WHY:

Now, why is this important? Each and every one of us has been schooled in systems devoid of any such fair and accurate information about LGBT people. Each and every one of us therefore grew up ignorant about such people and about sexual orientation in general. Worse, we were all actually misinformed, in that negative stereotypes and myths were perpetuated in classes and school yards. Those who make and implement educational policy today, therefore, not only lack any factual basis for evaluating curricular policies regarding sexual orientation, they actually have biases against enacting inclusive policies, biases instilled in them growing up in our homophobic society. For example, today's educators were raised to believe, erroneously, that LGBT people are child molesters and that they "recruit" young people into same-sex behaviors. Therefore, such benighted educators imagine that the worst thing in the world would be to allow LGBT teachers, or parents, or guest speakers, or administrators anywhere near the children in their charge.

We have posted to the Internet vast amounts of information to set the record "straight," so to speak, about sexual orientation. Even the once virulently homophobic FBI knows that 99% of all child molesters are heterosexuals. A recent study done in Denver once again corroborated this:

A study of sexually abused children found that they were unlikely to have been molested by identifiably gay or lesbian people, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. The study, published in the July 1994 issue of "Pediatrics", explored the assertion that gays and lesbians are at particular risk of sexually molesting children. This was one of the justifications presented for strong anti-gay legislation placed on ballots in several States in 1992. Of 249 cases of child abuse studied, only two offenders were identified as gay or lesbian. In this sample, a child's risk of being molested by the heterosexual partner of a relative is more than 100 times greater than by somebody who might be identifiable as being homosexual, lesbian or bisexual. 'As public policy may hinge on the potential risk homosexual individuals pose to children, the issue must be addressed', said the researchers from the University of Colorado, Denver's Children's Hospital, the Kempe Children's Center and the National Jewish Center for Immunology and Respiratory Medicine. The researchers concluded: 'There is no support for the claim to this effect by groups advocating legislation limiting rights of homosexuals.'"

In the appendixes to this manual, we attempt to provide you with citations to just some of the voluminous research available to prove that the myths regarding molestation and recruiting are just that, myths society maintains out of ignorance and the twin evils ignorance spawns: fear and prejudice.

Is it not precisely the role of education, and schools, to prevent ignorance? Yet, schools continue, through their own ignorance and fears, to censor all fair and accurate information about LGBT people. And what is the result? Obviously, LGBT young people grow up isolated, afraid, lacking self-esteem or role models, disliking themselves. That is, if they grow up at all: LGBT youth account for ONE-THIRD of all youth suicides, a rate THREE times greater than that to be expected based on their proportion of the population. (Alcohol, Drug Abuse, and Mental Health Administration: Department of Health and Human Services. Report of the Secretary's Task Force on Youth Suicide. DHHS Publication No. ADM 89-1623, Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1989.)

LGBT young people, denied their right to the truth about themselves through appropriate schooling, experience a host of societally-imposed problems: harassment, hate violence, parental abuse, job discrimination, medical mistreatment, etc. Schools are failing in their responsibilities to these young people.

Schools are also failing in their responsibilities to "straight" young people. LGBT people are the victims of extremely high rates of hate violence, according to the federal Department of Justice. The perpetrators of these hate crimes are, often, themselves young people. The perpetrators of these hate crimes, regardless of their age, clearly are acting out of their own baseless fears and tragic ignorance. Now that hate crimes based on sexual orientation are illegal, these young people will end up in jail, often for the better part of their lives.

Schools can DO something about all this terrible waste of young lives, both LGBT and straight. Schools merely need to teach the truth about LGBT people and our contributions to world civilization. Schools MUST do this, as it is their ethical responsibility. Further, as the research evidence mounts proving what damage the failure properly to educate our young people regarding sexual orientation wreaks, schools face another type of responsibility: a legal one. Schools have a duty to teach the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Not to teach fair and accurate information about LGBT people is to censor, to omit, to misrepresent, and therefore, in effect, to lie by omission. As we know all too well, "Silence Equals Death."

Why are only OUR young people denied role models by the silencing of the contributions of famous LGBT people to history? Why are only our young people subjected to symbolic annihilation of their identity, which is tantamount to psychological and emotional genocide? Why is the truth denied them, and to "straight" young people, truth which could prevent prejudice, hatred, and discrimination by destroying myths and stereotypes.

This veil of censorship and silence in public education in our country is systemic, constituting, in fact, a premier example of institutionalized homophobia. Our response must therefore also be systemic: we must reform public education through reform of its highest levels of policy. This means addressing statewide policies where applicable, and local policies where statewide policies do not obtain. In particular, where there are statewide textbook adoptions, we must organize systematically to ensure that those textbooks include fair, accurate, and diverse information and images regarding LGBT people. Much of the hatred, self-hatred, and prejudice which LGBT people experience in the world comes from ignorance, ignorance is preventable if one can provide appropriate information to kids during the crucial stages of attitude formation which take place during their early years.

What is needed is educational POLICY advocacy at the highest relevant levels to create the mandate for LGBT-inclusive education. Because such inclusion is a "hot-button" issue, we believe that favorably impacting POLICY at the highest relevant level is the way to go, for that not only mandates inclusion but also gives the all-important institutional permission and begins to reform the entire culture of the institution. Without policy, we are stuck fighting in every classroom in the country, a task which vastly outstrips the meager resources of our movement. Without policy, we are dependent upon the all-too-scarce good will, insight, and courage of individuals at every level of the immense educational bureaucracy in this nation.

Working at state level in states where the adoptions occur statewide or where curriculum policy is developed statewide is still essential, but more and more power seems to be devolving to the local level thanks to the attacks on public education in specific and government in general. Many state boards administer federal funds, and federal funding is being cut, resulting in further diminution of the role of state bodies.

Since there is clearly a trend, even in those states with statewide policies and statewide textbook adoptions, toward local control, the struggle will be joined ultimately in each district, even after attainment of state policy reforms. This is fine, since all politics are local anyway. There is nothing likely to move a district board to action sooner than the powerful testimony or, heaven forfend, the death of one of their own students. The victories which are the most lasting, and, not coincidentally, the most satisfying, are those gained by winning over the people we know. However, even though much of the work that lies ahead ultimately is going to be local, activists within local jurisdictions are encouraged to coordinate with others in their state. This provides mutual support, avoids reinventing the wheel, achieves economies of scale, matches the right-wing where it is organized on a state level, provides a network for addressing educational issues in the state's legislature, and interweaves the work of educational equity activism with the statewide work being done by existing LGBT AND ALLIED organizations such as a state's ACLU, a state's NOW, or a state's Planned Parenthood.

Let us begin. This work is controversial still within our own community (too radical, recruiting, and all that), so you may not win any popularity contests at first. As President Franklin Delano Roosevelt once said, "We have nothing to fear but fear itself."

Next Section of the Introduction

Last updated 9/28/95 by Jean Richter, richter@eecs.Berkeley.EDU