Long before the US military adopted the idea, America's
schools approached the subject of homosexuality with their own
version of "don't ask, don't tell." But as growing numbers of teens
identify themselves as homosexual, schools across the country are
addressing the subject head on in the classroom.
The attempt to discuss homosexuality with children at school
is controversial, but it is a growing national trend - found in New
York, Los Angeles, and many parts in between:
* Hundreds of high schools now sponsor gay-straight
alliances, in which students meet after school to talk about bias
and urge tolerance.
* Thousands of public elementary, middle, and high schools
have adopted anti-bias policies, which strictly forbid
discrimination, foul language, or bullying because of sexual
* Three schools - in New York, Los Angeles, and Dallas - have
been founded specifically for gay, lesbian, and "questioning"
teens. Two are funded by local taxes, and one is private.
Gay advocates say such efforts are often necessary for gay
students to receive an education and, in some cases, to merely
Nearly 10 percent of American youths say they are chronically
abused by their peers, according to several surveys. Bullying
strikes gay teens the hardest, and they are four times as likely as
other teenagers to commit suicide.
"We are here to help kids complete their normal education
without the obstacle of harassment and abuse," says Verna Eggleston
of the Hetrick-Martin Institute, which runs the public Harvey Milk
School in New York City. The school, named after the slain San
Francisco county supervisor, was created in the mid-1980s to meet
the needs of gay teens, she says. In New York alone, thousands of
gay teens drop out of school each year, and 35 percent of the
city's 20,000 homeless youths describe themselves as gay or lesbian.
"If you can reflect on those military men escorting black
children into schools in the South in the 1950s," Ms. Eggleston
says, "and then bring that to the '90s, where gay teens are going
to school without escort - that's where we are."
BUT the discussion of homosexuality in public schools has set
off a clash of cultures. Some parents are concerned that children
and teens will be taught values in conflict with those taught at
home, or that school-age children are simply too young to
understand issues surrounding homosexuality. Some families opt to
pull their children from such classroom discussions.
"As a matter of principle, our position is that there should
be no government sanction, promotion, or approval of
homosexuality," says Arne Owens, spokesman of the 1.4-million
member Christian Coalition in Chesapeake, Va. "To bring it into the
public schools gives it a certain legitimacy, and it's a behavior
that most of our supporters view as wrong."
Intolerance or violence against homosexuals is never
justified, Mr. Owens says, but special programs tailored for gays
may be causing more problems than they solve. …