During the Proposition 8 campaign, one of the arguments used by proponents of the ban on gay marriage was that, if it was not passed, schoolchildren would be taught about gay marriage when they learned about families. While the opponents of the proposition rightfully pointed out that this is inaccurate (education curricula and family law are, in fact, different), I often found myself wondering: what would be so bad about this?
The bogeyman of "homosexual propaganda in schools" isn't new, either. I can't pin down an exact origin, but as early as the 1970s, anti-gay bigots were trying to ban gay teachers as well as any teachers who supported gay rights. Their argument was that they didn't want schools to be used as "recruitment centers" for homosexuality. In 2004 I was talking with a conservative friend of mine about the election, and he said he didn't support John Kerry because Kerry wanted to "teach children about homosexuality in schools."
The same pattern has emerged as we fight for safe schools for all children. In the infamous Anoka-Hennepin school district, where the Christian fundamentalist fight against "homosexual propaganda in schools" -- right-wing code for teaching about homosexuality as anything but a perversion -- was successful, nine students killed themselves over a two-year period.
In fact, this problem isn't limited to the Anoka-Hennepin school district. While the suicide attempt rate among youth is generally between 4 and 8 percent, by the time they graduate high school around 30 percent of all LGBT teenagers have attempted suicide. These attempts, along with depression, lower graduation rates, drug and alcohol abuse, and lower grades, have been linked to negative social environments.
So, again, I want to ask this question: what is so wrong about teaching about homosexuality -- or bisexuality, or transsexuality -- positively in public schools?
Conservatives may trot out the same tired argument about "religious liberty," but at the end of the day, it has nothing to do with that: they are free to believe what they want, and, if it's really so important to parents to shield their children from reality, they can homeschool them or send them to a private school.
But let me tell you what's right about it.
LGBT kids should have sexuality education that is relevant to them. They should learn that just because you can't get someone pregnant doesn't mean that you shouldn't wear a condom. They should learn that they aren't the only person to ever have liked someone of the same sex. They should learn that, yes, they, too, can grow up to have a wife or husband and kids and a dog and a white picket fence, if that's what they want.
LGBT kids should learn about the fact that queer people have been around for a long time, and that being gay does not preclude you from being successful. They should learn that they don't need to stay in the closet if they want to become a politician. They should learn that being gay, or bi, or trans doesn't mean being invisible in history or culture -- at least not anymore
LGBT kids should have a place to talk about what they're going through with others like themselves, and with people who accept them for who they are. They should be able to learn from each other's experiences. They should be able to be themselves without being told by teachers to go back into the closet, and without having their reports of bullying and harassment ignored by administrators.
Our schools should be a place of safety and learning for all students, not places that inspire shame, erase identities, and keep kids in the closet.
And if all that is "homosexual propaganda," then I want homosexual propaganda in our schools.