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.

19 thoughts on “Days of conflict: Sexual orientation and public schools”

  1. SwissAlps,

    The goals of organizations like GLSEN and PFLAG are to end discrimination and bigotry towards gays. The idea is to promote discussion and understanding that being gay is more than just a bunch of “detestable” sex acts. To break down stereotypes and give gay students, and their friends support.

    What are the goals of your “opposing views” be?

  2. EDITED FOR GRAMMAR-please delete 22202-Thanks:

    To Ken & Timothy Kincaid:

    You already know that I believe that attraction is a moot point because even if it doesn’t change, a he can become celibate or have sex with women instead. It’s about ending H&L behaviors even if attractions don’t change.

    But addressing your points about sexual harassment. Sexual harassment is more than just making unwanted advances to a student or employee. It has also been defined as creating a hostile work envt. & that incl. forcing people to hear to what you have to say about sex.

    GLSEN & PFLAG do more than just say that they exist. They have their own bias. PFLAG & GLSEN also tell pupils that H&L behaviors are OK & when some1 who thinks H&L behaviors are forced to hear it, it’s sexual harassment.

    What if some1 who is against H&L behaviors started forcing pupils to listen to my view that homo&lesbian activities are bad & that even if a homosexual’s attractions don’t change, it’s best to change their behaviors to either straight behavior or no sexual behavior-celibate?

    You don’t consider what PFLAG & GLSEN say to be sexual harassment because you don’t see anything wrong with H&L activities. But for those who do see something wrong with H&L activities for whatever reasons whether it’s religious (I’m not a religious person) do find it to be harassing when we’re forced to hear that H&L activities are OK & not allowed to give opposing views.

  3. SwissAlps,

    I see that you ignored my earlier posting. Nonetheless, let me address your latest thoughts:

    I agree that parents should promote within their children an ethic that encourages appropriate sexuality. For me, that would include discouraging sexual behavior in teens regardless of the gender of the other party. On this I think we all share the same sentiment – to some degree.

    However, rather that pretend that same-sex attraction does not exist, I would absolutely want to know to what sex my child was attracted. Believe me, that would definitely play a part in whether he or she had sleep-overs.

    Also, when it comes to the facts of the matter, you seem to be woefully inadequately informed. On the Day of Silence, the students were not being forced to listen to GLSEN. There was no compulsory pro-gay message. There was voluntary participation by other students and sometimes teachers. There are a lot of news stories about this – check them out and perhaps your comments will better reflect the facts.

    And you really should familiarize yourself better with sexual harassment laws. Saying that gay people exist and that they should be treated with decency has nothing to do with sexual harassment. Simply because the word “sexual” is in common does not mean they are related.

    Sexual harassment laws protect individuals from inappropriate sexual conduct in the work place. If a gay person were coming on to a co-worker that might be relevant. But being exposed to opinions that differ from your own is not harassment.

    Though I disagree, I appreciate your opinions, SwissAlps. But sometimes they would be better presented if they were consistent with the facts.

  4. SwissAlps,

    Specifically what behaviours are you referring too? holding hands? dancing? kissing?

    As far as explicit sexual behaviours (oral sex, intercourse etc) I would agree that teens should probably be discouraged from engaging in such behaviours regardless of the gender of the other person.

    How is it bad to teach that gays exist? How is it bad to teach that they can and do form stable relationships and families? How is it bad to teach that disparaging someone because of who they love is just as bad as doing it because of the color of their skin, or the accent they have, or who they pray to?

  5. Ken, teens aren’t old enough to be deciding whether to engage in H&L behaviors & parents must do what they can to prevent teens from engaging in these behaviors.

    It’s sexual harassment to force people who consider H&L behaviors bad to hear 1 sided views, because it creates a hostile envt. by not tolerating views of those who’re against these behaviors. What if a school forced pupils who regard swinging as bad, to hear 1 sided views of men who have sex with many women?

    The students who carried placards saying that sodomy is a sin are doing it in reaction to being forced to listen to GLSEN. They must bring sexual harassment lawsuits against GLSEN, because schools exist to teach pupils math, science & history. I’m not saying that schools present views of those who are against H&L behaviors, but there’s s time & place to discuss topics like sex & schools & workplaces aren’t where to do it. If you want to discuss it, do it outside work.

