1/03/2009

Harvey Who?

DSCN1401Image by bilericoproject via FlickrYesterday afternoon Michael and I met our friend Sandy for a late lunch and drinks then took in a showing of Milk. Sandy had wanted to see the film and thought it would be a great way to celebrate our anniversary.

I was surprised to find the theater nearly full. In fact, we ended up sitting near the front of the theater, so close that I actually ended up with a crick in my neck by the time the show was over from looking up at the screen.

As we left the theater, Sandy commented: "How sad it is when we are taught about politicians and activists in school and yet we are not taught about this major person in US history."

Yes, it is sad, but not particularly surprising. After all as I told Sandy, in South Carolina there is actually a law that prevents teachers from mentioning LGBT issues or homosexuality in anything other than "negative" tones. In other words, unless you are using the "approved" language of the American Family Association you are not allowed as an educator to even mention that LGBT exist, much less have suffered discrimination or have contributed to society in any way.

She couldn't believe such a policy could be allowed to stand and shook her head at how backwards my home state could be.

Later, as I was double checking what I had told her, on the miraculous chance the policy had changed, I discovered that there are actually five states the have the so-called "No Promo Homo" law - including Arizona!

Yes, here in Arizona it is also illegal to speak of LGBT people in terms other than the approved AFA/FOF line that we are disease ridden perverts who are just in need of being saved in order to be proper heterosexual breeders. Furthermore, these same states do not allow students to be taught how to prevent STD's and allow parents to "opt-out" of classes for their children that mention sexuality or intercourse in any way.

Needless to say I was surprised. While I understand that I live in one of the few areas of Arizona that are somewhat progressive and sane, I had no idea the state as a whole was as backwards and beholden to religious bigotry as my home state.

According to the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF):

Five states prevent the discussion of homosexuality in schools, or mandate that any references to homosexuality be exclusively negative (Alabama, Arizona, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Texas). Utah prohibits the "advocacy" of homosexuality. Dozens of states have parental notification laws with opt-out provisions, through which parents can excuse their children from classes or assemblies touching on sexuality and HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. Massachusetts is considering a bill that would convert its parental opt-out policy into a more restrictive, opt-in law.

Eight states and the District of Columbia have passed laws banning discrimination or harassment of students on the basis of sexual orientation (California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, Vermont, Washington, and Wisconsin). Three states and the District of Columbia also ban discrimination or harassment against students on the basis of gender identity (California, Minnesota, and New Jersey). At least six other states have adopted anti-harassment or nondiscrimination regulations covering sexual orientation. (NGLTF article)

So, it's not very surprising that Sandy and so many other people never learned of Harvey Milk and his contributions to equality not only for LGBT people but also Senior Citizens, Unionizers, Hispanics, and African-Americans. Because Harvey Milk was gay he is not allowed to be mentioned in the public schools in these states while they teach about other Civil Rights leaders and "firsts".

In short, a man who gave his life for equality and civil rights has been stricken from the history books by people like James Dobson and his co-horts in state government. In this country made up of so many groups one religion and one narrow minded demagogue have decided in five states what children are taught. There is something inherently wrong with that scenario.

I've heard some of the more radical folks out there accuse Gus Van Sant of "sanitizing" Harvey Milk's story and cleaning up the street kids and hustlers who made up much of his constituency. Yet, I ask, which is more of a whitewash, dressing those characters a little more nicely and not having every scene involve a blowjob or deleting the man's entire life from the history of this great country?

Why does AFA and other religious groups oppose any mention of LGBT people? Because they know that if young people are allowed to discuss the issues and come to their own conclusions they tend to side with tolerance and equality. They accuse us of trying to "recruit" children but that is exactly what they are attempting to do with "No Promo Homo" laws. They are trying to insure that the only information given to young people are their false stereotypes and lies. They are hoping to continue growing crops of bigots and bashers to fill their ranks and coffers.

The result of the policies of groups like AFA and Focus on the Family make schools battlegrounds for LGBT students. These groups and the politicians who rubber stamp their idiotic policies that require negative gay stereotypes to be taught to students results are directly responsible for events like the murder of Lawrence King. This child was gunned down in his classroom by another student because he was considered gay or effeminate. Yet, the outcry was minimal. Is this because the result is exactly what these warped people wanted all along?

Maybe we lost Prop 8 and Prop 102 but maybe in these five states we should make a real effort to overturn the AFA's hold on our school systems. After all, if they don't want their kids to hear both sides of the story there are plenty of restrictive religious schools to choose from. Of course, even those are no guarantee that kids won't turn out differently from what they'd like!


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