As that catchy TV ad reminds us: "It's the most wonderful time of the year" - Back to School! Although many parents and students are excited about the return to school, many families face the re-entry to school with dread. Some students are starting in new schools, new towns, new communities where they don't know if they will fit in or be accepted, and others are returning to familiar schools and places where they have faced bullying, sexual harassment, racial slurs or other forms of discrimination. Sadly, Focus on the Family, a conservative Christian group, is using the back-to-school time to advance their anti-gay message by taking a vocal stance opposing anti-bullying campaigns. They are speaking out against programs that include messages of tolerance and acceptance for students who are disproportionately targeted for violence in schools: bisexual, gay, lesbian, queer, transgender, (BGLQT) and gender non-conforming youth, as well as children who have BGLQT parents and family members.

In a news story in the Denver Post yesterday, a Focus on the Family "education expert" stated, "We feel more and more that [gay] activists are being deceptive in using anti-bullying rhetoric to introduce their viewpoints, while the viewpoint of Christian students and parents are increasingly belittled." Although she goes on to state that they support general efforts to stop bullying, they don't want to include any information that would actually address the underlying bias and discrimination that leads to much bullying and harassing behaviours. In my own research (published in my book [amazon 0807749532]), I learned that most teachers hesitate to stop homophobic and sexual harassment because they don't have clear support from their administrators.

This public anti- "anti-bullying" stance seems to have been sparked by news that the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network is distributing a publication to school superintendents called, "Just the Facts About Sexual Orientation and Youth." This booklet was written in coalition with 18 different organizations including the National Education Association, American Psychological Association, American Federation of Teachers, the National Association of School Psychologists, and the National Association of Social Workers. The goal was to help school leaders to better understand and more effectively address issues related to sexual orientation in schools based on medical, psychological, and educational research. This document clarifies some of the dangers of "reparative therapies" and "transformational ministries" as well as the relevant case law that educators need to be aware of when addressing these issues. The document clearly states the following:

  • "Because of the religious nature of "transformational ministry," endorsement or promotion of such ministry by officials or employees of a public school district in a school-related context could raise constitutional problems."
  • "A school district must protect students from anti-gay harassment just as it protects students from other kinds of harassment."
  • "School officials should be deeply concerned about the validity and bias of materials or presentations that promote a change to a person's sexual orientation as a "cure" or suggest that being gay, lesbian or bisexual is unhealthy." (pg 8)

These statements are factual, clear, and supported by existing case law. So why would a Christian organization be so vocally opposed to schools getting this information from such a broad base of respected professional organizations? It appears as if they are more interested in fanning the flames of their conservative voter base than advancing the best interests of children in schools. This saddens me because most Christians I know want respect, security, and love for all people - not just the ones who look and think and act like them.

A local Colorado paper, The Aurora Sentinel, published a strong response to Focus on the Family's message that I encourage you to read. I hope that this story ignites awareness and discussion in your own communities so school leaders (superintendents, principals, elected officials, etc.) have the opportunity to clearly and publicly share their policies on non-discrimination, bullying and harassment, as well as their approaches to teaching about various forms of diversity and multiculturalism. If your school or local school board seems to be caving to pressure from extreme religious groups, or you see overt expressions of anti-gay bias couched in religious ideology, please contact me or your local GLSEN or ACLU chapter for advice on how to ensure the safety of and respect for all children in schools. Back to school time should be full of anticipation for new friendships, new ideas, and new opportunities -- not fear and dread. Let's work together to make sure all students and families get a positive school experience!

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