Showing posts with label Gay Education. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Gay Education. Show all posts

July 19, 2016

After Years of Court Challenges California Will Start Teaching LGBT History

Most public school students learn about abolitionists and Civil Rights leaders in elementary school classrooms. Yet, it’s entirely possible for students to graduate high school with more knowledge about biology than the gay rights movement. 

In California things are about to change:

In second grade, California students will learn about families with two moms or two dads. Two years later, while studying how immigrants have shaped the Golden State, they will hear how New York native Harvey Milk became a pioneering gay politician in San Francisco.

The State Board of Education unanimously approved those changes in classroom instruction Thursday to comply with the nation's first law requiring public schools to include prominent gay Americans and LGBT rights milestones in history classes.

The updates are part of a broader overhaul of California's history and social science curriculum. During four hours of public testimony, dozens of speakers criticized the way the framework discusses Muslims, Hindus, Jews and Japan's use of "comfort women" during World War II, but no one objected to the inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights.

Allyson Chiu, who just finished 11th grade at Cupertino High School, said the revisions would make LGBT students more comfortable. She and seven others spoke in favor of how the guidelines address gay issues.

"My classmates can solve quadratic equations or cite the elements on the periodic table. They can't tell you who Harvey Milk was or the significance of the Stonewall Riots," Chiu said.

The changes satisfy legislation passed five years ago that added LGBT Americans and people with disabilities to the list of social and ethnic groups whose contributions schools are supposed to teach and must appear in K-8 textbooks.

The law also prohibited classroom materials that reflect adversely on gays or particular religions. Conservative opponents argued that it should be up to parents to decide how and at what age to broach sexual orientation with their children and made two unsuccessful efforts to repeal the law.

The approved framework weaves references to gay Americans and events throughout the history and social science curriculum, starting in second grade through discussions about diverse families and again in fourth grade with lessons on California's place in the gay rights movement.

The guidelines also touch on the topics in fifth and eighth grade — looking at gender roles in the 18th and 19th centuries and examples of individuals who flouted them — and throughout high school.

A capstone of sorts would come in U.S. government courses, where seniors would learn about the 2015 Supreme Court ruling that legalized same-sex marriage nationwide and recent court cases involving bathroom access for transgender students.

California's law took effect in January 2012, but its implementation was slowed by attempts to overturn it, competing educational priorities and budget cuts that stalled work on drafting recommendations for the school board and textbook purchases.

Opponents remain concerned that the guidelines de-emphasize important historical figures and events to make room for LGBT icons of lesser or disputed note, said Pacific Justice Institute senior staff attorney Matthew McReynolds, whose Sacramento legal defense organization was involved in the repeal efforts.

"Certainly some families will be concerned about their second-graders learning about two-mom families, but I think parents would be much more alarmed if they knew that LGBT History Month, in the last few years, has promoted the notion that 'America the Beautiful' is a source of lesbian pride," McReynolds said.

Katharine Lee Bates, a Wellesley College professor who wrote the song in 1893, lived with a fellow faculty member at the women's school for a quarter-century, and contemporary scholars speculate that the relationship was romantic.

Supporters say the changes recognize that LGBT history is part of American history.

“You cannot understand where we are now collectively as Americans without understanding something of the LGBT past,” said Don Romesburg, chairman of women's studies at Sonoma State University.

LGBT advocacy also has strong ties to Los Angeles, where the country's first gay rights organization was founded in 1950 by activist Harry Hay, SF Gate pointed out. 

Even though gay marriage is legal in every U.S. state, school can be an extremely traumatic environment for LGBT kids and teenagers.

A June report from the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network found that LGBT students were given detention, suspended, and expelled from school at unsettlingly high rates, "often for infractions related to identity or orientation," Take Part reported.
GLSEN’s 2013 National School Climate Survey reported that 74 percent of LGBT middle and high school students experienced verbal harassment on the basis of their sexual orientation. 

But the survey also suggested that LGBT-inclusive classrooms can make students feel far safer at school.

In schools that taught LGBT inclusive material in class, only 35 percent of LGBT students felt unsafe, while 60 percent of LGBT students in schools that did not teach an LGBT-inclusive curriculum felt unsafe, the survey reports.

