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Teachers' Proposal on Gays Protested

Values: About 400 people picket educators convention over a call to make campuses more hospitable toward homosexual students.

July 04, 2001|MARTHA GROVES | TIMES EDUCATION WRITER

A proposal designed to make schools more hospitable toward gay and lesbian students is sending sparks flying at the annual convention of the nation's largest teachers union, being held this week in Los Angeles.

About 400 protesters, many drawn by appeals on conservative Christian radio, turned out Tuesday to denounce the resolution at a peaceful rally across from the Convention Center, where the National Education Assn. is meeting.

Many protesters carried signs reading "Kindergarten & Homosexuality?" and "Educate, Don't Indoctrinate." The gathering was sponsored by the conservative Christian group Focus on the Family.

The convention resolution calls for the development of instructional programs "to meet the needs of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students." It urges schools to recognize the importance of gay and lesbian employees as role models. And it recommends that schools coordinate with organizations "that promote the contributions, heritage, culture, history, health and care" of gay and lesbian students.

Proposed by NEA members from California, the resolution is up for consideration later this week by more than 9,000 NEA delegates.

But controversy over the proposal appeared to be having an effect. Tuesday afternoon, the NEA's Gay and Lesbian Caucus came out in favor of establishing a task force to study the issue.

"This is an emotional topic for everyone, and we believe a task force is the best way to first hear everyone's voice and then develop actions that will create safer schools for children and staff," said Cathy Figel, co-chairwoman of the caucus.

NEA President Bob Chase said in an interview that a task force might be a better way to go.

Still, he defended the resolution, saying "all this is about is providing a safe environment for all children."

Protesters disagreed. "I don't think an organization should mandate what to teach," said Donelle Swanstrom, who teaches fourth grade in West Covina. "Issues such as sexuality belong in the home."

A report in May from Human Rights Watch, a watchdog group, indicated that gay and lesbian students in the nation's public schools face pervasive discrimination not only from peers but also from teachers, administrators and other school officials.

Many students, the report said, live a nightmarish existence at school, where they encounter a barrage of insults and live in fear.

In April, a California task force issued recommendations to help implement Assembly Bill 537, which was passed in 1999 to prohibit discrimination and harassment in public schools on the basis of sexual orientation.

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