Why Address Gay Issues with Children
Why is this kind of education necessary?
Negative language about gay men and lesbians is common on the playground, in school hallways and classrooms, and even in teachers’ lounges. All children’ not just those who have gay or lesbian family members, or who may grow up to be gay themselves‘ are negatively affected by the reluctance to address anti-gay prejudice in schools.
Are there really that many gay and lesbian students in schools?
It is estimated that five percent to nine percent of all children currently in school will grow up to identify as gay, lesbian, or bisexual. There is also an increasing number of children of gay and lesbian parents in school. It is estimated that six percent to 11 percent of schoolchildren have a gay or lesbian parent or sibling.
Aren’t elementary and middle school children too young to be introduced to this topic? Shouldn’t we wait until they are older?
Actually, as the film shows, very young children already have heard many things about gay men and lesbians. Negative name-calling begins as early as first grade, and even though these children may not yet understand what it means to be gay or lesbian, they know that using these words is a way to put someone down. Schools aren’t introducing these topics. Rather, they are addressing a topic young children are increasingly familiar with and creating a safe environment for children to ask questions, receive information and learn more about the different types of people that they will encounter throughout their lives, thereby helping to prevent prejudice, discrimination and violence.
What about parents who don’t want their children to learn about gay sex?
It’s not appropriate for schools to teach young children about sex. But learning about gay men and lesbians isn’t the same thing as learning about gay sex. In school, children learn about mommies and daddies, families and marriage without talking about sex. In the same way, children can learn that there are gay and lesbian people, and can be taught about the literature they have written, the families they have formed, and the gay and lesbian civil rights issues that are part of the current political debate.
Isn’t it wrong for schools to teach about homosexuality since some students’ religions do not support homosexuality?
This video shows how schools can provide a safe, respectful learning environment for all children. But the subject of religion does provide a useful parallel. Even if you don’t agree with someone else’s religion, you would expect that their religion’s like your own should be acknowledged and respected at school. Not everyone agrees about homosexuality. But schools are obliged to create a safe environment and to show respect for all students, including students who are gay or lesbian and students who may have parents or siblings who are gay or lesbian.
Won’t teaching children about this encourage them to become gay or lesbian themselves?
Providing children with information and a forum for discussion doesn’t make anyone gay. If that were true, then most children who grow up with gay or lesbian parents would turn out to be gay, but they don’t. Most grow up to be heterosexual. According to studies by groups such as the Child Welfare League of America and the American Psychological Association, teaching children about gay issues won’t make them gay, but it might make them less likely to insult someone they think is gay or to allow a friend to be ostracized for having a lesbian mom or a gay dad.
But is school really the right place to address this?
Yes, it is. Gay and lesbian youth pay a high price because schools don’t want to address this issue. By the time gay and lesbian youth reach adolescence, they are much more likely than heterosexual youth to turn to drugs and alcohol, to drop out of school or to run away from home. In addition, a study published in May 1999 in the American Medical Association’s Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine found that gay and lesbian youth were more likely to attempt suicide than heterosexual youth.
This finding, along with previous studies on this topic, underscores how anti-gay prejudice and its subsequent isolation, stigmatization and rejection can lead to psychological stresses in gay youth. Also, by addressing this issue in school, we have a chance to decrease violence against gay men and lesbians and against anyone perceived as different. Anti-gay attacks are the fastest growing hate crime in the
United States. To prevent violence, it is critical that teachers and parents teach respect for all members of our communities.