nontroversies

All-Boys School Field Trip to SF’s Castro Has Parents Worrying About Inevitable Indoctrination

In northern California’s latest campaign to scare parents about homosexuals, a some four dozens second-graders from an all-boys school paid a visit to San Francisco’s Castro district, where the gheys are. Parents are outraged!

The seven-and-eight-year-olds from Town School went on a walking tour with a local historian to learn about LGBT history in the city. What could possibly go wrong? The San Francisco Chronicle relays:

The guide walked the boys by Pink Triangle Memorial Park, where 15 granite pylons rise above the ground in remembrance of the estimated 15,000 gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgenders who were persecuted, imprisoned and killed during and after the Nazi regime. A few other stops on the tour included the wildly colored Hope for the World Cure Mural, a pictorial depiction of the AIDS epidemic; the Human Rights Campaign Action Center, local headquarters for a civil rights organization promoting fairness for LGBT Americans; and Harvey Milk’s camera shop, which the former gay activist and pioneering politician once lived above.

While the majority of the second-grade parents were in support of the field trip, the school is under fire by a handful of parents* who questioned whether the Castro is an appropriate destination for 8-year-old boys. One parent in particular reached out to SFGate and expressed frustration, anxiety, and confusion around the field trip, as well as a complex array of sentiments ranging from disapproval of teachers who told students that the word gay means “happy,” to fears that the Castro community would be unwelcoming to children.

By “parents,” the Chronicle means “two,” so it’s not like the entire school community is horrified. But the outraged parents are causing a stir, going on the local CBS 5 news to — anonymously — voice their homophobia.

Last week, one of those parents contacted the CBS News desk and CBS 5 Eyewitness News featured a segment highlighting the controversy. The mother, who remained anonymous on the show, said: “Why would you talk to a young child about sex with a man and a woman let alone a man and a man or a woman and a woman? It just doesn’t seem right. They are not ready for that.”

Well that’s certainly a funny thing to say, because among all the things discussed on the tour, sticking a penis up a butt was not one of them. But what else would you take away from an educational field trip about civil rights and Harvey Milk? The tour even purposefully avoided the Castro’s sex shops. But on the CBS report, a gay male friend of one of the upset parents appeared on the segment to concur, deriding the Castro as a kid-unfriendly zone. (The report also claimed parents were given no choice but to let their kids go on the trip.)

Town School headmaster Brewster Ely wrote parents in a letter (PDF) about the nontroversy, which reads in part:

This year the second grade teachers and Town’s Diversity Director chose to have the second grade visit the Castro neighborhood. As part of the boys’ study of
neighborhoods, they visit the Mission and Chinatown as well. The goal of introducing the boys to other communities is to give them an appreciation of different perspectives and views. The boys toured the Castro with a professional guide, teachers and parents. A stop of special interest was the Harvey Milk Elementary School, which is adorned with wonderful murals depicting Harvey Milk’s commitment to diversity. While at the school, the guide shared Harvey Milk’s analogy, likening a better world to a sandbox where all children play together harmoniously. The trip was a wonderful success.

A small number of second grade parents questioned the appropriateness of the trip. It is our responsibility at Town School to ensure that all boys within our care feel
safe and validated. At Town we have long taught that it is important to be open minded about difference, and we are pleased that we have boys at school who have gay parents. A few families who felt uncomfortable with the Castro trip chose to keep their sons home, and we recognize their decision to do so. One anonymous parent felt compelled to contact the local CBS News desk and register her unhappiness about the trip through the media. On Friday, CBS ran a story in which I was quoted as saying, “The school and the administration see the Castro as a respected community in San Francisco, and we want our students to develop an appreciation for whoever lives in our community.” In an unexpected way, this coverage provided the school and its leadership with a public forum to share the value we see in diversity and in fostering in our boys a respect for and understanding of difference.

It is my hope that these events ultimately engender an even greater appreciation for diversity and a respect for all people. I close with a statement from our Town
School philosophy:

Town values being a diverse community that nurtures integrity, sensitivity and respect in its boys, and prepares them to become productive and contributing members of an ever-changing world.

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