California public schools are desperately trying to figure out how to incorporate lesson plans highlighting the contributions of individuals who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender in light of July's passage of a bill requiring them to do so.
"I'm not sure how we plug it into the curriculum at the grade school level, if at all," said Paul Boneberg, executive director at the GLBT Historical Society in San Francisco.
School districts will have little help in navigating this sensitive and controversial change, which has already prompted some parents to pull their children out of public schools.
The Legislature suspended all adoptions of instructional material through eighth grade until 2015 to save money. Any new textbook with LGBT content is not likely to land in schools until at least 2019 because that process usually takes a minimum of four years, according to a state Education Department spokeswoman.
That's right, parents. Don't let your kids grow up to be people who acknowledge the existence of the LGBT community. Hell, take them out of public school so they never find out there is one! Besides, if there were ever a great place to hide from LGBT folk, it's definitely in California.
In 2005, L.A. Unified debuted the nation's first chapter in a high school health textbook on LGBT issues covering sexual orientation and gender identity, struggles over them and anti-LGBT bias. A section on misconceptions says sexual orientation is not a choice - a statement many religious conservatives disagree with.
Those topics, educators say, are clearly inappropriate at the younger ages, raising tough questions about how to carry out the new law in elementary school.
So sensitive is the subject that a children's picture book about a same-sex penguin pair is one of the most controversial books in America today. "And Tango Makes Three" - based on a true story about two male penguins at New York's Central Park Zoo that bond, hatch a surrogate egg and raise a baby together - has drawn the most complaints and requests for removal from library shelves nearly every year since its 2005 publication, according to the American Library Assn.
Chiasson said LGBT topics are controversial because people conflate them with sex - and, for religious conservatives, sin. "People sexualize homosexuality and romanticize heterosexuality," she said.
The Safe Schools Coalition, an educational support group for LGBT youth, says the only age-appropriate lessons in elementary school involve family diversity, gender stereotypes and anti-bullying.
That's Judy Chiasson, coordinator for human relations, diversity and equity, and it's also a damn fine point.
Whenever the idea of teaching children about homosexuality is discussed in this way, it's almost always sexualized yet these same critics seem to have no problem discussing heterosexual reproduction with children and for what reason? Is it simply for the purposes of procreation?
If so, you could then argue that school children are too young to learn about ANYTHING having to do with procreation or sex, heterosexual or homosexual. But of course, few people are arguing that. They're just going to continue to not talk about it while more and more LGBT kids are bullied and harassed.
Fortunately, some schools are making an effort to educate kids on these matters despite the critics.
Sex education begins in fifth grade, so more specific LGBT instruction is considered appropriate - and necessary, experts say, as bullying steps up in these years. That happened at Downtown Magnets High School, where a lesbian student was beaten up on a school bus in 2005. The school responded by launching an anti-bullying poster campaign, a Gay-Straight Alliance club, staff sessions about inclusiveness and a conscious effort by some teachers to integrate LGBT issues into instruction.
An art history teacher includes portraits of same-sex couples in her studies. An English teacher has discussed writer Langston Hughes, who is widely believed to have been gay. And in 11th grade U.S. history, Daniel Jocz covers LGBT issues, especially during the unit on 20th century civil rights movements.
Using video clips of Kanye West, Tyra Banks and other celebrities, Jocz engages his students in lively discussions about language - including the taunt "that's gay." His students study the LGBT resistance to police arrests in the Stonewall riots alongside Rosa Parks' refusal to sit in the back of the bus. And the murder cases of Emmett Till, an African American teenager, and Matthew Shepard, a gay college student, are examined in the class segment on hate crimes.
"I'm a history teacher, and this is history," Jocz said. "It's part of the narrative. You can't remove it."
You may be (not) shocked to hear that these students say "such efforts have created a safe and nurturing environment." A safe and nurturing environment??? NOOOO! THINK OF THE CHILDREN!!!
Oh, wait. That's exactly what incorporating lesson plans on LGBT individuals does.
"This law's going to educate kids about LGBT people, and once you get education, you'll respect them, and nobody's going to bully them anymore," said Jennifer Vanegas, a straight member of the club.