Tags: Government | Schools | Promote | Same-sex | Marriage

Government Schools Promote Same-sex Marriage

Monday, 09 February 2004 12:00 AM

Teachers now have an easily accessible "curriculum guide" at their disposal. The six-point lesson plan is the work of Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, which advocates an end to what it considers an anti-homosexual bias in schools.

The group, best known by its GLSEN acronym, has been influential in the creation and support of student clubs, but it also serves as a place for teachers to turn when they have questions about homosexuality issues.

The marriage curriculum guide was released last fall, before the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court granted homosexuals the right to marry.

The lesson plans range from discussing the "historical parallels" of same-sex marriage to providing students with the chance to read books about homosexual relations and then consider what it would be like to be in a same-sex wedding.

"Educators are presented with an opportunity to teach students about one of the most significant civil and human rights issues of our time," the guide states. "Along with parents and care takers, schools must take a leading role in providing accurate information about same-sex relationships."

Even though GLSEN doesn't know how many teachers might be using its guide, the group reaches thousands of schools. More than 2,000 student clubs known as Gay-Straight Alliances are in operation, and in just one week, about 3,500 teachers signed up and downloaded resources for "No Name-Calling Week," an effort coordinated by GLSEN and 40 other organizations.

Sean J. Haley, executive director of GLSEN Boston, said the chapter was "uniquely honored and privileged" to have the marriage debate played out in Massachusetts.

"A number of schools, communities and teachers are engaging this issue as a civil rights issue," Haley said. "[Teachers are] pursuing the curriculum and language in the same context that lessons are presented in African-American civil rights issues, women's equality and other movements."

But the notion of GLSEN providing a marriage curriculum guide for educators has enraged pro-family and parental-rights advocates from coast to coast. They said parents would be outraged if they knew what was taking place in public school classrooms.

"They have started the campaign in a big way. The stuff these national groups put out to help kids become homosexuals is pretty ghastly," said Brian Camenker, president of the Massachusetts-based Parent's Rights Coalition. "These guys are in the high schools in Massachusetts as we speak, and they are proselytizing the kids in a huge way."

Camenker is perhaps best known for his role in exposing what transpired at a GLSEN Boston-sponsored conference in March 2000, a conference that was dubbed "Fistgate" for the graphic sexual language used by presenters.

Pro-family advocates still cite the episode as a reason why parents should be skeptical of letting their children participate in any discussions about sex.

"Any parent who leaves his or her child in the hands of homosexual activists does not love that child. They are declaring their indifference," said Robert H. Knight, director of Culture and Family Institute, an affiliate of Concerned Women for America. "It's a form of child abuse. They're allowing their children to be seduced into immoral and dangerous sexual behavior."

For the record, the national office of GLSEN condemned the activities at the 2000 conference, said Joshua Lamont, communications director for the New York-based organization.

"In any organization's history, there are going to be instances like that, that opposition groups use inappropriately as representative examples of an entire organization's mission," Lamont said. "Our mission is simple: lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students are targeted for harassment in our schools. That's not OK. Our mission is to make sure that stops."

That's where the marriage curriculum guide and other similar resources come into play, Lamont said. GLSEN also trains teachers on how to combat homophobia and assists Gay-Straight Alliances in cases where they face resistance.

Lamont said GLSEN kept an open mind on issues affecting homosexuals.

"As an organization, we do not have an official stance one way or the other on the marriage issue itself," he said. "That's because we're branded as an education organization. The reality is that it's something that's been talked about a lot, and our concern has been for educators having the resources to facilitate some sort of discussion in their classrooms about this topic."

Camenker, however, said GLSEN's goal was to turn children into homosexuals, a charge that Lamont denied.

"The hardest part of dealing with these people as a parent is the fact they are such bold liars about what they do," Camenker said. "They say it with such a straight face what they do, and then you see what they do, and it's so different."

Camenker said his child's school in Newton, Mass., staged a mandatory assembly as part of a homosexual awareness day three weeks after the Supreme Judicial Court's Nov. 18 ruling. But as a parent, he said he knew nothing about it. That's why Camenker has asked lawmakers to enact an opt-in permission requirement.

"Quite often parents aren't allowed to even know what's going on," said Sandi Martinez, the Massachusetts state director of Concerned Women for America.

The concerns extend to the West Coast as well. Randy Thomasson, executive director of Campaign for California Families, said he had created a student exemption form for parents wanting to shield their child from discussions about sex.

The efforts of parental-rights advocates haven't gone unnoticed at GLSEN. Julie Lienert, executive director of the San Francisco-East Bay chapter, said teachers were often scared to broach the issues outlined in GLSEN's curriculum guides.

"There has been a lot of resistance to even talking about safe schools for gay and lesbian youth, let alone more politically charged issues like marriage," she said. "People are extremely fearful of parent communities and fearful of backlash."

Those sentiments were confirmed by Kirk Bell, GLSEN's education training coordinator, who has worked with teachers from Phoenix to Dallas to Anchorage, Alaska. Bell imparts his knowledge and then encourages educators to share it with others.

"Teachers are hesitant," Bell said. "There seems to be a certain level of bravado among some students, and unfortunately even a handful of teachers, to express homophobic views. It really brings out the best and the worst in people. It's a constant uphill challenge."

Students under the age of 18 need parental permission to participate in activities such as GLSEN's national conference. And although most of GLSEN's work is directed toward high school students, it sometimes reaches middle-school pupils, and to a lesser extent those in elementary school, Lamont said.

One of GLSEN Boston's board members, Marc E. Lewis, is a seventh-grade social studies teacher at Acton-Boxborough Regional School District. He said he had used the curriculum guides in the past, although not the one on marriage.

Lewis called the guides "balanced," and he said they made complex issues easy for students to understand. Even an issue as controversial as same-sex marriage he considers a valid subject for classroom discussion.

"Every one of our students needs to know that no matter what their family looks like, and no matter what kind of home they come from, they are no less worthy of inclusion in what we mean by family," Lewis said. "At the end of the day, we need to do what we know is right. And what is right is making sure that every one of our students feels valued and respected."

But critics of GLSEN say that no matter how good that might sound, it is simply a mask for the group's motives.

"They don't love these kids. This is a selfish organization that wants more recruits, and they are increasingly moving into the public schools," Thomasson said. "This is an activist training camp."

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Teachers now have an easily accessible "curriculum guide" at their disposal. The six-point lesson plan is the work of Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, which advocates an end to what it considers an anti-homosexual bias in schools. The group, best known by its...
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Monday, 09 February 2004 12:00 AM
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