Monday, March 19, 2012

Abstinence-Only Education Marginalizes LGBT Students

A few days ago the Governor of Utah, Gary Herbert, vetoed the abstinence-only education bill that was passed in both the state Senate and House. If signed, the bill would have restricted any public education on sex to teachings about abstinence as well as eliminate any teachings of any other sexual orientation other than heterosexuality.

The bill was widely criticized by Democrats in Utah as well as individuals and organizations from across the United States. Even the normally conservative populous of Utah was not impressed with the bill, polls showing that the majority of the states’ population wanted the governor to veto the legislation.  

But, as more and more states start to jump on the bandwagon of “abstinence-only” education, the impact upon LGBT students’ needs to be addressed. Even if the Utah bill had not specified that homosexuality and gender identity should not be discussed in the classroom, there would have still been dire consequences for LGBT youth.

In the election of 2004 – an election known for its anti-gay rhetoric – the people of Utah passed their own anti-equality marriage amendment, effectively eliminating any chance for same-sex couples to enjoy any of the rights of marriage in that state. Because of this amendment, the status of marriage within society is obviously unavailable to same-sex couples. This is where the problem lies.

Abstinence-only education teaches children that one should wait until they are married in order to have sex. Proponents claim that abstinence before marriage is the best and only way to ensure that one does not get pregnant or contract STD’s. This poses a problem for LGBT youth in states – such as Utah – which have marriage amendments, because the reality of their sexual experience is left unaddressed. According to the proposed sexual education guidelines promoted by Utah legislators (and other states), because marriage is only between a man and a woman, and because LGBT people cannot get married, it stands to reason that these lawmakers believe that LGBT children should be celibate.  

Such a manifestation of underhanded homophobia prevalent within abstinence legislation is not something that surprises me. Even in the transcripts of the Utah discussion over their bill, lawmakers like John Valentine expressed a deep desire that discussions on sexual orientation should not be encouraged in the classroom.  But the fact that lawmakers are willing to marginalize LGBT students for political gain is what sickens me.  Instead of affirming that each child’s sexuality is unique and a key component of whom he/she is, lawmakers in states like Utah are engaging in nothing short than bullying. They are not only inferring to LGBT children that their lives are not worth learning about, but they are also telling them that the only way they can be productive members of society is to live their lives alone. 

Sunday, March 18, 2012

GOProud's Homeschooling Whitewash

GOProud has released their 2012 legislative platform a few days ago, and boy was it a doozie. Though I will let other people discuss the first nine points of their platform, I feel a responsibility to discuss their tenth proposal, which deals with education reform.
10 – EDUCATION REFORM – The answer to the serious problem of bullying is not more federal intervention in education. Instead, we support empowering parents and families by supporting school choice initiatives and protecting the right of parents to homeschool their children.
In a further interview, GOProud executive director Jimmy LaSalvia explained why this proposal “makes sense”.
“It allows parents who have kids who are bullied to make sure they go to school in a safe environment. If they decide that their school isn’t safe, they can take the child to a school of their choice. We have taken the position that big government solutions, government-mandated curriculum, is not the solution,”
Though such a policy position by GOProud might make sense in their own little world of conservative principles, the reality of their proposal is less than appealing.

First, GOProuds position puts the onus upon those who are being bullied, the victim, to change. If the victim (aka. the LGBT person who is being bullied) does not feel safe, it is up to them to change their surroundings. Instead of actually punishing the bully, the bully not only gets off without punishment, but he/she is also validated because through their bullying they have gotten rid of the “problem”. The position of GOProud tells the victim that in order to be/feel safe, they must suffer the consequences of having to change schools.

Second, GOProud’s fealty to homeschooling is not a true solution, because homeschooling can often reinforce the bullying experienced by students. When the LGBT community thinks of bullying, it too often focuses upon the bullying that students get from their fellow peers, yet the ignores the bullying that LGBT students face on a day to day basis by their parents. I for example, grew up in a homeschooled environment that was far from LGBT friendly. I was video taught by a man who believes that LGBT people should be executed (George Grant), went to a camp where LGBT people were made fun of and ridiculed (Worldview Academy), involved with a political organization that lamented the rise of equal rights for LGBT people (TeenPact), and was taught (thorough the influence of magazines and media such as WORLD mag and Wallbuilders) that in order for the United States to become a strong nation the homosexual agenda must be stopped. Such an environment did not encourage me and reinforce my self-esteem, in fact, it made me think that there was something inherently wrong with me and that I was a danger to not only myself but also to my country. Though homeschooling is not all bad (I for example, know many parents who are raising their children to support equality and tolerance), the reality of parental homophobia and the homophobia prevalent in homeschooling curricula, should not go unaddressed by GOProud.

Lastly, lets believe for one second that all parents could afford to either homeschool or send their kid to a charter school (with or without governmental assistance). Instead of curbing the bullying that LGBT students may face in the schools, GOProuds position could actually lead to more bullying. Because some parents will view the “homosexual agenda” (aka. each person is valuable and deserves to not be bullied) as a threat to their belief structure, with the new tools proposed by GOProud, they might choose to homeschool or put their children in charter schools. Such a scenario would have horrible repercussions upon LGBT students who were born to parents which ascribe to a worldview that believes that LGBT people are less than. Instead of having the option of a school counselor with whom they could be honest about themselves, they are faced with an education environment which has a no holds barred disdain and hatred for anything LGBT. Instead of being in an environment where there might be a safe place to be themselves (ex. a gay-straight alliance), they are stuck in an environment where they feel alone and without hope.

These three realities are significant obstacles to GOProuds belief that homeschooling and charter schools are the best place for LGBT students. Not only does their position favor the bully, but they also fail to realize that for many LGBT children and students, the root of the problem is not in school, but instead in the home. 
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