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The Answer Blog

Archive for December, 2008

Remember Larry

December 17, 2008

I strongly recommend that parents and educators read the Newsweek cover story “Young, Gay and Murdered.” It is a riveting, tragic, and gut-wrenching story about the murder of a 15-year-old gay student by his 14-year-old classmate at Oxnard, California’s E. O. Green Junior High School last winter. The student, Lawrence (“Larry”) King, was shot in the presence of a teacher and other students.

Central to the story is the crucial fact that Larry had recently come out at school and was killed by a homophobic classmate who had been harassing him. The school simply didn’t know how to handle the situation before it literally blew up in its face and resulted in Larry’s death.

What happened to Larry could happen again in any junior high school in the country—sooner rather than later. But denial is a comfortable state for many school administrators, board members, teachers and parents.

Recently, I told the head of a school for young female dancers about the work one of its alumni has done for college students with eating disorders. “Oh,” she told me, “we don’t have any problems like that in this school.” No problems like that? I asked myself, thinking of all the pressures on dancers to be pencil thin. In the same vein, I can hear middle-school principals vehemently denying that they have students as young as ten who proclaim that they are gay and then are harassed—and even assaulted—by classmates. Think again, I’d say.

Parents of middle schoolers need to talk with their kids about sexual orientation much earlier than they ever thought possible. They need to talk about the horror of hate crimes. An equal burden falls on the entire educational establishment—from the commissioners of education and state board members to superintendents, principals, school board members, teachers, staff, parents and students in middle and high schools. They must talk openly and frequently about sexual orientation and the policies needed to protect all students.

An Oxnard school board member best sums up the steps we need to take to ensure that horrible school tragedies like this one never repeat themselves: “This has got to be discussed more,” said the 48-year veteran member.

Discussed and discussed and discussed by everyone who is concerned with strengthening public education. Educators also need more training on these issues, and they can look no further than Answer’s outstanding workshops, including “That’s So Gay! Homophobia and Harassment Prevention in Elementary School” and “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Issues: You’ve Got Questions, We’ve Got Answers.”

But, first, please read Larry’s story and remember him.

Moving to the Middle on Sex Ed

December 11, 2008

Advocates of comprehensive sexuality education can glean good news from Charles M. Blow’s New York Times op-ed piece, “Americans Move to the Middle.”

According to Blow, our opinions on what is “morally acceptable” are increasingly shifting toward the middle. He cites Gallup poll research gathered over the past eight years that shows that the majority of Americans think it is morally acceptable to get divorced, engage in premarital sex and have babies outside of marriage. And almost half believe that same-sex relationships are acceptable.

Although Blow doesn’t mention how Americans feel about sex education in schools, research shows that many are moving toward the middle—and beyond—on this issue as well. In fact, the majority of Americans support comprehensive sexuality education. They support programs that instruct young people about the benefits of abstinence and contraception.

With a new president and Congress arriving in January, we may have a real chance to change directions on sexuality education in public schools. President-elect Obama, although speaking out for the ideal of abstinence until marriage, has said that he believes young people need complete and non-ideological information about sexual health. Many of the newly elected members of Congress have already spoken out against abstinence only until marriage (AOUM) programs.

Yet many politicians still lag behind the public on this issue because they fear their careers will come to a grinding halt if they vote against AOUM programs. This is why Bill Smith, vice president for public policy at SIECUS and a leader in the fight against federal support of AOUM, has had to work so hard to persuade members of Congress to vote against additional funding for AOUM. As more states reject these funds (25 so far), it sends a clear message to politicians that the majority of Americans want young people to learn all the facts and skills they need to make healthy and responsible decisions about sex.

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Up Next: An Openly Gay or Lesbian President

December 4, 2008

In 1968, the year he was assassinated, Robert F. Kennedy predicted that in 40 years the United States would have a black president. It is 2008; he was spot on.

Since Obama’s historic electoral triumph, I’ve read that the White House doors are wide open to a marvelous range of people of different genders and ethnicities. However, I don’t remember a gay man or lesbian making the list.

I certainly do not posses Bobby Kennedy’s prognosticating skills, but given the American people’s willingness to change and to understand that denying rights to others contradicts the Constitution, I’ll climb out on a limb and make the following prediction: Within 40 years, an openly gay man or lesbian will be elected president of the U.S.

The climb to this summit may seem long and steep, given the results of votes on recent ballot propositions, which most pundits consider a tragedy for gay and lesbian citizens. Take a look at the results of these ballot initiatives:

  • Floridians and Arizonians approved anti-gay marriage amendments to their state constitutions;
  • Californians, who like to think they live in one of the most progressive states in the nation, approved Proposition 8, which strips thousands of same-sex couples of their right to marry; and
  • Arkansans approved a ban on people who are “cohabitating outside of a valid marriage” from serving as foster parents or adopting children.

Currently, same-sex marriage is only legal in two states: Massachusetts and Connecticut. What will happen in other states, where the issue is certain to arise again? Where will the successful alliance of Mormons, Catholics and evangelicals that defeated Proposition 8 turn next? Groups in this alliance raised $40 million dollars and sent armies of volunteers to California. They have a paradigm that works. Will they decide to try to ban domestic partnerships state by state?

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Looking Ahead

December 1, 2008

In light of the historic fact that Senator Barack Obama will soon become our 44th president, I thought I would review what he has said to date about some aspects of sexuality and sex education. Of course, this doesn’t mean that he will necessarily act on his beliefs (the personal often does not become the political and the political often changes the personal), but his thoughts might point in interesting directions.

I started by reviewing Obama’s words from the third and final debate. If you’re like me, while watching presidential debates you always hope the moderator will ask the candidates directly about their views on sexuality education in public school classrooms. So far, no one ever has.

However, moderator Bob Schieffer did move in the right direction when he asked Senators Obama and McCain whether Roe v. Wade should be overturned. This led to a back-and-forth discussion which touched on nominations to the Supreme Court, late-term abortion and life-saving treatments for children of botched abortions.

Obama eventually turned the discussion toward our issue: how to find common ground between those who are pro-choice and those who are pro-life. He stated, “We should try to prevent unintended pregnancies by providing appropriate education to our youth, communicating that sexuality is sacred and that they should not be engaged in cavalier activity.”

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