Hundreds turn out to talk about LGBT lessons
An overflow crowd turned out Tuesday night to offer their views on Alameda Unified’s proposed lessons to combat anti-gay bullying.
More than 200 people signed speaker slips to tell the school board (sans Niel Tam, who was absent) what they think of the lessons, and the board took three and a half hours of testimony.
So many people signed up to speak, the board decided to hold another hearing to deal exclusively with the issue (in large part to accommodate people who got kicked out of the packed council chamber for safety reasons). It’ll be at 6:30 p.m. Monday, May 18, at a location to be confirmed (the middle schools they ah hoped to use weren’t available; I’ll update you with the full details when they’re available).
Those who favor the lessons said they represent an important step toward stopping anti-gay slurs and bullying, something they said teachers have few tools to combat right now. And they also provide visibility to a group of people who are not represented in a positive way in the schools.
They said the use of anti-gay slurs starts early, and the damage they cause is serious: gay youth and those who are targeted by anti-gay bullying are much more likely to skip school, abuse drugs and alcohol and commit suicide than those who aren’t.
The curriculum is not about sex, they said, but about respecting people’s differences.
“Just because you (teach) tolerance doesn’t automatically mean the child will become a gay or a lesbian. It is more that they learn tolerance is an important aspect of being a human being,” Ray Piwakar, a supporter of the curriculum, said.
But opponents said the lessons represent a political and cultural point of view that not everybody shares, and they feel that by validating gay relationships in the classroom, the district is violating parents’ right to teach their children otherwise. They said they fear their children will be harassed for not going along.
Some questioned whether the district has the legal right to require students to take the lessons, which they said should include a broader array of groups. And they want the right to opt out.
The district’s legal counsel said the district should provide parents notice of the lessons, but should not provide an option to opt out of them.
Thomas Chow told the board he’s worried his daughter will be labeled a “bigot” and a “hater” if she disagrees with the lessons in the plan. He thinks the district should allow him to opt out of the lessons.
“Children are cruel to those who are different. And they need to be taught respect to all people,” Chow said. “This curriculum doesn’t do that. It endorses one particular viewpoint, that the LGBT lifestyle is normal and respectable.”
The hearing drew representatives of two conservative, Sacramento-based interest groups; a lineup of TV trucks; congregants from churches that are both for and against; people whose kids aren’t even born yet – and a guy in a devil suit (pictured).
The school board is slated to make a decision on the proposed curriculum on May 26.