LGBT advocates are hailing the vote as a huge victory.

"You cannot understand where we are now collectively as Americans without understanding something of the LGBT past," Don Romesburg, the chairman of women's studies at Sonoma State University, told ABC News.

June 28, 2016

Staten Islander Crowned Non-female Queen at “Fame” HS


Matthew Crisson, a Staten Island native, was recently crowned the first non-female prom queen at Laguardia High School for the Performing Arts. (Photo: Instagram/hotmessiah)

 Matthew Crisson, an 18-year-old Staten Island native, was recently crowned the first non-female prom queen at 2016 prom of LaGuardia High School for the Perorming Arts
Laguardia is widely known as the "Fame" high school, because it inspired the 1980 movie and television series, "Fame."
Crisson is also the first "gender-fluid" prom queen — i.e. born male but identifies as non-binary, which means he does not identify as either gender.

The teen, who will be attending SUNY Purchase in the fall, has kept his head high and encourages members of the LGBTQ community to "stay strong and know that things will get better for you," according to Fox 5 News,  
"I had always struggled with social anxiety and reaching for things I really want,"  Crisson said during his interview. "Being prom queen was the first time I stepped out of my comfort zone and proved to myself that I have courage, and I have strength, and I have confidence."
He admitted to thoughts of suicide in middle school. "I'm so glad I didn't do that because there are so many great things that I accomplished this year... and that I'm going to accomplish." 
Crisson was crowned prom queen a week after the Orlando massacre at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Fla., which killed 49 people in the most devastating mass shooting in U.S. history. 
Dr. Gracelyn Santos |

December 30, 2014

Im Gay But Given the Choice I would be Straight….This Community is Got to Change!

I'm gay, but given the choice would I rather be straight?

There’s never been a better time to be a gay man, says Cristo Foufas, but the judgmental, dismissive nature of the gay community has got to stop.

“As a gay man I'd never believe being gay is wrong. But if it were a choice? I'd be straight. Which I'm sure is terribly un-PC, but honest.”
The tweet provoked some strong feelings among friends and followers, so let me explain where I was coming from. 
If you’re a single gay man, the last few years have seen a huge change in the way in which you meet men. More equality has brought more freedom, which means we don’t need to hide our sexuality away, secretly cruising parks and toilets after dark. Technology, too, has given us a new way to fulfil our urges and curb our loneliness via dating apps, the most popular of these being Grindr. 
“Dating” is, of course, the wrong word to describe the function Grindr provides, as I don’t know many men who use it to look for meaningful committed encounters. These apps aren’t used for dating at all - they’re used for sex. But increasingly, apps like these are the only way gay men meet.
Grindr is a showroom, a shop window; a chance to display your wares via a profile picture and a few words categorising the kind of guy you are. The kind of shoppers you're advertising yourself to are a fickle lot, making instant judgements and snap decisions. 
You have a few seconds at most to impress with your photo and your stats before you’re dismissed. It’s brutal. It’s awful. And I am as guilty as anyone of committing such awful brutality. 
Which is why find myself asking whether I would be so judgemental, and feel so judged by my own community, if I were straight? 
In the gay world you’re either too hairy, not hairy enough, too tall, too short, too defined, not defined enough, too camp, too smooth... the list goes on and on. It’s all just so shallow. 
And that’s aside from the label which you have to ascribe to yourself. Are you a jock (athletic)? A bear (hairy/stocky)? An otter (hairy/slimmer)? A daddy (older)? Or a twink (young/smooth)? 
Gay men have more bad labels than a branch of TK Maxx. For a community which has spent too many years fighting against discrimination, we spend an inordinate amount of discriminating against each other. 
Is the straight world like this? And if I genuinely had a choice, would I choose to live like this? 
Just to be clear, I don’t believe your sexuality is a choice, but is something you are born with. It chooses you. But that doesn’t stop me wondering "what if"? And that was the feeling behind my tweet. 
The gay community is a jungle. Why are we like that? Why are we so dismissive of those who aren’t perfect in our eyes? Why are we so abrupt? 
At the weekend I received a Grindr message. It read simply: “Big cock?” That’s the level of discourse gay men are reduced to on Grindr. I replied with a picture of the large ornamental cockerel in my garden, and was immediately blocked. 
Do straight people talk to each other like this, I wondered. Do straight people have a strict list of criteria that they will accept in a partner? I don’t believe they do. 
Is it because as gay people we grew up keeping our feelings secret and now we're making up for lost time by cutting to the chase? Do we demand perfection because for so long we felt far from perfect about ourselves? 
Has the inner shame of our upbringings, a fear of being judged by others, warped us into judgemental monsters now that our sexual desires are allowed to roam free? 
After posting my tweet, my timeline went mad. Some people agreed with me, for various reasons ("No one would choose to be a 2nd class citizen, no matter how liberal the country"), and some disagreed politely ("Totally disagree... I'm happy to be gay, would choose it if I could and think its a blessing"). 
But others were furious at my disloyalty. They felt I had demeaned the gay community to even think such a thing. 
At the other extreme, bigots would say that my question proves their point. That questioning being gay is proof enough that the gay lifestyle is wrong. 
But I stand by what I wrote. I think that the judgemental juggernaut that dominates gay culture is deeply unhealthy. It doesn't take a genius to work out that feeling judged constantly can make a person unhappy. 
Perhaps this is why gay men are twice as likely to have a mental health problem, or perhaps it even helps explain why nearly half of gay people have considered suicide. 
Don't get me wrong; there are countless wonderful things about being gay. It’s also brilliant that in 2014 we have finally got equal marriage, and that being gay continues to be "the new normal". 
But let's give each other a break. Many gay men have spent years fighting feelings of not belonging, of not being good enough. The last thing we need is other gay men sticking dumb labels on us and telling us that we're still not up to scratch. If we can move beyond that, hopefully people who are born gay won’t have to wonder whether their life would be easier if they were straight.

