick inside about this marginalization of people. I'm sick of the bullying, the suicides, the ignorance. And I'm sick of this bull. And I will not be quiet about it.
Here's where you can find contact information for Senator Campfield.
This fight to be inclusive of LGBTQ people and discussions in the school system is just at the start:
"Polls show that the public’s stance against same-sex marriage is softening, and education about gay issues has expanded dramatically in recent years around the country, but experts suggest that the battle over what should and should not be a part of public school curriculums has just begun."
The debate isn't limited to Tennessee. Check out what's going on in California.
I would like to thank my peer, Amanda Shepard, for her contributions to this post. She and I are doing a research project on LGBT themes in children's literature in the elementary classroom, and through her I became aware of the book Heather Has Two Mommies.