My husband and I love being the fun
“gay uncles” to our nieces and nephews. When we got married our
oldest niece was too young to travel to the ceremony, but our family
has always been loving, accepting and honest about her married gay
Growing up in this environment, we were
surprised when she would sometimes laugh or exclaim “only boys and
girls get married” when we referred to each other as “husband.”
We would gently explain that sometimes two boys or two girls who
love each other get married too.
Privately, we were concerned. Was she
hearing homophobic messages at her elementary school?
Unfortunately, that is more likely than
you may think. Disturbing results from a new survey from the Gay,
Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN) found that the use
of the word “gay” in a negative way, as in “that’s so gay,”
was one of the most common forms of bias language heard regularly by
nearly 50% of elementary school students and teachers. Over 25% of
elementary school students and teachers also reported regularly
hearing homophobic remarks like “fag” or “lesbo.”
Yes, in elementary schools.
The anti-LGBT crusaders at Focus on the
Family, the $120 million per year organization supporting America’s
culture wars, helped perfect the “what about the children?”
message of fear used to prevent policies that would address bullying
and enable kids like our niece to learn age-appropriate information
about LGBT people in their school’s library and curricula.
A recent video message from Focus on
the Family attacked “Uncle Bobby’s Wedding,” a children’s
book about a young girl whose uncle marries his boyfriend. It also
demonized “Ready, Set, Respect!,” a curricular resource from
GLSEN created in collaboration with the National Association of
Elementary School Principles that includes lesson plans addressing
name-calling and bullying.
GLSEN’s survey shows that anti-LGBT
bullying begins at much younger ages. Children can learn homophobia
from their families, friends, political leaders, and faith
communities, and even though their personal understanding of sexual
orientation and gender identity may be years away, they often target
peers at school who are different or do not conform to gender
Anti-bullying programs need to begin in
elementary school to protect children experiencing verbal and
physical abuse that can lead to low grades, truancy, higher rates of
drug abuse and risky sex when they are teenagers, and even suicide.
There is hope. A study of data from the
Preventing School Harassment survey in California found that students
in schools with LGBT-inclusive curricula felt safer and were less
likely to report anti-LGBT bullying.
This is why we need to stand our ground
when extremist groups like Focus on the Family rant about
“homosexuals recruiting school children.” This ridiculous scare
tactic, used to prevent anti-bullying laws or ban books like “Uncle
Bobby’s Wedding,” is actually their Achilles Heel.
Support for protecting all youth,
regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, is not just
empirical, it’s moral.
Anyone who stands in the way,
regardless of the “family values” they claim to represent, is at
least enabling if not contributing to the physical and mental abuse
of children in schools across the country.
“What about the children?” is not
their winning argument. It is ours.
An elementary school teacher empowered
to intervene when students use the word “gay” in a disparaging
way can save lives. The availability of a book at the school library
like “Uncle Bobby’s Wedding” enables children to learn about
same-sex couple families, including perhaps their own.
Like “uncle Bobby,” my husband and
I love our niece and were relieved to find out the real reason why
she reacted strangely to our marriage at such a young age.
During a trip in the car she insisted
on repeatedly listening to one of her Disney Princesses CDs. Obsessed
with these fairy-tale girls who always marry a prince, we realized
that we were her only example of a married, same-sex couple.
Laughing at the simplicity of the issue
and our own insecurities, we drove away happily ever after. All of
America’s school children deserve the same.
[Editor's Note: Jason Cianciotto is the
co-author with Sean Cahill of the new book LGBT
Youth in America's Schools. You can reach Cianciotto at
Copyright 2012 Jason Cianciotto