December 12, 2014

Study Shows How to convincingly explain to confused straights the person that you are


Conventional wisdom holds that changing the views of voters on divisive issues is difficult if not impossible—and that when change does occur, it is almost always temporary. 
But Michael LaCour, a UCLA doctoral candidate in political science, and Donald Green, a Columbia University political science professor, have demonstrated that a single conversation can go a long way toward building lasting  for a controversial social issue. In addition—nearly as surprisingly—the effect tends to spill over to friends and family members.
The key is putting  in direct contact with individuals who are directly affected by the issue. The findings are reported in a study that will be published Dec. 12 in the journal Science.
"You forget the message, but you remember the messenger," said LaCour, the study's lead author and a research affiliate at the California Center for Population Research at UCLA.
The issue LaCour and Green were studying was Americans' support for , but LaCour is in the process of replicating the results with another hot-button issue, abortion rights. He hopes to eventually test whether a similar approach could shift people's attitudes toward undocumented immigrants.
The project unfolded in 2013, during the month leading up to a U.S. Supreme Court decision that effectively overturned California's Proposition 8, which had outlawed same-sex marriage in 2008. The study evaluated a long-standing door-to-door campaign in support of gay marriage by the nonprofit Los Angeles LGBT Center.
LaCour and Green began by identifying California precincts that had supported the ban on gay marriage, eventually settling on an especially conservative area of Southern California. They then used voter rolls to invite every voter in those precincts, as well as their housemates, to participate in an Internet survey on politics, including only two questions about support for . (Involving housemates in the study would later allow the researchers to measure whether changes in voters' attitudes ultimately influence those in their social networks.) Eventually, researchers would survey the same 9,500 voters four times over the course of a year.  
Participants were randomly divided into three groups. One received house calls from specially trained LGBT Center canvassers who advocated gay marriage. Half of the canvassers were gay; the other half were straight.
A second group received visits from the same canvassers, but the canvassers discussed the benefits of recycling—not the topic of gay marriage. In these visits, the canvassers did not reveal whether they were gay or straight.
The third set was not visited by canvassers.
The gay marriage canvassers asked voters what they enjoyed about being married (if the subjects were married) or the benefits they'd witnessed in the lives of married friends and relatives (if they weren't). Gay canvassers then revealed their own sexual orientation and explained that they longed for the same benefits the interviewees had described, and straight canvassers discussed how they hoped a close relative who was gay could enjoy the benefits of marriage.
The average length of these conversations was only 22 minutes, but the visits had dramatic effects.
In follow-up surveys three days later, the researchers found that attitudes were unchanged among the voters who discussed recycling and those who weren't visited by the interviewers. But among those who spoke with canvassers about gay marriage, support had jumped eight percentage points.
"The change was equivalent to transforming a Midwesterner into a New Englander on the issue of gay marriage," quipped Green, a highly regarded authority on research methods in the social sciences.
Within three weeks, however,  kicked in: Support for gay marriage among the voters who had been approached by straight canvassers retreated to where it had originally been; any effect of the conversation had been wiped out. Among voters who had been approached by gay canvassers, however, the attitude shift persisted. In fact, support for gay marriage among that group grew even further when the Supreme Court handed down its decision—jumping an additional seven percentage points. The researchers also found that among these voters' the support remained a year later.
Green, a 27-year veteran researcher and author of four books and more than 100 studies, couldn't believe what LaCour had found. So he advised him to rerun the experiment. The second round replicated the original results.
"Previously, I've been really pessimistic about the prospect of changing someone's views, and that kind of pessimism suffuses much of the research on attitude change," Green said. "But the results of our study convinced me that enduring change is possible. They're eye-popping."
Housemates of voters who spoke to straight canvassers didn't change their attitudes on gay marriage. But the housemates of voters who had spoken with the gay canvassers registered a three percentage-point increase, and their support for gay marriage continued to rise throughout the following year, especially after the decision.
"This suggested to us that views were being reinforced by conversations going on in the household," Green said.
By the end of the year, support for gay marriage drifted slightly upward among the other voters in the study, reflecting the growing increased acceptance of gay marriage in the wake of the court's decision and its simultaneous overturn of the Defense of Marriage Act. But the increase in support for gay marriage among those who had been contacted by gay canvassers was five times higher than that of the other participants.
"When those being denied marriage equality have names and faces, hearts and minds are changed," LaCour said. “And that’s what we found."

