Days of conflict: Sexual orientation and public schools

Today (April 25 in MA) is the GLSEN sponsored event, Day of Silence and then tomorrow is the Day of Truth, sponsored by the Alliance Defense Fund. This year a coalition of social conservative groups have urged parents to keep their kids home on the Day of Silence. Racheting up the rhetoric is the Massachusetts version of opposition to the Day of Silence called Day of Defiance.

My view is that none of these “days” belong in the schools. However, I do believe that issues surrounding sexual identity, safety and education must be discussed and resolved in a manner that respects all points of view. In a perfect world (and perhaps in some districts), both sides will respectfully express their views and perhaps some communication will take place. In the real social world of most high schools, I fear that the result will more often be a more polarized and tense scene. For this reason, just over a year ago, Chad Thompson and I wrote an article that was initially published on (and later removed) called Sexual Orientation: When Conflict Rules the School.

In that article, Chad and I wrote in support of the First Amendment Center’s effort to address the conflict in schools called Public Schools and Sexual Orientation: A First Amendment framework for finding common ground. One aspect of this framework I like is the creation of “common ground task forces” in school districts. These task forces are to be comprised of parents who hold conflicting views and are designed to come to agreement about school policy and practice. The guidelines acknowledge the current state of affairs which has only escalated in the year since they were released. The guidelines observe:

These differences are deep – and difficult to negotiate. Current efforts to legalize or ban same-sex unions in the courts, in legislatures and on ballot initiatives have only exacerbated the debate in schools and raised the stakes for public school officials. Every act by one side is seen as a hostile move by the other. A “Day of Silence” to promote awareness of discrimination against gays and lesbians is now followed by a “Day of Truth” to promote conservative religious views of homosexuality. A T-shirt proclaiming “Straight Pride” is worn to counter one professing “Gay Pride.”

However, I do not believe the framework has had much impact. What Chad and I wrote a year ago seems even more accurate today:

Thus far, the guidelines have built very few bridges. Groups on the political right and left have found fault with them. One recent headline from a conservative source said: “Christian education group caves to homosexuals.” Conversely, liberal Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) said the Framework was designed to foster discussion of gay issues in schools and that the views of ex-gays should not be considered. We believe critics are missing the central aim of the guidelines: “Educators can and should require that all viewpoints be expressed in a respectful manner, but they may not exclude some views merely because they don’t agree with them.”

I can see no real resolution of issues until something like what the First Amendment Center has proposed is actually implemented. Otherwise, where will this go? If conservative parents keep their kids home on the Day of Silence, isn’t it likely that liberal parents will keep their kids home on the Day of Truth? Who will hear what message? Will schools be any safer for any kids? Will another half week of instruction be further compromised by adult inspired activism?

To read the First Amendment framework, download this pdf file.