In the 22 months that I have been out of the closet, education has been my favorite word. Two years ago I sat in a room with my team following Jason Collins' announcement that he was gay. I asked them how they would feel about a gay teammate.
Several said that they would be very uncomfortable and could not play with someone who was gay. A month later I came out to the team. Over the course of the next two seasons my players became extremely comfortable with the LGBT community. They have met friends, asked questions and had some really frank conversations. If you ask them, many had never met someone who was gay. Over time, they realized there was no difference.
This change didn't just happen in the gym. My classroom underwent the same change, as did my entire school building. Even the local basketball community, as a whole, was involved.
LGBT education needs to become part of the classroom. It needs to be incorporated into curriculums across the nation. We celebrate the similarities and differences of various cultures throughout the school year such as African-American History, Hispanic Heritage and Women's History month. Students are taught at a young age to appreciate the great accomplishments of those who helped foster a better understanding of culture. Every summer I teach a civil rights course and students are in awe of how brutal segregation and discrimination against various groups was during the 1950's and 1960's.
Imagine if every student got the same education on LGBT people. Discussions on how Harvey Milk was one of the first openly gay public officials. Conversation on how the Stonewall riots changed society. Our youth would grow older understanding that there is no difference; something that may not be taught in the home.
Aside from history, how about discussing the topic in health class addressing issues regarding sexual and gender identify, and the difference between someone who identifies as transgender and queer. The majority of people in this country would be unable to do so. LGBT people are no longer hiding in the shadows. As our youth grows into adulthood, college roommates could be gay. A co-worker might be trans. The whole point of school is to prepare young people for the future, and to teach them to recognize and accept differences amongst us.
According to thenextfamily.com, only nine states have positive LGBT-inclusive sex education in their curriculum. You might be shocked to know, that three states have negative-LGBT inclusive sex education. In other words after it is taught, educators can preach how being gay is unhealthy and immoral. Imagine being a LGBT youth forced to sit in one of those classes?
Polls show that over 60% of people in this country support same-sex marriage. More then ever, celebrities, politicians and business leaders are living authentic lives. LGBT folks on television are more then prevalent as shows like Modern Family consistently win Emmys. LGBT people are part of mainstream culture and the majority of the younger generations are perfectly okay with this.
Last year with the financial backing of the LGBT Sports Coalition, NYSPHSAA Section One Athletics hosted two educational conferences for high school athletic leaders. Over 350 student-athletes listened to various speakers and participated in workshops to educate them on how LGBT athletes struggle in athletics. The goal was to bring their views back to their teams and community and create change.
Athletics is just a small portion of the school community. To really create change we need a wider audience that includes all students. Let's start with staff development. Districts spend a lot of time and money on professional development. Every year I'm required to learn about blood born pathogens, how about a course on how to positively interact with the LGBT population in our school. GLSEN has an abundance of resources that can be incorporated into any educational setting.
The opportunities for education are abundant, but we need to start at the top. Lawmakers must take the onus and make this a required learning. In a time where common core has become a household phrase, the recognition and acceptance of the LGBT community is real life.
As important as we all want to believe chemistry and algebra are, our youth growing into well rounded, accepting individuals is far more important... and education is the key.
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