December 3, 2014

God Dislikes Gays? Queer Theology: Teaching room from hetero privilege to gaydar and LGBTQ racism

Pamela Lightsey, here teaching Queer Theology, is Methodism’s only openly lesbian, African American minister. Photograph by Cydney Scott

Are stereotypes about gays—for example, that gay men talk, dress, or gesture differently than straight guys—bigoted blather? Or is there such a thing as reliable gaydar that helps people, including gays, to perceive others’ sexual orientation?
You might not expect openmindedness about stereotyping to come up in a seminar called Queer Theology, which studies questions about God and religion posed by gay, transgender, bisexual, and gender-questioning people, many of whom, according to teacher Pamela Lightsey, ask “does God hate me?” because of widespread prejudice.
Lightsey herself is, she says, the only openly lesbian, African American cleric in the United Methodist Church, and a fervent critic of stereotyping. But the associate dean at the School of Theology and clinical assistant professor of contextual theology is devoted to coming at an issue from all sides. Recently, her seven graduate students in the seminar wrestled with stereotyping as Lightsey posed the discussion topic, “What value have queer bodies within the church and society?”
The class conversation generally frowned on assumptions based on sexual orientation, until Thomas Gray (STH’16) put in a qualified good word for it.
“As a gay man who does not live in a world of all gay men,” distinguishing between straight and gay men is a safety matter, he said. At a party, he must rely on gaydar if he wants to approach a gay man. Were he to misjudge and proposition a heterosexual, “I’m going to get my ass kicked.”
“Have you ever hit on a man you thought was gay” but wasn’t? Lightsey parried.
“I was so disappointed,” Gray answered, getting laughs. Lightly gently pressed her point: “By your own admission, normativity has its limits.”
This discussion honed the class’s key lesson. “I want them to be able to articulate theologically what impact queers of faith may have upon the church and society,” Lightsey said in an interview. That means students must examine their own assumptions, realizing that no one, regardless of race, gender, or sexual orientation, “gets away without being influenced by these societal constructions” of stereotypes. Assumptions based on gender and sexual orientation, and the prejudice that flows from them, aren’t the only game she’s after; she devotes one class session to racism within the LGBTQ community.
Lightsey is not overly concerned with whether students agree with her. “I hope they are really affirming the queer community when they leave, but largely, I want them to have a response that’s theologically sound,” she said. For those who share her view that the church should affirm LGBTQ people, “I don’t want them to go about in their affirmation sounding like idiots.”
And those siding with condemnation of homosexuality? “IF—that’s a large capital I, large capital F—if a student can leave my class with a theological perspective that is anti the LGBTQ community, they’ve got to do some really solid work in the class to stand on that.” But she says she’s open to the possibility: “There are many classes at Boston University where students walk away with a different take on the subject matter than the professor. It’s called education.”
After class, Gray said that while sexual orientation wouldn’t be an issue in an ideal world, the one we actually live in is such that “assumptions of who is gay by means of appearance is judging with whom you can be safe.” The real problem, he said, comes with prejudice based on those assumptions—“judging someone as different than you and then treating them as ‘other.’”
The class, he said, has taught him that “we all have privilege, and we all have oppression. As an upper-middle-class white man who is gay, I cannot afford to believe that my sexual orientation is better or worse than someone else’s race or gender.”
