If Ignorance Is Bliss, Shouldn’t America Be Happier?

Yeah, I said it. Americans are amazingly ignorant about a lot of things. If this comes as a shock to you, then you probably haven’t been particularly involved with the LGBTQ movement, and I therefore commend you for reading this blog–it’s a good first step. Another great step would be reading a newspaper. Because the fact is, of course, that the only way to combat ignorance is with knowledge, and with thinking–and, as Hellen Keller once said, “People do not like thinking–thinking leads to conclusions, and conclusions are not always pleasant”.
Indeed, this is true, because if you think for even a full minute about LGBTQ rights, the obvious conclusion should be “These are Americans. They are citizens. That means they share our rights–even our sexual rights” (this is what we in the field of sexuality studies call “sexual citizenship”, for those who have asked me what that term means). Of course, as you well know unless you have taken refuge in the woods (in which case, I am wondering, where are you getting your internet access?) or something of the sort, not all Americans seem to share this particular ideology, and thus we have to have the LGBTQ movement.

Part of the problem with sexuality is that it is SO taboo to talk about sexuality, which is intrinsically tied to sexual behavior, especially with young people (don’t worry, guys, my railings against abstinence-only sex ed are still a likely subject for this blog), that we don’t actually DISCUSS what it means to be LGBTQ until at least middle school or high school. And by that point, we’ve allowed for stigmatization and otherization (my spell-check thinks that isn’t a word but my sociology books say otherwise…) to take hold, and we’ve allowed for those who are not heterosexual to be labeled as “deviant.”

According to the Safe Schools Coalition, 61% of high school students know someone who has been called gay or lesbian, as a form of teasing. That’s pretty bad, in a country that is supposedly accepting of diversity. Moreover, in minority communities where homosexuality is even less accepted, students are significantly less likely to report harassment of this sort than their Caucasian counterparts, which shuts down discussion and allows the hurt to fester. Some schools have tried to combat this through programs like Safe Space and organizations like the Gay Straight Alliance, but GSA is not always as successful as one may hope, and Safe Space is not always as visible as it needs to be.

Those who would like to downplay the severity of this problem should probably consider this: 23% of students harassed on the basis of sexuality or sexual orientation have tried to commit suicide. I don’t know about you, but to me, that number seems way too high for us to continue ignoring it.

Yesterday, California decided that enough was enough–that the LGBTQ community is not a community of deviants, and that its members have made significant contributions to American history, as have disabled Americans who have also gone under-acknowledged and undiscussed in schools. Therefore, yesterday, CA governor Jerry Brown signed into law a bill that will mandate the inclusion of the contributions of the LGBTQ and disabled communities in American history as part of the social studies curriculum in all public schools. This is an extension of the laws that already mandate that Asian-American, Mexican-American, and African-American contributions be included in the curriculum.

Naturally, conservative groups were outraged. Among the most vocal was http://www.SaveCalifornia.com, which essentially railed against the law saying that it was an excuse to push a conservative agenda and teach children that members of the LGBTQ community are “role models”, and to glorify the “gay lifestyle”. (You can look up their full list of complaints, sadly I’ve misplaced my original source article after WordPress so rudely deleted my first draft of this post)

Um…what?

But it gets even better. The Sacramento-based Capitol Resource Group has already begun the process of calling for a statewide vote to overturn this legislation, fighting to keep gay history out of schools. Never mind that the districts aren’t being told WHEN in the curriculum to cover this, or HOW–and certainly no one is going to start lecturing kids in elementary school about the LGBTQ community, which people seem to think is inappropriate (even though by fifth grade, they’re old enough to start having the sex talk and certainly old enough to start confronting anti-gay slurs, another issue that should definitely be addressed more effectively by schools through ALL grades)–and it’s not as though schools are teaching the so-called “gay lifestyle”: all they’re saying is, gay activists have done things. We teach about African-American activists and feminists, we should teach about this too.

Amazing, no? Within 24 hours, without even seeing what this actually means in terms of implementation, conservative groups are already trying to shut it down. They are so scared that kids might learn that being gay is not a crime, that being gay does NOT mean that you have to be an outcast or that it does not inhibit one’s ability to do great things, that their solution is to simply block the information.

What, you people think your kids will never find out about this? Because, uh, they will. There’s this thing called TV. And the internet. And a lot of today’s youth is far more accepting of the LGBTQ community than their elders are. Why? Because with increased discussion and exposure, we’ve learned to be more tolerant.

I don’t know if this bill will stand in California. I hope it does. I hope that other states follow in California’s lead, and stop allowing schools to neglect the contributions of LGBTQ and disabled Americans. And though it surprises me, given that California has not always been the trailblazer for gay rights, I just want to give my unexpected applause to Governor Brown and the members of the California legislature who voted in favor of this bill. You’re moving us in the right direction, at the very least.

Sources:
http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/family-advocacy-group-files-proposal-for-statewide-vote-to-overturn-teaching-gay-history/2011/07/15/gIQAwHa5GI_story.html
http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2011/07/14/national/main20079566.shtml
http://www.safeschoolscoalition.org/Anti-GayBullying_Whats-theBigDeal.pdf

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~ by Randi Saunders on July 16, 2011.

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