From Maine to Washington State to Washington D.C., the Anti-Gays are on a fearmongering campaign against abstracts (like same-sex marriage laws) and human beings (like Kevin Jennings), warning these totems of the gay agenda will serve to indoctrinate America’s children into the homosexual lifestyle. But a bigger question remains: Yeah, so what?
We’ve spent much effort arguing that giving Maine’s gays the right to marry, or letting Kevin Jennings hold the (manufactured) title of “safe school czar” will not, as the religious right claims, mean school kids will learn about gay families and gay sex and gay sexuality and Will & Grace. But with one notable exception, why is it such a big deal if they did?
We’re big fans of concepts like the separation of church and state. Also: Using the classroom to instruct in academics. But it’s foolish to think that, especially in lower grades, schools are not also where children learn right from wrong, how to interact socially with others, and how diversity does not mean segregation. Schools, then, are the ideal environment to give children a place to learn about families that may not mirror theirs exactly. These aren’t “alternative lifestyles”; they’re just different. And it’s time kids learn that “different” does not mean “weird” or “gross.”
It’s that supposition that has New York University history and education professor Jonathan Zimmerman arguing for the “full and free airing of the question [‘What’s wrong with being gay?’] in America’s high schools. Bring in speakers from GLSEN and other gay rights organizations, and pair them against representatives from conservative groups. And may the best man – or woman – win.”
But we’d argue it’s time to start incorporating a discussion of the G-word even earlier.
Grade school textbooks are no longer filled with only white men (though that demographic still represents a disproportionate number of pages). Black, Latino, and American Indian historical figures are now included. Female leaders are in the mix, too. And yes, gays can be found in a history textbook, but with their personal lives washed out. Imagine a story about George Washington sans Martha? So why not include Peter Doyle in Walt Whitman’s section?
The fearmongering campaign from zealots, and the innate reluctance from education moderates that keeps this from happening is the immediate connection between homosexuality and sex. Because that three-letter word is included in every discussion about gays and lesbians, it’s easy to scare parents and community leaders and academia as a whole from seriously engaging young people in an education about people who are not heterosexual. Algebra problems that make use of boyfriends and girlfriends (e..g splitting the check on a date) don’t inherently involve a discussion about sex, because hetero partners are the norm. So why can’t we encourage educators to, every now and then, throw in two girlfriends in a proof? Use Jon and Jacob’s names in an example about Spanish verb endings? Mention Prime Minister Johanna Sigurdardottir when discussing heads of state?
First graders learn about classmates’s mommies and daddies, from what they do at work to how many siblings they provided their sons and daughters. It has nothing to do with putting penises in vaginas. Discussing the families of same-sex parents, then, needn’t have anything to do with genitalia and orifices, either. At least not until ninth grade health class. But until we get over the s-e-x part of queer identity, we’ll continue bolstering the bigoted arguments that make us “weird.”