Having disputed with her conservative sister about scriptural support for both condemning and embracing non-heterosexuals, Lightsey prefers not to play dueling biblical quotes, which she calls “cherry-picking.” Rather, she wants queer theology to rest on REST (her acronym for Reason, Experience, Scripture, Tradition). A multi-textured approach is necessary not only because conservative churches flat-out condemn homosexuality but also, Lightsey believes, because mainline churches, including Roman Catholicism and Methodism, preach a confusing message, damning homosexual acts as sin while exhorting members to love the sinner.
By being out about her own sexual orientation, and as a social justice activist, she hopes to be a role model for LGBTQ people. “When they look at my life and the work that I do, I hope that it gives them courage to be their most authentic selves, out,” she said in the interview.
Yet in a country whose courts and legislatures (and occasionally, voters) have given the green light to same-sex unions in state after state, Lightsey sees the unsettling (for believers) prospect that the Christian church—long a force for moral causes, such as abolition and economic justice—may have to play catch-up to secular society on this one.
“On a given day, sex is a small part of anybody’s life—really!—whether you be heterosexual or whether you be lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender,” she said. “But the church treats it as a large part of our life—too large, such that [the] church, as it relates to this issue, is really oppressive.…I actually hope that the church will be prophetic on this, that it will be, [as] Martin Luther King said, the headlight, not the taillight. But right now, unfortunately, the church is lagging behind public policy.”
Queer Theology will be offered again next year during the Summer I session.

November 13, 2014

College Crew Team Gets Naked to Fight Homophobia and Bullying

It’s been an enormously exciting week for both the Warwick Rowers and for Sport Allies. And we’re not the only ones excited by last week’s London calendar launch with top actor Sir Ian McKellen – the media have been picking up our story and sharing it all over the world.
We’re all big fans of Buzzfeed here at the boathouse, and we are humbled and flattered that they seem to like us back! Buzzfeed writer Sam Stryker reported that The Naked Rowers are Back and Hotter Than Ever. Sam says: “Just unveiled the 2015 calendar and boy, let’s just say HOMOPHOBIA DOESN”T STAND A CHANCE!” Thank you, Sam!
The mighty Huffington Post also weighed in with Naked Warwick Men’s Rowing Team Make a Splash to Fight Homophobia while The Mail Online headlined the boys with a Phw-oar: Warwick rowers strip off for racy new naked calendar and some prime coverage. As one reader commented: “That just cheered me right up.”
Our local LGBT paper Midlands Zone covered the launch with Sir Ian McKellen and pointed out that Sir Ian is an enthusiastic supporter of Sport Allies.
Winq, the luxury lifestyle for gay men magazine, extensively covered the launch of the 2015 calendar hosted by Sir Ian McKellen at the May Fair hotel in London.
But let’s go back to Sam Stryker’s fun piece in Buzzfeed; how did the Buzzfeed readers rate the photos? It got a 95% YAAASS, which is pretty good.
Now, as Sam says: “it’s your civic duty as a good person to appreciate these British bums.” We agree, and if you want to appreciate our bums, they’re available for viewing in our calendars, films, greeting cards and bonus image downloads. So why not go to directly to our shop and have a look for yourself!
College Crew Team Disrobes to Fight Homophobia and Bullying
Muscled men baring it all to support a good cause? What’s not to like? (Photo by Angus Malcolm for the Warwick Rowers Club)
The guys of the Warwick Rowers Club— the crew team of the University of Warwick in central England — are rocking the boat with a naked calendar that features tasteful nude photographs of their fit bodies to help fight homophobia.
Since 2009, the team has been producing a yearly nude calendar to support its club. But after learning that many of their fans were gay men, this year the team created Sport Allies, a program that reaches out to young people challenged by bullying, homophobia and low self-esteem. 

