As the conversation surrounding same-sex marriage gains in popularity—whether in favor or not—there has arrived the need to address the issue in the arena of both public and private education. More specifically when it comes to comprehensive sexual education curriculum. Homosexuality has become an integral and important part of our national conscience. Regardless of varying views, it has become an issue at the forefront of what many have described as a 'culture war.' Today two states recognize same-sex marriages as legal, and most recently the high profile Proposition 8 was supported in California, disallowing same-sex couples to marry. The issue surrounds in a big way and therefore transcends into our classrooms as a potential topic of interest. It has been said that issues of high political importance—religion, race, violence and now homosexuality eventually end up in the classroom. No denying that. The issue: what should be taught in our schools when it comes to homosexuality? To that extent, should homosexual health be discussed?
There are generally two distinct schools of thought when it comes to homosexuality in the classroom. On the one hand, there are strong arguments in favor of providing comprehensive sexual education which encompasses issues pertaining to homosexuality. This would include curriculum concerning alternative families, what it means to be gay, tolerance, as well as an age-appropriate overview of gay sexual health. Those in support of such education adhere to the standard of a “safe” and appropriate environment where children are able to discuss homosexuality without fear of ridicule or judgment. Their goal, according to supporters, is to provide students with accurate, unbiased and inclusive sexual health education which includes the homosexual demographic—some of which may have personal experience. They argue that, in reality, many students have gay parents or have associations with a homosexual. To deny fair education and representation, argue some, is to negate the reality of many students' lives. Especially with gay marriage legal in two states, supporters argue that the new emerging demographic needs to be represented. Furthermore, a large part of this argument centers around a curriculum that focuses on wider acceptance. They often cite statistics indicating a high percentage of harassment against gay men and the increase use of derogatory slang words. While individuals may not agree with the homosexual lifestyle, there still needs to be an aspect of mutual respect. This is also to say that children should be able to decide for themselves where they stand when it comes to homosexuality after being presented with it in the classroom. Supporters of a sexual education including issues of homosexuality cite it as a way in which kids can think and use their own minds—what several supporters have described as real education.
In stark contrast, there is an opposing side which argues issues of homosexuality have no place in a classroom. Generally speaking opposition arrives on the basis of moral objections. This is to say that schools should not be the place wherein educators are introducing curriculum that leads to value and moral selection—rather, this should come from the privacy of ones own home. Opposition makes it clear that introducing issues surrounding homosexuality in the classroom is inappropriate. Just as church and state are separated, church and sex should be separated according to opposition. Often times, homosexuality is an issue placed in the context of the church and therefore crosses the boundary. On a more extreme level, there are arguments that a sexual education curriculum which includes homosexual health advocates a sexual act that is not healthy. Individuals have said practicing anal sex is more dangerous than smoking on a daily basis. Many against homosexuality in the classrooms cite an effort to protect their children from risky behavior. Furthermore, opposition argues that the “gay agenda” has allowed for the discrimination and belittling of the heterosexual community. They argue that a homosexual inclusive sexual education leads to the homosexual as a “victim” and therefore creates problem. There is often the recommendation from this school of thought advocating for a complete exclusion of anything associated with homosexuality in the classroom.
Schools Should Not Stress Acceptance of Homosexuality
Linda P. Harvey, “Safe Schools: The Trojan Horse of 'Gay' Education,” Culture & Family Report, May 16, 2002.
Argument: Harvey argues that homosexuality should not be taught in schools. She describes a “gay agenda” in which schools are imposing moral teachings on students. She states that “Religious freedom and freedom of speech issues are threatened by programs (that encourage acceptance of homosexuality).” What she proposes, instead, are sexual education programs that exclude the mention of homosexuality. Harvey contends that by doing this, the issue is avoided and conversely the heterosexual community is no longer demonized in the process of homosexual representation—a representation, she states, is defined by victimization. She argues that “the vast majority of people in this country are not potentially violence and do not deserve to be unjustly associated with violence toward homosexuals!”
Believer: Harvey makes some compelling arguments. When it comes down to it, children are sent to school to learn. What “learning” means can be defined in many different ways. However, it can be assumed that issues concerning homosexuality (most often linked to religion) are not appropriate especially at a public institution. In a lot of ways the issue of homosexuality has become one based on religious values and principles. As a nation that continually prides itself on the separation of church and state, it is reasonable to argue homosexuality does not belong in the classroom. Furthermore, the instruction of this controversial issue should not be left up to educators but rather parents. Moral and value judgments should be made inside the home, not in the classroom.
Skeptic: In her article “Schools Should not Stress Acceptance of Homosexuality,” Harvey preaches a distinct message of hate. What she fails to recognize is that our country is changing. The change comes from many directions, one of which is the construction of marriage. It is a reality that same-sex marriages and relationships are occurring. When creating a sexual education curriculum, there needs to be full representation. The fact of the matter is, many students may have gay parents or associations with a homosexual in their lives. To deny children fair, unbiased and responsible facts concerning other members of our society is to do them a disservice. Furthermore, her argument lacks a basic respect for human life. Opposition to her claim does not argue students are being told homosexuality is OK. Rather, the issue is being presented and then consequentially left open for interpretation by the student and parents. However, what needs to be included—and something with which Harvey does not mention—is foundational respect for different lifestyles. It may not be what you practice, but it is what someone else does.
Rhetorical Situation: Harvey is a well-know conservative who discusses issues surrounding women, homosexuality and education. She is a regular contributor to Focus on the Family—a conservative group striving to preserve the traditions of the family. Her initial need in writing this article centers around the squelching of pro-homosexual activists who advocate homosexuality in schools. Furthermore, she has a need to get out her own agenda (or rather conservative agenda). Given this information, Harvey is clear and concise in her rhetorical mission. There is no denying she caters to a distinct audience. This specific article was written in 2002—about the time Massachusetts began the conversation on allowing gay marriage. There were also movements, as well as a piece of legislation in the state, to include homosexuality as a topic of conversation in a comprehensive sexual education curriculum. She is responding to this ongoing conversation and she makes it clear where she stands. Her audience is two fold. On one hand she is addressing a group of people who already agree with her—a largely conservative audience. Additionally, however, Harvey is making an appeal to parents who may be on the fence about homosexuality in schools. She appeals to the “don't let the schools form your child's morality,” an idea that strikes an emotional chord with parents who want to preserve family ideals and values.