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LGBT curriculum battle heats up

Submitted by on 1, March 26, 2009 – 6:50 am8 Comments

The debate over Alameda Unified’s plans to introduce lessons about sexual orientation and gender identity at the Island’s elementary schools is intensifying. Members of an online group for the Island’s gay community are urging support for the proposal, while someone claiming to represent a group of  “concerned parents” has set up a website making their case in opposition of the plan.

The author or authors of the website, which was advertised in the Alameda Journal on Friday, say the district’s proposed curriculum is not appropriate for elementary school students, and that they think that its lessons should be taught at home, not school. And they want to see other groups included.

From the site:

While the stated intent is to ensure that our schools are free from bullying and prejudice, the new curriculum is, in reality, an overt promotion for the homosexual lifestyle. It appears to be advocacy for homosexual causes that goes beyond the mission of providing safe schools.

I e-mailed the contact for the site, who said they started it because they think the district has been dismissive of some parents’ concerns about the proposed curriculum. They did not offer their name and said their group does not have a spokesperson who could be named.

Here’s what they said:

Concerned Parents has chosen not to have a spokesperson due to the unsafe school community environment that has resulted from the AUSD’s promotional material for the proposed curriculum. Parents who have concerns are being labeled “close-minded or bigoted,” but a spokesperson risks damage to career, home or life. Some of us have parents who have asked us not to make our names public to protect the safety and academic futures of their grandchildren.

They said the group started out at one school and has since spread to other schools, but did not identify the school and would not say how many parents were involved.

I also checked in with Leland Traiman, a gay father of two who is one of several people who have recently urged support of the plan on an e-mail network for the Island’s gay residents. And he said that the issues raised on the site are, in fact, a smokescreen for hatred of gays. He dismissed opponents of the proposed curriculum as a very vocal minority of Alamedans.

“Anyone who has looked at this program and is not a bigot shouldn’t have a problem,” Traiman said.

He said the lessons are useful for everyone, including children from gay-headed families, children of heterosexual couples who are gay and children who could be tempted to bully without the lessons.

“They don’t have to like other people. They just have to learn to live in peace,” Traiman said.

The district started working on the curriculum, part of a broader anti-violence curriculum it presents in the first trimester of school, last year. Earlier this year, district staff presented the proposed lessons at two schools and did individual presentations at some elementary schools (though for what it’s worth, they said they scheduled one at the school where we attend and I didn’t receive any notification about it).

The school board is getting an update based on parent feedback on April 28, hold a public hearing on May 12 and make a decision on May 26.

As of Tuesday morning, the district received more than 200 e-mails on the proposal, with 108 supporting the lessons, 94 opposing them and 18 expressing concerns about the process, per school board president Mike McMahon’s website.

His website, by the way, has the complete rundown on the process so far, plus links to the lesson plans and the text of all the e-mails the district has received. (The district has some of that information on its main page, too.)

McMahon had no comment on the brouhaha. Superintendent Kirsten Vital said she has seen the website and appreciates all the feedback the district is getting.

Per Vital:

We are in the process of revising the lessons based on the feedback.  We just met with elementary principals and will begin grade level teacher focus groups soon. I believe that by the time we get to the BOE meeting we will have refined the great work that was done by the LGBT committee into lessons that are custom made for the Alameda schools.

As always, I’ll keep you posted.

8 Comments »

  • AD says:

    “Anyone who has looked at this program and is not a bigot shouldn’t have a problem,” Traiman said.

    There is a huge problem with this statement. I don't know Mr. Traiman, but anyone who is willing to declare anyone in disagreement with him a bigot does not understand, practice, or promote tolerance. "Us versus them" is not going to help anyone, let alone teach kids anything positive.

  • Doug Biggs says:

    At tonight's meeting of the Social Services Human Relations Board(of which I am a member) will be discussing a request to co-host a community meeting with AUSD regarding the curriculum.

  • Jayne Smythe says:

    If there were no double standards, identity politics would be unnecessary.

    Let's bring people together by promoting one standard for all.

    Let's get rid of identity politics, which promotes legislating a standard for only one group at a time.

  • kel says:

    I agree with AD 100%. If I were a proponent of this curriculum (I’m not) I would distance myself very quickly from Mr. Traiman’s rabble rousing comments.

  • Leland Traiman says:

    The lesbian and gay tolerance curriculum proposed for the Alameda School teaches about different kinds of families and different kinds of people. Some of the lessons do not even mention lesbians or gay men. Rather, they speak of tolerance for diversity and how bullying is wrong. The San Leandro School District implemented this program several years ago and the amount of bullying has decreased significantly resulting in saved staff time and fewer suspensions. The curriculum is two 30 minute lessons per year. Not much to get excited about, particularly in Alameda which voted 68% last November in favor of same-sex marriage.