(Photo by Angus Malcolm for the Warwick Rowers Club)

Managing Editor, Yahoo Health
"With our new Sport Allies initiative, we are making a clear commitment to give an absolute minimum of 10 percent of all profits from every single product we sell," the team said on its website. 
Previous calendars have raised more than $300,000 and are now sold in 77 countries. 
And they are giving more than money. “Equally importantly, everyone involved in the project, including our professional associates, is committing to give contracted minimum volunteering time to making Sport Allies happen,” said the team. 


(Photo by Angus Malcolm for the Warwick Rowers Club)
For its 2015 calendar, the team created a video, featuring outtakes from the shoot (think: spraying hoses at each other) with rowers narrating their story. “We’re getting naked to make a point,” said one rower in the video. 
"Regardless of your gender or sexuality we are inviting you into that moment with us," said another.  
You can purchase the 2015 calendar, or stationery, posters and prints at  

(Photo by Angus Malcolm for the Warwick Rowers Club)
Though the team has become best known for its naked calendars, they’ve been around since 1966 and have produced Olympic and world-class competitive rowers.
The university’s women’s team also bares all for charity, with 20 percent of its calendar sales benefiting Macmillan Cancer Support.

September 19, 2014

Gay Education will solve the issue of Homophobia in England and other places


Sex and relationship education (SRE) is failing millions of pupils. Many will return to school this month to receive mostly inadequate SRE. A survey of teenagers by the Sex Education Forum in 2013 found that a quarter of young people said their SRE was either “good” or “very good”, but slightly more (27%) said it was “bad” or “very bad”. The remainder (48%) rated their SRE as “OK”, well short of a positive endorsement. No wonder Ofsted describes SRE as “not yet good enough”.

For lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) pupils, the quality of SRE is even lower. One in three gay men diagnosed with HIV in 2012 were in their teens or early 20s, yet more than three-quarters of gay and bisexual young people receive no information at school about same-sex relationships or gay safer sex, according to the 2014 Metro report,Youth Chances. These failings border on child neglect, and have prompted a coalition of LGBTI, sexual health and HIV campaigners to this week publish an open letter to party leaders, MPs and the government, which urges that age-appropriate SRE be made compulsory in all schools – and be required by law to address the needs of LGBTI young people. SRE isn’t mandatory at present, and in most cases doesn’t include LGBTI issues.
The signatories, which include Conservative peer Lord Fowler, TV presenter Christian Jessen, the Terrence Higgins Trust, Stonewall, the Lesbian & Gay Foundation, the National Aids Trust and the Peter Tatchell Foundation, stress that shortcomings in most schools are failing the welfare and needs of young LGBTI people and contributing to poor standards of sexual health and mental well-being, including preventable HIV infections.

The letter supports the Sex Education Forum’s campaign, It’s My Right, which is urging the government to guarantee every pupil in every school high quality sex and relationship education. This initiative coincides with the deliberations of the education select committee and a private members bill by Green MP Caroline Lucas, which is scheduled to be debated in parliament next month, with the aim of legally obliging all schools to provide SRE.
Cliff Joannou, editor of QX magazine, who originated the idea of the coalition letter, said: “It’s shocking that in the 21st century schools are still not required to give children and teenagers the education they need to make informed decisions about their sexual health and relationships. In addition, omitting LGBTI relationships from SRE means that too many children and teenagers grow up feeling further alienated by society.”

