GLSEN Responds

To the editor:
Marjorie King’s “Queering the Schools” (Spring 2003) does not fairly or factually represent the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN). King’s article poses as a well-researched critique, but she interviewed no one at GLSEN before writing this grossly inaccurate, misleading piece. And her irresponsible, salacious claims are given credibility by appearing in City Journal—not usually an outlet for half-baked journalism.

Among King’s egregious misrepresentations is her description of a workshop conducted by a Massachusetts Department of Education employee at a GLSEN conference in 2000, which she calls “typical” of the “GLSEN agenda.” In fact, upon learning of the workshop’s content, GLSEN issued a statement that the workshop leader had been inappropriate, and took steps to ensure that such incidents wouldn’t be repeated. This incident was isolated, not part of a pattern, and no similar incident has occurred since.

King cites as examples of GLSEN’s “recommended curriculum” a series of books that are not recommended in our BookLink catalog.

She attacks students working to end school violence, saying they bear “a uniform faith . . . that experimenting with a range of homosexual behaviors serves the cause of civil rights.” These students include a Special Olympics board member, an anti-smoking advocate, and an aspiring special-ed teacher; they exhibit a civic engagement that should be applauded, not denigrated with glib and inaccurate characterizations.

King dismisses the need for anti-bullying and anti-violence programs for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) students: “gay groups contend—dubiously—that such programs are necessary because homosexual students must endure bullying and hatred every day in schools across the country.” King should ask the families of Matthew Shepard, Gwen Araujo, or Sakia Gunn—students murdered partly because of their sexual orientation—how dubious this contention is.

The facts are clear: harassment is the rule, not the exception, for LGBT students. The Centers for Disease Control have found that LGBT students are more than twice as likely to be threatened or injured with a weapon as non-LGBT students (18.6 percent vs. 7.6 percent, respectively) and to miss school out of fear for their safety (16.4 percent vs. 7.6 percent). If you’re too afraid to go to school, you’re not going to get an education.

GLSEN’s mission is to ensure that schools are safe, effective environments for all students to learn, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. All claims to the contrary are mere distractions that force our organization to turn our attention to debating distorted half-truths. To mischaracterize and attack an organization whose sole mission is to end harassment is contemptible.

Kevin Jennings
Executive Director, GLSEN

The editors respond:
GLSEN’s Kevin Jennings hurls many insults at “Queering the Schools”: “misleading,” “distorted,” “salacious,” and “contemptible,” among them. But Mr. Jennings never substantiates his baseless charges—and he makes some highly misleading comments in the course of his name-calling.

The first concerns a workshop for “youth only—ages 14-21” held in 2000 at Tufts University, which (among other things) instructed teens in the dangerous practice of “fisting”: inserting a fist into a sexual partner’s anus or vagina. Mr. Jennings admits the event was “inappropriate” and claims that GLSEN has taken steps to ensure it won’t happen again. We’re glad GLSEN agrees that the workshop was wrong—though “inappropriate” is a tame word to describe teaching such practices to kids not old enough to drink legally. But Mr. Jennings seems to forget that parents’ groups criticized GLSEN for its 2001 Tufts conference, as well—where, for instance, Planned Parenthood reportedly handed out kits to teenagers for “safe” fisting.

Moreover, Mr. Jennings says nothing about workshops for teachers, featured at these and other GLSEN conferences, exploring themes like “Addressing GLBT Issues in Preschools, Daycare and Kindergartens” and “Gender in the Early Child Classroom.” He remains silent because GLSEN does think it appropriate to have schools plan activities in which second-grade boys dress up in high heels—as one GLSEN-recommended teachers’ resource book suggests—to fight bigotry against transsexuals. We don’t agree, and it’s a safe bet that most other parents don’t, either.

Next, Mr. Jennings protests that GLSEN doesn’t endorse the books cited in “Queering the Schools,” like Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower, which features homosexual teen sex and bestiality. Apparently, he hasn’t seen the “Selected Bibliography of Books for Children and Young Adults” on his own website, which describes that book as “incredibly compelling.”

Third, Mr. Jennings complains that, in describing GLSEN student activists as loyal to GLSEN’s belief that experimentation with homosexual behavior serves the cause of civil rights, we don’t also mention their other activities: stamping out smoking, volunteering for the Special Olympics, etc. It’s great that these kids have interests other than GLSEN. Yet Mr. Jennings doesn’t reject our characterization of GLSEN’s worldview or their student activists’ commitment to it.

Finally, Mr. Jennings argues that “Queering the Schools” ignores the harassment that LGBT students face daily in schools, which in turn necessitates GLSEN’s radical remaking of school (even pre-school) curricula to emphasize LGBT themes and endorse LGBT behaviors. This agenda runs counter to the most deeply held values of many parents.

No one wants to see any child bullied or harmed, for any reason—as our article says. But unsafe schools result from a breakdown of school discipline generally, as Mr. Jennings’s own numbers underscore. If 18.6 percent of LGBT students have been threatened or injured with a weapon, so have 7.6 percent of all students. Since LGBT students are a tiny fraction of all students, that 7.6 percent represents a much bigger problem. Make schools safe for everybody; forbid all examples of intimidation and abuse—that’s our commonsensical view. There’s no need to revolutionize school curricula in ways that seek to transform tolerance for homosexuals and the transgendered into full-fledged approval.

GLSEN’s project is so radical that it risks undermining public toleration of homosexuality. A recent Gallup poll shows that 46 percent of Americans think homosexual relations should be illegal, while 49 percent say homosexuality “should not be an acceptable alternative lifestyle”—a much more anti-homosexual result than previous polls. These stark numbers mark a powerful public backlash against homosexuality in the wake of the Supreme Court’s Lawrence decision invalidating anti-sodomy laws. Elites using public schools to indoctrinate children—even very young children—into a minority worldview at odds with their parents’ values is a kind of tyranny that will also call forth an inevitable backlash.

He’s Our Liar

To the editor:
Kay S. Hymowitz’s “Michael Moore—Humbug” (Summer 2003) is probably fair enough—in a small, little way. Swaying the mob means saying something catchy, again and again. George W. Bush is great at it. To single out Moore in an age of mind-numbing folksiness in politics is disingenuous. Come off it, Kay. The fight is joined, so quit whining.

Dominic Taylor
London, England

To the editor:
Though he does have a hungry ego, Michael Moore makes a damn good point: the 11 o’clock news is utter B.S. Many people aren’t aware of this, some keep it to themselves. Moore is not a sacred messenger of the truth, but he makes people reflect on important issues easily overlooked in our fast-food, gimme-gimme world.

Yes, his opinions permeate his films and books—but that’s the case with every author. Maybe you are the one living in a convenient “Manichaean” world, where you play ax-man to everyone else’s wood. It must be tough to sleep at night.

Chris Volpe
Via e-mail

Kay S. Hymowitz responds:
I received many letters that can be boiled down to two strains of hyperventilation: 1) &!%@*$#!; and 2) “Moore may be a liar, but he’s our liar.” These are the fans of a supposed hypocrite-basher?


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