More Schools Take Up Gay-Bias Issues in Classrooms across US, Subject of Homosexuality Is Included in Antidiscrimination Lessons

Article excerpt

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 orientation. * 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 survive. 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. …

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