Kat Smithson, policy and campaign manager at the National Aids Trust, said: ”One in three 16-24-year-olds tell us they don’t know enough to prevent HIV transmission during sex, and at the same time HIV diagnoses amongst young gay men have doubled over the past 10 years. Unless we start teaching young people in school about sexual health and about same-sex relationships then we will only see these numbers increasing.”

So true, which is why I can’t fathom the government’s hesitancy on this issue. Sexual and emotional literacy are just as important as literacy in reading and writing. Education is, after all, supposed to prepare young people for later life. Sex and relationships are a very important part of adulthood. Why, then, is SRE education neglected in so many schools?
All pupils deserve lessons that empower them to make wise, responsible decisions to ensure their sexual health and happiness and to reduce the incidence of unwanted teenage pregnancies, abortions and HIV. 

September 12, 2014

Gay Groups are Adjusting from Gay Marriage to Public Opinion in the South


Just three months ago, Rob Hill was a Methodist pastor with a burning secret. But as a swampy heat took hold one recent morning, he put on a suit, climbed into his car and headed into this river town on a mission that would have been unthinkable not long ago: promoting gay rights in rural Mississippi.
It’s hardly the most audacious thing he’s done this year. In July, after 12 years in the clergy, Hill came out of the closet — not at an intimate gathering around his kitchen table, or to friends on Facebook, but at a news conference orchestrated by the Human Rights Campaign, a Washington-based gay-advocacy organization that is pouring $9.5 million into an effort to push the needle of public opinion in the Deep South.
It is part of a broader shift within the gay rights movement, which has turned much of its attention away from same-sex marriage now that it is legal in 19 states and the District and is a question likely to be settled by the Supreme Court. The focus has shifted to improving job protections, passing local anti-discrimination ordinances, bolstering the rights of gay parents, reducing anti-gay bullying in schools and nudging change in places that have resisted it. Hill is now the face of that campaign in Mississippi, a state that has remained largely untouched by the recent wave of gay rights victories. So all summer, he has been going from town to town like this, to coffee shops and living rooms, coaxing quiet gays into becoming a little louder and a little angrier, urging local officials to be on what he describes as the right side of history.  
He has been encouraged by the initial victories — for example, when leaders in the coastal town of Waveland unanimously passed an anti-discrimination resolution, presenting the document at a meeting with a little rainbow flag printed on the bottom. But the road forward is steep. This is Mississippi, after all, a state that embodies the values of the Bible Belt.     

