As someone who spends a few weeks every year guiding eighth graders through a research project on the American Civil Rights Movement, I couldn’t help but experience a sense of déjà vu as I have followed the uproar over Missouri HB 2051, which would ban classroom discussion of sexual orientation.
Some of the 20 Republican co-sponsors of the bill are falling all over themselves to let people know they have nothing whatsoever against gays and lesbians.
If they had done any reading at all (and judging from the quality of the legislation they have written, or ALEC has written for them) they would have studiously avoided the quotes. Some examples:
It’s not anti-gay legislation because “some of my best friends are gay.”
Or this one- “These kinds of discussions should be taking place in the home, among families, not in our schools.”
It is almost like they are reliving the era in which politicians, on both sides of the aisle, fought the rising tide of desegregation and flailed helplessly against the onset of equal rights for African Americans.
Those officials, always noting that they had nothing against African Americans (as long, of course, as they knew their place and didn’t get uppity) were perfectly content to consign human beings to a permanent second-class status simply because of the color of their skin.
Sexual orientation today, like race during that not-so-long-ago era, is something that should not be discussed in polite society, according to these protectors of all that is “good and decent” in our society.
It saddens me that a former educator, Rep. Steve Cookson, R-Fairdealing, who spent decades as a classroom teacher, principal, and superintendent, is the one who authored this legislation, something that is designed to keep students enmeshed in cobwebs of ignorance.
Steve Cookson insists that his bill is not anti-gay.
The legislator released the following statement last week:
"Many of the recent articles on HB 2051 have shifted focus away from the true intent of my legislation, which is meant to protect the moral values that are most important to Missouri families. In a time when our public schools continue to struggle financially, we want their focus to be solely on core education issues such as math, science and reading; and not on topics that are better left for discussion in the home at the discretion of parents," Cookson said in the statement.It would be easier to buy Cookson’s self-serving explanation if it did not fly in the face of one of his earlier actions- co-sponsoring legislation that requires discussion of sexual orientation- of the heterosexual variety, of course.
"It's also important to point out that my bill does not target a particular sexual orientation but instead says instruction or materials related to any sexual orientation should not take place in our public schools. This would not prohibit a student struggling with his or her sexual identity from talking to a school counselor or cause any of the other issues that have been misreported by the media. Instead it would simply ensure the focus of our public schools is on the curriculum parents expect their children to learn when they send them to school each day."
Cookson is the co-sponsor of HB 1631, which calls for providing "dating abuse information" to students in grades 7-12.
The bill includes this section:
3. For purposes of this section, "dating abuse" means a pattern of behavior in which one person uses or threatens to use physical, sexual, verbal, or emotional abuse to control the person's dating partner. "Dating partner" means any person who is involved in an intimate association with another person that is primarily characterized by the expectation of affectionate involvement that includes casual, serious, and long-term dating partnersNow correct me if I am wrong, but even if this is limited to discussions of boys and girls dating, isn't heterosexuality a sexual orientation?
How in the world can Cookson recommend that such things be discussed in a public school classroom?
Cookson and the legislators, including Speaker of the House Steve Tilley, R-Perryville, and Majority Leader Tim Jones, R-Eureka, who are co-sponsoring the bill, know full well that Missouri's classroom teachers are not providing graphic discussions of sexual acts in the classrooms. Classroom discussions of sexual orientation are nearly always centered around issues of bullying or political issues such as "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," or gay marriage.
If the bill passes, Missouri's gay and lesbian students will receive the message that they, like those children from a previous generation who were born with different-colored skin, are considered second-class citizens by the people who are making our laws, people who should know better.
For Steve Cookson and the co-sponsors of his ode to ignorance, HB 2051, it appears there is only one place for gay students- the back of the school bus.