■ Debra Chasnoff:
the face of increased right-wing resistance, LGBT people, parents, and
allies must be vocal about their support for LGBT-inclusive curricula.”
photo courtesy GroundSpak
By Debra Chasnoff
SAN FRANCISCO, October 31, 2007 –
When we released our film, It’s Elementary – Talking About Gay Issues in
Schools, a decade ago, the teachers featured in the documentary were
breaking new ground by finding ways to talk to their elementary and middle
school students about lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.
The educators we found were
Most teachers had never considered
having such conversations, and those that did lacked the necessary support
WHAT THEY SAID ABOUT
“Could become one of the
most important films ever devoted to lesbian and gay issues.” –
Barry Walters, San Francisco Examiner
“The real stars of the
video are the kids, who are often light-years ahead of their parents and
societal norms in understanding what prejudice is all about.” –
Doug Ireland, editorial, The
Today, educators across the country
are increasingly aware that such omissions are professionally irresponsible.
That’s progress. But for this progress to continue, it will take the
support and advocacy of not only LGBT parents who have children who are
directly affected by what happens in the classroom, but the entire LGBT
community and all of our allies.
During the 1990’s, schools
typically limited discussions of homosexuality to health class lessons and
focused on preventing the spread of HIV or suicide.
Today, as more and more elementary
schoolteachers include LGBT people within their curricula, the context of
such discussions is changing from disease and depression to culture and
Youth are now receiving information
about LGBT people through discussions about families, media personalities
and historical leaders, rather than only through frightening statistics
about disease and death.
This evolution is directly related
to a positive shift in attitudes toward LGBT people, the rapid growth of
families headed by same-sex parents, and the expansion of a stronger and
vibrant high school age LGBT population and their friends.
In many states, legislative and
school board policies now mandate teaching about diversity and addressing
bullying, with a specific focus on preventing anti-LGBT harassment.
Curriculum guides now exist to help teachers of all grade levels have
conversations about LGBT people and issues in age-appropriate ways.
Nevertheless, motivated educators
need the encouragement and backing of local citizens supportive of
LGBT-inclusive education in order to be able act on their commitment.
Because, despite the steady growth of the safe schools movement, small but
highly vocal minorities of homophobic activists continue to pressure
educators in numerous areas across the country to backtrack on their
progress and to abandon their LGBT-inclusive curricula.
In April, for example, a journalism
teacher in Indiana was fired after allowing one of her students to write an
article asking her peers to stop anti-LGBT harassment. In August, members
of a conservative church in New Jersey hijacked school-board meetings and
successfully pressured a local school district into removing its
LGBT-inclusive family diversity lessons.
That same month the Philadelphia
School District was forced to omit 'gay and lesbian history month' from this
year's school calendar, following outrage from conservative parents.
In all of these situations, the
vocal minority of the religious right flooded school offices with letters
and phone calls. As importantly, their relentless attacks went largely
unanswered by local LGBT community members and allies.
Lacking necessary visible support
from constituents in their own school districts, school administrators' good
intentions were dwarfed by the pressure to cave into homophobic activists.
These incidents reflect more than coincidence.
They are part of a concerted effort
on the part of the religious right to turn back the crucial progress we have
made. Today, as we re-issue It’s Elementary for a new generation of
educators, we call upon the LGBT community to help us realize our vision of
schools as caring communities for all youth and families, regardless of
sexual orientation or gender identity.
In the face of increased right-wing
resistance, LGBT people, parents, and allies must be vocal about their
support for LGBT-inclusive curricula.
LGBT parents can write their school
boards, attend PTA meetings, and influence their school district by
advocating for their own children’s best interests.
The wider LGBT community and its
leaders must also recognize the efforts of LGBT-headed families in the
school system, and be vigilant in providing support for the resistance they
Whether or not you have children,
you can lobby for inclusive curricula and support school districts that
proactively address anti-LGBT bias. Because reaching youth with anti-bias
education that includes our communities is not optional for cultural change.
■ Debra Chasnoff is the director of
It’s Elementary – Talking about Gay Issues in School, which will be
re-released on DVD in December along with the companion documentary, It’s
STILL Elementary. She is the executive director of GroundSpark,
This work is licensed under a
Creative Commons Licence.
Posted: 31 October 2007 at
12:00 (UK time)