  6. Swiss Alps:

    Just as an info item, “H&L” is not a common abbreviation in the US. Although I know that you mean “Homo&Lesbian” and while I doubt that you are intentionally being offensive, you probably should know for the sake of future communication outside this venue that in most instances “homo” is not a socially accepted term. Perhaps better terms might be selected such as “gay” or “gay and lesbian” or “same-sex attracted”.

    Also, you seem to misunderstand the definition of homophobia. The online Mirriam-Webster definition is irrational fear of, aversion to, or discrimination against homosexuality or homosexuals.

    You probably agree that those who are “against H&L behaviors” may (though perhaps not always) take actions or make statements that show aversion to homosexuality or seek discrimination against homosexuals. Those actions can be accurately described as homophobic. When these actions appear heavily weighted or deeply ingrained, perhaps the individual may be accurately described as homophobic. For example, Anita Bryant’s obsession in the 70’s with establishing discrimination against gay people would identify her as a homophobe.

    If you don’t want to be thought of as homophobic, then don’t display aversion or seek discrimination. If, however, you wish to behave in such a manner, you can hardly be offended when your behavior is identified as homophobic.

  7. I think things like Day of Silence are still necessary. Until people start to realize how damaging making teens hide who they are can be; or that being gay is more than just engaging in sexual behaviours that some people find distasteful, then there is still a need to educate people about these issues.

  8. Again we go about points raised many times before, but it’s sexual harassment for people who are against homo&lesbian activities to be forced to listen to 1 sided views of it & GLSEN is engaging in sexual harassment when they force pupils to hear that homosexual activities are OK.

    Schools & workplace are not the place to discuss these topics, esp. when it’s 1 sided, but if you’re going to use the workplace & schools to discuss homosexuality, then it’s only just that the views which oppose H&L behaviors are presented.

    Why this blind faith with regard to homosexuality, that it’s “homophobic” to be against h&l behaviors?

  9. Yeah, Mike, I was wondering the same thing. I think it is unfair to link the two unless you can demonstrate that Exodus or ADF promoted this. To me, this would be like saying that LWO protest sponsors are linked to the eggings and billboard defacings that have occured. I know that many gays are outraged by such stuff.

    Having made that point, all of the hoopla surrounding these two days supports, to my way of thinking, the reasons why adult sponsored (GLSEN, ADF) days are inappropriate in schools.

  10. Mike, just out of curiosity, do we have any evidence that the vandals (South San Francisco) or verbal abusers (Cape Coral, FL) had any connection to the Day of Truth, or that they were even aware of it? I didn’t see any in the Salon article, or in its links to coverage of those specific events.


  11. The vandalism and verbal abuse by Day Of Truth allies reinforces my opinion that Exodus, the Alliance Defense Fund, et al, are not appropriate representatives for civil and factual discussion in the schools. Instead of explicitly discouraging such behavior, they fuel it with angry, paranoid rhetoric that polarizes communities rather than uniting them.

  12. Well the DOS has come and passed. The New Castle IN school was locked down and the kids searched which was an interesting response from a school that was going to block participants until their legal counsel told them they couldn’t.

    Meanwhile, another school in Florida suspended two students who were being silent. One was being harassed by other students which caused her suspension (her silence was disruptive) and the other was passing out the cards explaining why they were being silent (they weren’t pre-approved).

    Today four students were suspended in Rio Linda because they refused to take off their “Sodomy is Sin” shirts.

    Funny how some folks think condemnation is morally or legally the equivalent to support. I wonder if these folks would think it fine for students to wear “Catholics are Idolators” on St. Patrick’s Day or “Christianity is a Hateful Religion Base on a Myth” on Christmas. Those, too, are viewpoints.

  13. My earlier comment seems to have vanished — a good thing because I needed to shorten and clarify it anyhow.

    I believe DOS and DOT have outlived their usefulness. I agree that there needs to be framework for civil discussion and education in the schools, and that the framework should include civil and factual viewpoints that oppose homosexuality.

