Thursday, September 19, 2013

Education: Our Best Defense Against Ignorance

A version of this piece also appears on Huffington Post Gay voices

Please put your hands together and give a warm welcome to the founder of conservative group Mission America and all around good Christian, Linda Harvey.

Why are we in such a place, friends, where children learn homosexual behavior is noble? That amputating healthy body parts is admirable but the mention of Jesus Christ during a graduation ceremony is controversial? I'll tell you how. It's because not enough of us are calling this lunacy what it is. We need to have a clear idea about what is evil and speak up about it in order to preserve the good. And these actions are pure evil and should be declared child abuse.

The above words, used to speak out again the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), stunned me into silence that quickly turned into an angry outburst. No applause for you, Linda Harvey.

Why shouldn't schools include gay-inclusive education, e.g. the Stonewall riots, Harvey Milk? In History class children are educated about war, slavery, the civil rights movement, Nazis, the Holocaust. I'm purposefully pointing out darker moments in history because I feel people like Linda Harvey, who are so against homosexuality, equate us gay people on par with these moments. Why shouldn't a child learn of gay-related issues in school? If knowledge is power, doesn't it take some of the stigma away from homosexuality if children are taught of its existence instead of it being a dirty little secret that is only spoken about in hushed voices like cancer being discussed around the dinner table?

I would have benefited from such a learning environment. Instead I was taught about homosexuality and its "sinful" place in our society by preachers who condemned me to Hell before I even fully understood what I was feeling. Imagine growing up without that fear. Imagine learning in an environment where questions can be asked and a dialogue can be started. I had no one to speak to about what I was feeling.

For those who are convinced that homosexuals are out to recruit children or that children who learn about homosexuality might want to become one of us I say this. I was not recruited. Homosexuality was not promoted to me. On the flip side I'll add, I did not want to become a straight man no matter how much I was taught about human sexuality and reproduction in health class. I grew up around only heterosexual relationships, and I didn't decide one day to be straight. We are who we are and understanding who we are is only going to benefit us not harm us. I so often hear that gay people have an agenda. I think those against gay people have more of an agenda than anyone. Gay people want to be heard and accepted. Those against us want to persecute us and would be happiest if we went back into the closet and left them to live in ignorant bliss in their rose-colored glasses world.

Don't try to convince me that children need protecting from the knowledge that LGBTQ people exist. Some children are scared and trying to understand what they're feeling. I would know. Others are cruel and laugh in the face of those they see as different. I would know that, too. I myself was bullied by a school mate who later in life reached out to me to tell me that he too was gay and so afraid of his feelings that he joined others in name-calling me as a defensive tactic. Interesting. Maybe with the help of forward thinking teachers, like those involved with GLSEN, other children and teens can avoid such situations because they will learn what they're feeling is nothing to be ashamed of. Those not in the position to struggle with the fear of their own feelings have no right to condemn an education practice that will help explain them. All of us want to be understood and accepted.

Below is the mission statement of GLSEN:

The Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network strives to assure that each member of every school community is valued and respected regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity/expression. 
We believe that such an atmosphere engenders a positive sense of self, which is the basis of educational achievement and personal growth. Since homophobia and heterosexism undermine a healthy school climate, we work to educate teachers, students and the public at large about the damaging effects these forces have on youth and adults alike. We recognize that forces such as racism and sexism have similarly adverse impacts on communities and we support schools in seeking to redress all such inequities. 
GLSEN seeks to develop school climates where difference is valued for the positive contribution it makes in creating a more vibrant and diverse community. We welcome any and all individuals as members, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity/expression or occupation, who are committed to seeing this philosophy realized in K-12 schools.

Where's the evil? How is the above mission statement anything but a wonderful commitment to safety, education, and respect for all students?

Often times I believe we are against something because we don't understand it. It doesn't make sense to us. Let me take a moment and say that I recognize how I react when I don't understand something. I lash out and get angry. I feel foolish and embarrassed. I don't want to admit that I don't know the answer, how to solve the problem. Now go with me here, but I'm wondering if people who don't understand homosexuality, people who think it's just dirty sex and perversion, are afraid to admit they don't understand and are lashing out as a way to cover their lack of knowledge.

Maybe some of these people truly feel that they're right and that homosexuality is wrong, but maybe some are just digging in their heels, fighting every step of the way, at learning something new. I don't have the answer, but I know that when I accept that I don't understand something and acknowledge that my reaction is because of that lack of understanding, I feel a lot better about the situation and become much more open to learning. It's much easier to learn something new than to pretend you know everything.

I'm so proud to live in America where we have the freedom to even debate this topic. I'm proud to be a gay American and to witness all the progress gay people have made even in the 20 years since I came out of the closet. There's still a long way to go, but educating people is a step in the right direction. The time for hiding is over. Now is the time to teach. Now is the time to listen. Now is the time to learn. Now is the time for understanding. Now is the time to change your point of view. Now is the time to once again integrate and accept.