    Unfortunately, the 32% are a very vocal minority. Their phoney concerns about wasting school time and singling out one group for special treatment are thinly veiled excuses for their animus toward lesbians and gay men. The fact is, as San Leandro has learned, school time is saved with such programs and other minorities are already singled out in our schools for special programs. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is used to learn about African-American culture as well as our country’s horrible history of slavery and denial of civil rights. Chinese New Year is used to celebrate the many Asian cultures which Alameda is home to.

    Ironically, their hatred will hurt their own families as much as it hurts the families of lesbians and gay men. 10% of the population is gay or lesbian. Just like the rest of the population, 90% of the children of lesbians and gay men grow up to be heterosexual. We comprise fewer than 10% of Alameda’s parents. Since 10% of all children turn out homosexual or bisexual, the vast majority of those future gay and bisexual citizens will be the children of heterosexual parents. Additionally, children who victimize gay and bisexual children are also from heterosexual parents. When one child victimizes another, both children and both their families suffer consequences. Therefore, most mature adults realize that this welcoming, anti-bullying curriculum will help heterosexual parents far more than Alameda’s gay and lesbian parents. Unfortunately, prejudice blinds people to reality, often to their own detriment.

    Additionally, to believe what curriculum opponents say, that this is “promoting the homosexual agenda” is to paint a totally unbelievable picture of the AUSD’s administration. AUSD Assistant Superintendent Debbie Wong is a long time public school professional bureaucrat. She understands what is age appropriate, she is calm, well measured and the antithesis of radical. She helped create this curriculum. She supports its implementation. She is also not gay. Are we to believe that “those pushing the homosexual agenda” have hypnotized her and her support staff? The opponents have tried to create their own straw man so they can knock it down. Their characterization of the curriculum has little contact with reality. They ask reasonable people to believe in their absurd objections. The concerns the opponents articulate is for a curriculum that does not exist except in their bizarre interpretation of reality which is warped by their hatred. I trust most Alamedans will not buy into their bizarre objections but will examine the facts and realize just how innocuous this curriculum is.

    This vocal minority of bigots are entitled to their freedom of speech. But the vast majority of tolerant, welcoming Alamedans should politely ignore their rants because our community and our children deserve better.

    Sincerely,
    Leland Traiman

  • Jon Spangler says:

    I just visited the "concerned parents" web site, and I am not impressed that it is anonymous. Anonymity is the refuge of people who harass, criticize, and detract–without benefit of accountability–from the margins, IMHO. (That is why letters to the editor must always be signed. I have written a few, and I always sign my name to my views.)

    I volunteered at Franklin Elementary School for three years as a noon supervisor, and also helped with Safe Routes to School and Walk 'n' Roll to School. In that short time I saw plenty of instances of students who did not understand or accept their school mates who were from "different" families. The proposed curriculum is NOT inappropriate for what Alameda school kids already know and talk about on the playground, nor will it harm them in any way, based on what I have seen.

    Reflecting back on my own elementary school years, I would have given my right arm to have been taught a curriculum like this that promotes tolerance. It has been a long, difficult struggle for me to overcome the gender, race, orientation, and social biases that were "in the air" when I was growing up in Redwood City during the 1950s-1960s, and today's kids deserve to have a much more enlightened start in life.

  • Matt McFall says:

    People like Leland Traiman instantly label anyone critical of the LGBT curriculum a "biggot" while also claiming to be open-minded. He states that "bullying is wrong" but consistently reverts to lowly name calling and put downs. He states that "hatred and prejudice blinds people" who are against the proposed addition to the "Safe Schools" lessons. Slow down, Leland. Do the math. You will see that a significant portion of No on 8 voters is siding against you on the curriculum issue. Are they all to be labeled a homophobe bigot as well? The fact is, a person can accept a decision between two adults and still have a different opinion when it comes to involving five year-olds. As for the hatred issue, based on your other online posts and blogs it appears you may be the one driven by hatred- just a thought. (And stop threatening and badgering every PTA that accepts the Boy Scouts on school grounds. It makes you look mean).

    The existing curriculum satisfies all legal obligations and addresses all groups equally. Name calling and the threat of litigation against a school district for not adopting a special program is just more bullying.

    Matt McFall

  • S. Shin says:

    This issue is not an LGBT or a safety issue, but an education issue. Schools need to be schools and teach kids math and English. I would oppose this measure for the same reason I would oppose any measure that forces teachers to take time out from their required curriculum to teach good personal hygiene, nutrition, or manners. These are good things and I am all for them, but I am not going to require our teachers to take away 2 lessons to teach these things. Opposing such a measure does not make me an ill-mannered, uncouth, emaciated–or a bigotted–person.

    I voted against Prop 8–while I would like proper respect promoted in schools, let us not require teachers to do jobs we parents ought to do–or in this case jobs we want other parents to do with their kids. Do not force our teachers to take time away from lessons in math to do so, and do not label them bigots because they want to teach math.

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