That was apparent even in ­Natchez, a community of graceful antebellum homes huddled along the Mississippi River, known to be relatively welcoming to gays. But neither the mayor nor a well-known liberal alderman had accepted an invitation to meet with Hill on this trip. At a coffee shop, card-carrying liberals nodded vigorously as Hill spoke but hesitated when asked if they would propose an anti-discrimination ordinance.
Even many local gays expressed a reluctance to rock the boat, satisfied with a kind of truce that had been struck. At the Cotton Alley Cafe, a funky little restaurant with mismatched chairs and artwork cluttering the walls, owner Guy Bass said he was sympathetic to Hill’s efforts but unsure of how aggressive he wanted to be in asserting his presence.
“We’ve just lived our lives here,” Bass, 55, told Hill. “We’re not out, I guess, but everyone knows we’re gay, and they support our restaurant, thank God. We don’t shove anything down people’s throats, and it’s worked out for us.”
Bass’s partner for 35 years, David Browning, 53, put it a little differently: “It’s great here — as long as you don’t put the pinky out.”
But being open and demanding equal treatment is exactly what the Human Rights Campaign is hoping Browning and others in the region eventually will do. The group set up permanent offices in Mississippi, Arkansas and Alabama this summer in the hopes of swaying public opinion in a region that has been resisting the tide of gay rights.
“The reality is that a lot of that progress has been limited to the coasts and a few bright dots in the middle,” said Brad Clark, head of the multi-state program, called Project One America
There is reason for the group to be optimistic. Over the past year, eight small towns across Mississippi have passed resolutions meant to create a welcoming atmosphere for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people. Most of them passed unanimously.
The group’s work will probably run into resistance from organizations espousing more conservative social values that have traditionally had more sway here, especially since the Human Rights Campaign is a Washington-based group with ample resources and ties to the Democratic Party.
“States of the so-called Bible Belt are kind of the stronghold for our position for holding firm against some of what we sometimes refer to as the homosexual agenda,” said Peter Sprigg, senior fellow for policy studies at the Family Research Council. “We intend to work closely with our allies there to resist some of these efforts.”
Tim Wildmon, president of the American Family Association, a conservative Christian group based in Tupelo, Miss., that owns more than 200 radio stations across the country, said he was skeptical that the Human Rights Campaign would be successful. “Mississippians are not going to be swayed, I think, by this group coming in, in terms of their personal beliefs on GLBT,” he said. But he challenged the organization to try.
For now, though, the campaign is less of a fight than a soft pitch, made by charismatic characters such as Hill, 39, a lifelong Mississippi resident with a receding hairline and absorbing blue eyes.
While many friends knew he was gay, it was not something he broadcast publicly — the United Methodist Church does not allow openly gay ministers. Had he come out, he would have been forced to resign and surrender his credentials — a gut punch after so many years in the pulpit. 
But last fall, the pressure of keeping this secret became too great a burden. He began to envision leaving, not just the church but Mississippi altogether. His partner of six years got a job in New York City, and the two were there, about to sign a lease for an apartment in Washington Square, when it simultaneously dawned on them.
“We had the paperwork in our hands and said, ‘Let’s not do it,’ ” he recalled. “We have friends here, family here, and the truth is it’s not a bad place. . . . We realized, this is our home. We shouldn’t have to leave it to live authentic lives.”
It was around that time that the Human Rights Campaign began its work in Mississippi, and eventually the group asked him to head the project. His job would be to meet lots and lots of people. He would help shepherd local resolutions and cultivate relationships with religious leaders — friendly and not — and collaborate with a lobbyist in the capital to resist anti-gay legislation and push favorable bills.
Hill quit the church and took the position. Since then, he has put on 15 pounds, which he attributed to stress. He has lost some friends and gained a whole lot more. He has all but stopped going to church. And he has become addicted to pulpy top-40 country music: Just outside ­Natchez, Hill cranked up the radio and shook his shoulders when the car radio blared Joe Nichols’s “Tequila Makes Her Clothes Fall Off.”
His first stop was the Natchez Coffee Co., where taco soup was on the menu and a group of regulars huddled at a pair of tables — the liberals at one, the conservatives at the other. At the second table was a 79-year-old retired stockbroker from New York who was baffled that a Washington-based group would try to infiltrate this community of 18,000 residents. “This is a perfect little town,” said the man, who declined to give his name. “There are no class distinctions. No crime. The kids generally grow up nicely with good educations. Why would anyone come in here and try to change it? Things are just fine.”
Hill’s purpose is not to challenge his foes but to find friends. So he had arranged a meeting with Mary Jane Reed Gaudet, a seventh-generation Natchezian and a local mover and shaker who is known for her embrace of progressive causes. She had assembled a group of local gays and activists, including the community-theater director who had caused a stir with his production of “La Cage aux Folles,” a musical centering on the lives of a flamboyant gay couple.
They told Hill that their town was surprisingly accepting. When a local publication outed an area official whose mother didn’t even know he was gay, the community hardly blinked, they said.
Hill asked if they would ­propose an anti-discrimination measure to the local board.
“It’s very accepting here, but it’s just not something you talk about,” Gaudet said, expressing her preference for “indirectly approaching conflicting feelings, whether it be race relations or gay and lesbian things.”
His final meeting of the day was more encouraging. Margaret Perkins, 56, whose family owns the local radio station, and her partner, René Adams, 48, said they were in favor of an anti-
discrimination measure as well as more-binding state laws that would prevent employers from being able to fire employees for being gay. Perkins recalled the times when she had held her tongue while her co-workers prattled on about their weekends, fearful she might slip up while telling some mundane story and inadvertently reveal she is gay. “Why should I act like I don’t have a life?” she said.
But the couple suggested a more circuitous route rather than directly taking a resolution to town leaders. Why not start with a pitch to the tourism board that being gay-friendly is good for business?
Hill said it was a good idea and agreed to come back another time, when the pair would throw him a fete to meet more locals — and perhaps set up a meeting with that progressive alderman he missed this time around.

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