Booklet Gives “Just the Facts” on Sexual Orientation
Originally Published in The Dallas Morning News
The Superintendents of all 14,700 public school districts throughout the country recently received a 12-page booklet titled, “Just the Facts about Sexual Orientation & Youth: A Primer for Principals, Educators & School Personnel.”
The booklet was produced and endorsed by an impressive list of mainstream counseling, educational, medical and religious organizations. Among them are the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Association of School Administrators, the American Counseling Association, the American Federation of Teachers, the American Psychological Association, the American School Health Association, the Interfaith Alliance Foundation, the National Association of School Psychologists, the National Association of Social Workers and the National Education Association.
Even so, the booklet has already caused a hue and cry from the religious right. Those critics argue that homosexuality is a choice and that it can be eliminated through psychotherapy (reparative therapy) and/or the use of religion (transformational ministry). They also claim that schools that give attention to gay issues encouraging the gay “lifestyle.”
What’s groundbreaking about the booklet isn’t so much its content as the fact that a number of prestigious mainstream organizations have joined to express concern for the health and education of gay and lesbian youths. The organizations, representing more than 477,000 health and mental health professionals, have taken the position that homosexuality isn’t a mental disorder and thus in no need for a “cure.”
Indeed, the booklet points out the dangers that reparative therapy or transformational ministry can pose to gay individuals. It also notes the legal liabilities to school districts face by not protecting students from anti-gay harassment.
A recent study conducted by the Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network (the organization that inspired the need for the publication and distribution of the “Just the Facts” booklet) reveals many sobering statistics. The survey was completed by 496 lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender youths from 32 states. More than 90 percent of the youths reported that they sometimes or frequently hear homophobic remarks in school. Sixty-nine percent had encountered some form of harassment. And almost 14 percent said they had been victims of physical assault.
Matthew, a 15-year old sophomore attending Walt Whitman Community School in Dallas, provides a harrowing view of a gay teen’s life. Walt Whitman is a private alternative high school for adolescents dealing with sexual orientation issues. Matthew said that when he attended public high school in a Dallas suburb, he often was called “faggot” and “queer” during classes.
Despite the verbal abuse from his classmates, he said most teachers wouldn’t help him. In fact, Matthew said he was disciplined for becoming upset. He said that when he turned to the guidance department for support, he was told that the harassment was his own fault and that the school could do nothing. He also was told to be careful and watch out for himself.
Matthew left the high school in March 1998 after becoming numb to his surroundings and having his grades drop from Bs to Ds and Fs.
All schools need to address the concerns of their gay and lesbian students. Regardless of educators’ religious preferences and personal beliefs about sexual orientation, all students have the right to an educational environment free from harassment and assault.
Perhaps the “Just the Facts” booklet will become the catalyst that encourages school districts across the country to confront the needs and safety of their gay and lesbian students.
John R. Selig is board member of the Dallas Chapter of the Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network.