HRC Blog

GUEST POST: Back to School: How to Make Progress in Your Local School System – Part 1 of 4

The following post is a guest post from David Fishback, Advocacy Chair for the Metro DC Chapter of PFLAG, with opening comments from HRC’s Family Project Director, Ellen Kahn:

As voters across the U.S. prepare to vote in primary elections next week, and coverage of the critically important November mid-term elections permeates every news channel, a reminder about the importance of school board elections to our community is timely. LGBT voters and our allies have a vested interest in the outcomes of school board elections, whether or not you are parents or have any connection to you local public schools.  Why?  Through state legislative enactment, school boards give local citizens the authority to develop school policy, rules and regulations, to hire school superintendents and to make decisions about curriculum and extracurricular activities for elementary, middle and high schools in their district.  School boards serve an important purpose and ensure that schools are meeting the needs of the students in their local communities, but when school board members are guided by ideology, they can block implementation of LGBT-inclusive anti-bullying programs, sexuality education and STI/HIV prevention programs.

Ralph Reed, former head of the Christian Coalition once said that he would rather see his candidates win 100 school board elections than the White House.  This four-part series by David Fishback provides deeper insight into the role of school boards and the ways in which we can all advocate effectively for positive change in our schools.     Back to School: How to Make Progress in Your Local School System – Part One of Four by David S. Fishback As the school year begins, it is a good time to think about what is needed to protect LGBT children and the children of LGBT parents. What schools do in their health education curricula and in their guidance offices can be vital.  The deafening silence of our schools regarding matters of sexual orientation that was the near universal approach in the recent past was never wise, and is certainly no longer viable.  A number of public school systems are demonstrating that providing accurate information on sexual orientation is the appropriate way to proceed. Yet, many school systems may be afraid to deal with these issues.  School board members and school administrators are often leery of getting into the middle of the "culture wars" or seeming to promote some suspect "gay agenda." So in preparing to raise these issues with your local school system, you should be ready to define the "gay agenda" in education: It is simply to enable students to understand what our mainstream medical and mental health care professional associations have concluded, specifically, that being gay is not an illness, that "reparative" or "conversion" therapies are dangerous and destructive, that LGBT people can live happy and healthy lives, and that children of LGBT parents do just fine.  We need to convey to school officials that these conclusions are not ideological positions, but are, rather, the collective wisdom of the mainstream scientific and medical community. In 2008, the American Psychological Association distributed to thousands of public school systems an excellent publication, Just the Facts About Sexual Orientation and Youth:  A Primer for Principals, Educators, and School Personnel, endorsed by a wide range of health care and school professional groups, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American School Counselor Association, the American School Health Association, the National Association of School Psychologists, and the National Association of Secondary School Principals.  I

t is essential that local boards of education and school administrators be aware of Just the Facts. It is vitally important to stress that the concepts set forth in Just the Facts follow the conclusions of every mainstream medical and mental health professional association, including the American Medical Association, which has come out foursquare in opposition to "reparative" or "conversion" therapies.  See AMA Policy Number H-160.991 Health Care Needs of the Homosexual Population, available here. This is particularly significant in light of the efforts by groups like Focus on the Family to oppose anti-bullying programs, which they argue are a way to press the "gay agenda." Indeed, Focus on the Family ignores the authorship of Just the Facts and instead incorrectly asserts that Just the Facts is a publication of GLSEN.  In so doing, Focus on the Family seeks to create the impression that this is just a dispute among ‘interest groups.” What the right wing groups seek to do is to create a scientific dispute when, in fact, no such dispute exists. This is related to the right wing’s reliance on statements from a group calling itself the “American College of Pediatricians,” a tiny ideological fringe outfit which objects to the conclusions of the American Academy of Pediatrics (which is the mainstream professional association for pediatricians).   It is essential to show school officials that the dispute is not between contending "interest groups," but rather, between the mainstream medical community and theologically-driven groups like Focus on the Family. The experience in Montgomery County, Maryland – a suburb of Washington, D.C. – provides a blueprint of how to make progress, as well as the game plan of the right-wing to derail such progress.  This case study will be discussed in this space the next two days, followed by a summary of lessons learned.

The author is Advocacy Chair for the Metro DC Chapter of PFLAG, and served as Chair of the Montgomery County (Maryland) Board of Education’s Citizens Advisory Committee on Family Life and Human Development in 2003-05.  He may be reached at FishbackPFLAG@gmail.com

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