Two Northern California school districts are finding out just how complicated diversity training can be. Teachers in one East Bay school district are objecting to a required in-service staff development that focuses gay/lesbian/bi-sexual/transgender youth. Their request to be excused from the training due to religious objections was turned down by administrators. The teachers are threatening to sue the district with help from a conservative legal defense organization.
Further north along the coast school Planned Parenthood speakers were invited to address a require freshman health class on homosexuality and homophobia. In their opening exercise attempting to identify homophobia, students reported being asked if their religion taught that homosexuality is a sin or something wrong. Parent were not notified prior to the presentation and are now claiming religious harassment and considering a lawsuit.
What is a district to do? Most districts recognize that gay/lesbian/bi-sexual/transgender students and staff are often the targets of harassment and incidents of violence. State law now requires districts to ensure that staff and students are not subjected to harassment or violence based on sexual orientation or gender identity. However, inviting gay and lesbian advocacy groups to conduct this training might create more difficulties in your community than it answers.
Many of these diversity-training programs wittingly or unwittingly undermine the religious views of parents who believe homosexuality has moral implications. Unfortunately these programs think that safety can only be achieved by teaching that such views are ignorant, out-of-date or homophobic. This approach, however, fails because it will not change peoples religious or moral views, nor should the State of California be engaged in attempting to do so.
The best diversity-training programs are not based on agreement about the morality or origins of homosexuality, but on First Amendment ideals that encourage participants to recognize and respect our differences as a society. We do not have to agree on these issues to make a mutual commitment that public schools offer a safe environment for all. By affirming that there is no good reason that any student or staff member to be harassed or bullied we can build mutual respect and security by recognizing our different points of view, not erasing them.
Given the legal obligations involved, these programs must cover the specific challenges of gay/lesbian/bi-sexual/transgender issues, but should do so in a larger context addressing all the reasons that students harass and bully each other. First Amendment based programs give educators a way to do that without having to make staff and students.
Wayne Jacobsen, President
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