Gay young people are at the nexus of the culture war. The Center for Disease Control (CDC)'s 2009 survey found 4 percent of males and 8 percent of females age 15 to 17, and 5 percent of males and 14 percent of females age 18 to 19, reporting they had some kind of "sexual experience" with same-sex partners. What it was—hand-holding? golden shower?—was not specified. Among girls under age 18, both the prevalence and the proportion of sexual experiences consisting of same-sex contact appears two to three times higher than among boys. (I would be amazed if that finding has not made it into some licentious hypocrite's prime-time bellowing.) As for real outcomes, the CDC reports that in 2006, approximately 2,900 men aged 20 to 24 were diagnosed as HIV/AIDS-positive from having same-sex relations, 10 times the number of men and 3.4 times the number of women aged 20 to 24 who contracted the disease from heterosexual sex.
Thus, a rational sex education curriculum would include information on same-sex contact, but "gay teens are often left out of sex education," the GLBT Teens Web site laments.28 Given charges by conservatives such as Thomas Sowell that sex education advocates intended to make "propaganda for homosexuality... one of the hallmarks of American education" and Robert Simonds, president of the National Association of Christian Educators, to promote "homosexual/lesbian recruitment of children in the classroom,"29 even staunch sex-ed backers have proven reluctant to raise the topic. Congressional efforts led by Republicans and conservative Democrats sought to deny funding to schools whose classes "would tend to denigrate, diminish, or deny the differences between the sexes as they have historically been understood in the United States" (whatever that meant) and to prohibit government benefits for anyone who held that homosexuality could be "an acceptable alternative lifestyle."
A major example conservatives cite of gay penetration into classrooms was clarioned in a May 7, 2002, Fox News reporter-outrage on the "homosexual agenda in the schools:"
WASHINGTON — Jesse's Dream Skirt is causing a stir in California. For one, he's a little boy wearing a skirt.
Second, he's part of an elementary school plan designed by activists pushing for acceptance of the transgender lifestyle.
But Jesse is just one of the more outrageous examples of the "gay agenda" infiltrating the public school systems across the country today, according to a group gathered at a Washington seminar on Monday.
Standing before a picture of the be-skirted Jesse, Robert H. Knight, director of the Culture and Family Institute, said parents are not being told the truth about what their young children learn in school today. "If most parents understood the depth of the homosexual agenda in the schools," he argued, "there would be a revolution."
Knight joined representatives of other groups in denouncing what they called a massive effort on the part of groups like the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) to promote the homosexual lifestyle, using "diversity," safety and anti-discrimination programs as a stalking horse.30
The Fox story and fear-lobby materials failed to make it clear the menacingly swirly Jesse was not a real boy in a real school. He and his Dream Skirt were fictional characters in a 1979 story suggested by a gay rights group for inclusion in school curriculums. None of the outraged protesters I could find alleging public schools' deep homosexual agenda named any schools that had adopted the story and its "kindergarten cross-dressing" message in the three decades since. Or why, to borrow from Monty Python, it couldn't be construed as an alien plot to turn children into Scotsmen.
No matter. Beskirted Jesse revealed a master plan to "lure a whole generation of young people to explore 'alternative' sexual behavior" and "discover their 'gay side'" so that "radical homosexual activists ... will have a whole new generation of young, willing sex partners," Concerned Women for America charged.31 The paralyzing rage right-wing lobbies—not just fringe groups, but mainstream conservatives—hurled at a picture of a small boy in a skirt (like fearsome sodomites Bert & Ernie, Spongebob, and Tinky Winky) was just another face of anti-sex-education and homophobic groups' toxic lunacy.
Fear of the "homosexual agenda in schools" would prove so potent that organizers of referendums to repeal or ban gay marriage found from surveys that their zingiest talking point was that legalization would open the door to schools teaching "gay lifestyles" to students. How this would transpire was never made clear. Schools in gay-legal Vermont, Massachusetts, and Iowa had not turned schools into Man-Boy-Love bathhouses. Regardless of relevance or veracity, however, the baffling argument that schools are champing to queer up your kid resonated with a large chunk of liberal and moderate voters. In California, the same electorate that supported Barack Obama for president over John McCain by a 61-percent-to-39-percent margin passed Proposition 8, which banned gay marriage. A similar result occurred on Question 1 in Maine in 2009, a state that also had voted overwhelmingly for Obama. To date, every state that has voted on gay marriage, from Mississippi to Oregon, has rejected the idea by margins far exceeding those conservative voters alone could muster.
Why do even moderate Democratic voters fear schools might teach homosexuality to students? It should be remembered that for all their rabid disagreement on gay rights, liberals and conservatives share a common attitude about children and teens. From leftist culture-warriors such as the Media Education Foundation to moderate institutes like Rand Corporation to far-right lobbies like the Parents Television Council (see Chapter 6), the view is that young people will seek out the most objectionable image the media, advertisers, or schools present to them and rush en masse to ape it in the most self-destructive way possible. Those who believe a Victoria's Secret ad will turn girls into spiky-heeled sluts share a remarkably similar mindset with those who believe a school health curriculum with a few paragraphs on homosexuality will convert teens into Ross Matthews flameboys.
Fortunately, these attitudes seem to be changing with startling rapidity. CNN's exit poll found 61 percent of California's voters under age 30 voted to affirm gay marriage in the 2008 election, including 67 percent of young whites and 59 percent of young Latinos. In contrast, just 45 percent of voters age 30 and older and 39 percent age 65 and older supported gay marriage rights. Estimates for young African Americans were not reported separately, though older blacks overwhelmingly opposed gay marriage. Polls in Maine likewise showed voters under 30 strongly in favor of gay rights as older voters were strongly opposed.
In such a climate, any public school that discusses homosexuality or gay behaviors with open-minded recognition of the diversity of lifestyles—let alone one that presents objective information affirming benefits and not just risks—is likely to face national condemnation and punishment. The constriction of public discussion of teens and sex, especially gay sex and varied lifestyles, into a constant drumbeat of negativism, alarm, and propaganda demonstrates again that the wide-open Internet is a far better venue to promote modern sex education than compromised legislatures and schools. The apparently widespread and visceral fears harbored by many Americans and fanned by interest groups on all sides has now culminated in a complete unraveling of discussions of teenage sex and pregnancy in the 1990s, the subject of the next chapter.
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