Are public schools the next battleground over homosexuality?
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)--As illustrated children's books go, "King & King" starts off innocently enough: "On the tallest mountain above the town lived a queen, the young prince, and the crown kitty. The queen had ruled for many long years and she was tired of it."
The queen, it seems, wanted to step down so that her son could become king. First, though, she wanted him to find a wife. So a search ensued -- far and wide -- for the perfect princess.
But in the end he chose none of them, instead opting for another prince. (Yes, a prince.) The short 29-page book ends with a "gay wedding," the proverbial kiss, the queen shedding a tear of joy and, the reader is told, the two men living "happily ever after."
King & King, a slick colorful book aimed at children 6 and up, was at the heart of a controversy in North Carolina earlier this year when a first-grade girl checked it out of her public school library -- much to her parents' dismay.
"I was flabbergasted," her father, Michael Hartsell, told the Associated Press. "My child is not old enough to understand something like that, especially when it is not in our beliefs."
And conservatives say the book is only the tip of the iceberg in the nationwide debate over homosexuality in the public schools. Homosexual activists have made significant inroads in recent years, and their advances have come in both big- and small-town America. For instance:
-- More than 3,000 schools in all 50 states have Gay/Straight Alliance Clubs, student-led groups set up to promote homosexual issues within the schools. Many are in middle schools. The Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), a national homosexual activist organization, is the primary catalyst.
-- The public school system in Boyd County, Ky., allegedly forced middle and high school students to participate in diversity and tolerance training, telling them homosexuality cannot be changed and warning them not to say otherwise. The Alliance Defense Fund, a pro-family legal organization, filed a federal lawsuit in February on behalf of concerned parents.
-- The Montgomery County, Md., public school system developed sexual-education curriculum for eighth- and 10th-graders which claimed that Jesus "said absolutely nothing at all about homosexuality" and that being homosexual is similar to being left-handed. It also noted that some Baptist churches once defended racial segregation -- implying that conservative Baptists today are wrong in opposing homosexuality. The pro-family legal group Liberty Counsel filed suit on behalf of two conservative groups and concerned parents, and in May a federal judge ruled against the school system, preventing the course from going into effect.
"Many of the leaders of the homosexual lobbying groups have admitted that they're targeting public schools," Mike Johnson, an attorney with the Alliance Defense Fund, told Baptist Press. "That is where they're trying to change society's perception of their activities and their behavior. That's the best place to do it -- to go to the next generation. That's how you change minds and that's how you affect the culture. Sadly, they've had some success there."
The cases, Johnson said, are "spreading gradually like mushrooms across the country."
Two homosexual groups -- GLSEN and the Parents, Families & Friends of Lesbians & Gays (PFLAG) -- have led the charge in pressuring schools to allow Gay/Straight Alliance Clubs and introduce homosexuality-friendly curriculum. When schools don't respond favorably, liberal groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union and Lambda Legal often file lawsuits.
The National Education Association also has been at the forefront of the homosexual movement, although public outcry has prevented it from going further. At its annual meeting in 2001, the NEA -- in the face of protesters -- backed off a resolution that would have encouraged teachers to adopt homosexuality-friendly curriculum, including teaching students that homosexuality cannot be changed. The resolution did not receive a vote. But the NEA hasn't remained silent regarding the homosexual agenda, and last year gave GLSEN co-founder and Executive Director Kevin Jennings an award for promoting human rights.
Conservatives assert that school systems mask homosexuality-friendly curriculum in words like "tolerance" and "diversity" in an attempt to avoid controversy. But the curriculum often is one-sided.
"[I]t's not really about tolerance. It's about political correctness, and it's about forced acceptance of homosexuality as a valid alternative lifestyle,"
Scott Davis, director of Exodus Youth at Exodus International, told Baptist Press. Exodus International is a Christian organization that teaches that homosexuality can be changed.
"[The curriculum] is really confusing our kids -- kids at a very vulnerable stage," Davis added. "... It's encouraging them to explore and experiment ... at a time that is just developmentally inappropriate."
Educators often defend homosexuality-friendly curriculum by saying it is necessary in order to protect students from violence. But Warren Throckmorton, an associate professor of psychology at Grove City College in Pennsylvania, said the curriculum is not needed to discourage violence and bullying.
"I've gone into public schools myself and spoken against bullying. I tend not to identity victim groups, and I think that the best bullying policies don't do that," he said. "I think we should make it clear that schools should be safe for all. ... The schools have mistakenly believed that you have to promote one view of homosexuality ... in order to try and get an environment of tolerance and respect. And that's just not the case."
Throckmorton said the biblical view -- that homosexuals can change -- is mostly ignored.
"The theory about homosexuality that most schools put forward is that homosexuality is inborn, that it's a hard-wired trait and that in high school you can know who you are by your sexual feelings," he said. "Kids are told who they are and who they'll always be. But that's a theory. That's not a fact."
The legalization of "gay marriage" likely would make matters only worse for conservatives.
"I think Massachusetts is a pretty good example of that," Throckmorton said.
In Lexington, Mass. -- where "gay marriage" is legal -- a kindergarten class was given a bag of books earlier this year with the goal of teaching the children diversity. One of the books was "Who's In a Family," a 29-page illustrated children's book that includes illustrations of homosexual parents. In one scene, two men and a little girl are preparing to eat dinner. The reader is told: "Robin's family is made up of her dad, Clifford, her dad's partner, Henry, and Robin's cat, Sassy." In another scene, a young girl and boy and two women play outside in the pool, under the caption, "Laura and Kyle live with their two moms, Joyce and Emily, and a poodle named Daisy."
Alarmed by what his son was being taught in the Lexington, Mass., school, one father met with school officials and then was arrested after he refused to leave the building. He said officials declined to let him have a say in the matter.
"I think parents are often surprised by what they find at school," Throckmorton said.
Homosexual groups promote their agenda in other ways as well. Teachers friendly to the homosexual movement often place inverted pink triangles in their classroom, identifying their room as a "safe zone" for homosexuals. In addition, each year GLSEN sponsors the "Day of Silence," a day when thousands of students nationwide take a vow of silence to protest what they see as discrimination against homosexuals.
This year the Alliance Defense Fund countered with the "Day of Truth," allowing Christian students to stand up for their beliefs. Participants wore T-shirts stating, "The Truth Cannot Be Silenced" and passed out cards expressing their viewpoint. It was held the day after the Day of Silence.
Johnson, the Alliance Defense Fund attorney, said much can be done to oppose homosexual curriculum in public schools, although little can be done to prevent Gay/Straight Alliance Clubs from forming.
"You can't really oppose it if we're going to maintain equal access," he said of the clubs. "If we target those groups, then they'll target the Bible clubs and the Christian groups."
But, Johnson and other conservatives say, parents do have a great deal of influence in deciding what their children are taught. The Maryland case, they say, is one example.
"Parents have a tremendous amount of power within the public schools," Davis said. " ... Parents have the authority and the rights legally to go in and investigate the curriculum to find out exactly what their kids are being taught. I would encourage any parent to ask their kids what they're being taught about this. I bet they'd be surprised."
Said Throckmorton: "Their options range from fighting the school district on this to bringing this to the school district's attention all the way to considering other educational options. We've seen some parents win some battles."