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Behind the School Safety Movement

Posted By Bethany Stotts On February 27, 2008 @ 12:00 am In News | No Comments

In a recent guest column, Karen England of the Capital Resource Institute pointed to gay activists such as the Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) who have been equating school safety with construction of a “supportive” school atmosphere for homosexuals. “When the term ‘supportive’ is used, this means that religious students will be forced to embrace sexual lifestyles that go against what they believe the Bible teaches. This is a suppression of personal beliefs and convictions,” argues England. This becomes particularly disturbing when tax dollars are used to support such inclusive values, especially within the public school system.

Many lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual, and queer (LGBTQ) organizations believe that promoting school safety is essential to their organization’s mission. Ally Action, the Anti-Defamation League, Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network (GLSEN), Out for Equity, Safe Schools Coalition, and the Human Rights Campaign Foundation all consider fostering safe gay-accepting schools a high priority.

The issue of school safety is particularly poignant for the LGBT community, with a 2005 GLSEN study showing that LGBT students were three times as likely to feel unsafe in school. “Ninety percent of LGBT students (versus 62 percent of non-LGBT teens) were harassed or assaulted during the past year,” writes the Committee for Children. Within the study, “being perceived as lesbian, gay, or bisexual is the second most commonly cited reason for frequent harassment,” they write.

Defining “Safety”

The Safe Schools Coalition is an “international public-private partnership in support of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender youth” dedicated to “help[ing] schools—at home and all over the world—become safe places where every family can belong, where every educator can teach, and where every child can learn.” The SSC advertises the Seattle viewing of It’s Still Elementary: Talking About Gay Issues In School on its website. The creator of ISE, Groundspark, is a coalition member and the SSC advertises Groundspark job openings on its list-serve.

“Safety” for these coalition members seems strikingly similar to silencing oppositional perspectives on sexuality and substituting sexually “unbiased” connotations into the traditional (read, heterosexual) American conception of family. The SSC’s “Guidelines on Bias” (pdf) eschews the term “minority” for “non-majority” and considers language labeling minorities as disadvantaged or needy “patronizing” and biased. In an ideal situation, “The right of non-majority people to decide what is best for themselves is acknowledged; the right to protest injustice is honored,” they write (emphasis added). According to the SSC, bias in education promotes (or at least fails to undermine) hatred if it

• “Omits the history, contributions and lives of a group;

• If it demeans a group by using patronizing or clinically distancing language;

• Or if it portrays a group in stereotyped roles with less than a full range of human interests, traits, and capabilities.”

Educators would likely have to teach lessons exclusively about sexuality in order to satisfy these lofty standards.

The Safe Schools Manual, developed by Out for Equity (another coalition member), provides such a template, offering gender-exploring curricula samples for classes of all ages. The K-3 lesson plan, “What is Family?,” encourages teachers to talk about different family structures and how families differ around the world. The objectives are for elementary-age students to

1. “Recognize that a family is a group of people who live together and support one another.”

2. “Recognize that family structures are different.” (emphasis added).

Similarly, the 9-12th grade lesson plan, “What Does it Mean?” teaches high school students how to define “key terms dealing with sexuality and gender identity,” including sex, sexual orientation, lesbian, bisexual, heterosexual, homosexual, gender identity, queer, transgender, cross dresser, and transvestite. All four categories—gay man, lesbian, bisexual, and heterosexual—are defined as persons who “experiences the human need for warmth, affection, and love” from persons either of the same or different gender. A “transvestite” is a “person who may achieve sexual pleasure through the use of clothing or personal adornments of the other gender.” Students are asked to write a one-to-two paragraph summary about what they have learned. The designer does not include any discussion of morality.

Bethany Stotts is a Staff Writer at Accuracy in Academia.


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