Sunday, May 17, 2009

Lesson 9-- Teaching Youth Not to Hate

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For the past year we’ve been in conversation with people around the globe about LGBT human rights progress. The stories we have uncovered have been both shocking and revelatory. But this week, it is local Bay Area shenanigans that have really pushed our buttons. This is the first in a short series of postings to come about Rights of Passage right here in our home state.

Just 20 minutes east of San Francisco there is a town called Alameda. It is here that school officials had high hopes a new elementary school curriculum would teach respect and help reduce bullying related to gay and lesbian individuals and families. So they decided at long last to do the right thing. They created lesson plans that talked about teasing and explained the different definitions of family - even throwing in the true story of Roy and Silo, two same-sex penguins in New York who recently hatched an abandoned egg.

Then all hell broke loose. It centered around "Lesson 9," during which the 5th graders would learn about hurtful name-calling and stereotypes related to gays and lesbians as well as important contributions made by those of various sexual orientations. Hundreds of people showed up when the policy came before the school board for adoption. Parents opposed to the lesson plans have joined ranks with conservative family-rights groups to kill the idea before it hits classrooms. They argue that parents, not the school, should be imparting those lessons - even the one about the penguins.

Here’s our Lesson #9: It is high time we accept human nature and understand that varied sexual identities exist on the planet. It always has and always will. Perpetual denial of this fact is ludicrous and dangerous. We’ve seen time and time again that it leads to shame, secrecy, violence and even death. Is this what we want for our children? No.

School is where we learn about life. It is here that we all participate in a microcosm of the world. Staying home and just learning from our parents is not how cultures advance. The world is a much bigger place. School is where we experience new ideas, interact with varied cultures, form opinions, and evolve. There is no sense in pretending that coming of age will never happen and occurs in many individualized forms. It’s time we acknowledge this as a simple, non-threatening fact of life. Bigotry and hatred have no place in the formative years of youth. Period. End of lesson.

Next Posting: The YouthAware touring company at New Conservatory Theatre Center takes on California’s Central Valley with their new play OUTPSOKEN.


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