Common Ground Approaches to Sexual Orientation

October 1998

The tragic torture and murder of a young gay student in Wyoming this week will add fuel to the fire that rages in the debate regarding homosexuality in our culture. Already those on the left are accusing religious groups of fostering hatred toward gays and lesbians by their refusal to endorse homosexuality.

It's important to remember that the abhorrent actions in Wyoming don't speak any more for the faith community than the actions of the Unabomber spoke for environmentalists. Even people who do not want our society to endorse homosexuality, do not believe that they should be hated or harassed, much less subjected to torture. Matthew Shepard's death is a tragedy for all of us.

This summer a new campaign was launched by religious conservatives, entitled the "Truth in Love" campaign. Newsweek did a cover feature on it and some of its advertisements have created a national stir. The campaign preaches that gays and lesbians can convert to heterosexuality

through faith in Christ. Many who don't understand that perspective, view it as homophobia of the first order. People for the American way has denounced the campaign, "No matter how much the Religious Right wants to dress it up, bigotry is still bigotry... (Their) newfound rhetoric of 'love' is nothing more than a new label wrapped around the same old poison."

So you can expect issues like HIV/AIDS prevention education, and concerns about a safe-school environment for all students to be more passionate this year with each side believing their worst fears of the other. Some have a moral objection to homosexuality deeply rooted in their religious faith; others have a moral objection to those who have such moral objections. How can educators be arbiters in this dispute? The good news is, they aren't meant to be.

There's not enough space here for a detailed examination of both perspectives and how to address them, but it is important for educators to not feel pressed to identify with either side in this debate. This is an important conversation to have at a local level, but ensure that you do it with a common-ground approach in mind. You can debate the issue forever and only destroy the fabric of the community. But a common-ground approach seeks to allow the differences and may look something like this:

"Our society is deeply divided about the endorsement of homosexuality as a normal alternative lifestyle. Many social scientists say that it is but not all groups agree, including various religious faiths. This is an important issue to sort out with your parents and church, synagogue or mosque if you have one.

"What we do agree on is that every life is precious, and how we treat ourselves and one another with those differences is extremely important. No one deserves to be abused, harassed or threatened because they chose a lifestyle others may disagree with."

Thinking beyond the politics of an issue, can help public education contribute positively to the dialogue without undermining the values of families with whom we might disagree--whatever side of this issue they are on.

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