Why Address Gay Issues with Children
Why is LGBT-Inclusive curriculum necessary?
Sadly, homophobia and heterosexism are still very much present in many of our schools and communities. These biases manifest themselves many ways, from invisibility in the curriculum and school policies to active teasing, bullying, harassment and physical violence against, gendervariant children, youth who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT), and families that include LGBT parents or relatives. This bias hurts all children, both those directly affected and those who learn in an atmosphere of fear and tension, afraid to explore their own lives because of worry about disapproval and rejection. Students of all ages must be given an opportunity to learn that the words “gay” and “lesbian” are adjectives that should be used with respect to describe people in their community, not words used in a negative way to hurt, insult and degrade. Students need to be encouraged to reflect on their own actions and prejudice, learn from their peers who are different from them and support allies who stand up to prejudice and hate. Creating inclusive curriculum and establishing accepting classroom and school climates improves the educational experience for all students, families and teachers.
Are elementary school children too young to be introduced to this topic?
Unfortunately name-calling and using anti-gay slurs starts as early as kindergarten, first- and second-grades. In the film you can see children at a very young age have already been introduced to information about LGBT people, which is often based on misinformation and negative stereotypes. When teachers are silent about gay and lesbian people, students learn from this omission that it is acceptable to use anti-gay put-downs. Anti-gay slurs are hurtful and unacceptable and they affect the lives of people in every school and community. Teachers are not introducing a new topic, they are helping young students understand bias and prejudice and learn to use respectful language. Educators are creating inclusive school communities that prevent name-calling, teasing and bullying and provide safe learning environments for all children.
Do parents and guardians need to be notified if LGBT people or families are discussed in the classroom?
In many school districts, there are guidelines about what classroom activities require parent/guardian notification. Most school districts do not have a requirement for notifying parents and guardians for lessons about respect and diversity. In fact, many districts require schools to be proactive in addressing bias and prejudice and ensuring students safety. Discussions related to sexuality and reproduction are examples of topics that often require parental permission. But these topics are not a part of the curriculum advocated in It’s Elementary-Talking About Gay Issues In School. The focus of LGBT-inclusive education is to create respectful and welcoming learning environments for all children by communicating that LGBT people are part of our communities and that anti-LGBT discrimination is harmful to everyone. However, we strongly recommend involving parents and guardians as part of school-wide efforts to be more inclusive. As important members of the school community, families can help reinforce the concepts of respect at home, help answer questions, assist in classroom discussions and be actively engaged in making the school and community safe for all children and their families.
Can parents/guardians “opt out” of their children’s participation in school instruction that includes LGBT-inclusive lessons?
Most school districts have limited and clear guidelines about offering parents and guardians the right to have their children “opt out” of specific school instruction. Programs that are designed to encourage respect and address bias typically are not included in “opt out” policies. By not including all students in LGBT-inclusive lessons, schools run the risk of conveying a message that it is somehow acceptable to engage in hurtful and disrespectful behavior when it comes to LGBT people. We strongly discourage schools from allowing students to miss lessons where people and families-not sexual practices-are discussed. Often times those students are among those who might benefit the most from being with their peers when community values around respect and understanding are addressed.
How do we comply with antidiscrimination laws and still respect the religious and cultural diversity of our students and their families?
Simply stated, an anti-bias program is designed to create a space in which all students can learn, achieve their goals, and realize success. Anti-bias curricula encourages respect, cooperation and understanding, values that all religions and cultures hold in common. In fact, by giving students a language to discuss these sensitive issues, families may find it easier to share their own religious beliefs about human difference. Anti-bias programs do not try to change those deeply held views, but ensure that the diversity of opinions in school communities do not create a negative climate of insults, violence, and exclusion. Part of that work is ensuring that children can be proud of their own religious and cultural heritage without being marginalized.
Is talking about LGBT issues the same as sex education?
Talking about LGBT issues is a discussion about people and families present in our communities, a struggle for civil rights and addressing bias-based bulling. None of these include talking about sex or human reproduction. Many educators once feared that the two were inseparable, and schools in the 1990s typically limited discussions about LGBT people to high school health classes. However, with the rapid growth of LGBT-headed families and the increasing visibility of LGBT issues in the media, children are learning about LGBT people at an increasingly younger age. It’s Elementary illustrates the use of age-appropriate vocabulary to talk with young people about LGBT issues, without talking about sex. By incorporating LGBT issues in the context of lessons about families, current events, literature and civil rights we can help prevent the stereotypes and misunderstandings that often develop.
How can I fit this topic into my already full schedule?
Teachers are under extraordinary pressures to teach mandated curriculum and increase test scores. Building a safe and welcoming environment that is conducive to learning should not be an extra burden but an added benefit. Lessons about LGBT people and issues can be easily tied to academic standards in English language arts, mathematics, social studies and life skills. There also are many ways to integrate LGBT content into existing curricula. For example, instead of a statistics problem about jellybeans in a bowl, offer one on the diversity of your community. The Respect For All Project routinely creates standards alignments with our curricula that can be accessed on our website. Furthermore, by helping students develop mutual respect and understanding, you will find yourself spending less class time addressing behavior issues and more time teaching the required curriculum.
What if our anti-bias education programs that are LGBT-inclusive cause controversy in the community?
Misunderstandings about the purpose and content of anti-bias education programs can happen in any community. It is important to be transparent and open about the intentions and content of the program to avoid accusations that it is part of a larger, hidden “agenda.” In fact, you can actually strengthen the bonds of your school community by involving families in your family diversity and anti-bias programs. It is also important to have the support of your school and community leaders, not just to prevent controversy, but also to strengthen the actual work of your program. Key school staff such as principals, counselors and department chairs should be familiar with the content of your program before it is implemented, and understand the reasons why you are doing so. PTA chapters are also an often-overlooked source of support, as are church and youth organizations, and local colleges of education. Members of these groups can provide professional input as to why your program is needed, while also offering insights on how it can be delivered. If a controversy does arise, it is important to communicate to families that your anti-bias program is supported, or even mandated, by state law and educational policies. Many states and school districts have an anti-harassment policy that includes sexual orientation, or require their staff to receive anti-bias training. Academic standards also often require teaching about diversity in communities and families. Schools have an obligation to ensure all their students are able to learn in a safe environment, and recent court decisions have delivered costly verdicts to schools that fail to do so. Overall, it is important to stand firm on your commitment to addressing biases of all kinds. School districts that have bowed to pressure in the past have only seen the controversy intensify, as new attacks are levied against other curricula and school programs connected to sensitive subjects.