    However, I do not believe Exodus, PFOX, Focus/Family or NARTH currently present viewpoints that are either civil or factual.

    I would support the involvement of an organization of same-sex-attracted persons who advocate chastity/celibacy and who refrain from politics, paranoia, and scapegoating.

  14. A Day of Silence demonstration held today at New Castle High School in Indiana which was intended to promote tolerance of gay and lesbian students instead led to an all-day lockdown after the school received threats of weapons and violence. School officials were not taking any threats lightly in the aftermath of Monday’s mass killings at Virginia Tech.

    But the silent protest brought threats of weapons and violence at New Castle Chyrsler High School. School leaders learned of the threat with a phone call Tuesday “from someone who identified himself as a parent who said their child came home and said they heard there was going to be some violence at the school today.

    School officials will allow the Christians to demonstrate against gay and lesbian students tomorrow to show the school isn’t taking sides in the debate. The Indy Star has more on the counter-protest – “Day of truth.”

    While the school may yet be locked-down tomorrow, would you care to wager if there are any threats of violence against the “Day of truth” demonstrations?

  15. The DOS initially served a purpose — to emphasize that society uses peer pressure and bullying to pressure same-sex-attracted persons (whether they affirm the attraction or not) into silence. DOT effectively proved the DOS participants right: antigay students and neighbors have reminded us that, like Repent America, they feel it is their prerogative to shout down and insult others, to devalue the Christian arts of listening and dialogue, and to pout and take their toys home if they don’t get their way.

    Both sides have had their say. Now I agree it’s time to move on. Proponents of tolerance need a more effective and less disruptive vehicle to convey their community and family values, and the anti-tolerance proponents like Exodus need to realize that their behavior has conveyed a message of insecurity, paranoia, religious judgmentalism, and boorishness.

    While I have some doubts about GLSEN leadership from time to time, I believe PFLAG is right to say that in-school discussion must confine itself to real sexual orientations. If someone is genuinely ex-gay, then they are asexual, bisexual, or heterosexual. If people cannot describe their predominant sexual attractions as homosexual, bisexual, heterosexual, or asexual, then they are (imho) practicing politics and denial, not sincere and honest discussion.

  16. If EXODUS was actually committed to “tolerance, safer schools, and ending harassment” they would post an anti-hate/anti-violence/anti-bullying statment on the front page of their web site. But they haven’t and I doubt they ever will. .

  17. I think both “Day of Silence” and “Day of Truth” can be done away with in public schools. They cause too much hostility between kids who could (and should) be friends and classmates. Just think of the so-called “drama” these events start on high school campuses. Someone’s feelings are always likely to get hurt unnecessarily, people are going to be polarized because of beliefs that run very deeply (yet are not being expressed except in the most simplistic terms), and education of core subjects — which is what school is all about — is getting disrupted.

    Also, I think Exodus’ support of “Day of Truth” is ill-conceived. They admit on their blog that “…your average student participating in the Day of Silence has no idea what GLSEN is all about. This organization works hard to make its image all about tolerance, safer schools, ending harassment, etc. These are admirable goals, and that’s what draws students to buy into their events and programs.”

    So, according to Exodus, “Day of Truth” is a response to GLSEN, not the students who have “bought in” to the admirable goals “Day of Silence.” But the participating students aren’t going to know that. The students participating in “Day of Truth” aren’t even likely to know it, and in the end one side will be seen as “homophobic” while the other is seen as “immoral.”

    I’m rather tired of the conspiracy theories. I wish Exodus could see that “Day of Silence” actually is about tolerance, safer schools, and ending harassment, and that by putting “Day of Truth” right after it, they appear to be against those things. It doesn’t matter if they really are or not. In this day and age, perception is everything.

  18. Since homosexuality is no longer the love that dare not speak it’s name, but rather the love that won’t shut up, I’ve never understood the concept of the Day of Silence. It doesn’t sound very effective. I agree – none of this stuff has any place in the schools.

    Geez, I’m sounding like an old foggey.


  19. “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?”

    The kids will hear the message. If their parents keep them out of school for whichever day they are going to be even more curious about what it was their parents didn’t want them to hear. And they will know why their parents kept them out of school that day.

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