COLUMBUS, OH The National Parents and Teachers Association has hosted a workshop that stressed the need to incorporate more “gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender” (GLBT) issues in public school policies and curricula.
The “Safe Schools” workshop at the National PTA Convention in Columbus, Ohio, was conducted by Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG), a group that wants more sensitivity training for teachers and students on homosexual and transgender issues in schools. One of the PFLAG presenters, United Church of Christ minister Lawrence Rezash, told PTA members that putting a rainbow ribbon a symbol of homosexual pride and solidarity on a school bulletin board is one of many subtle ways teachers and guidance counselors can let GLBT students know they are in a safe environment.
However, Grove City College psychology professor and mental health counselorDr. Warren Throckmorton says all students should be protected from bullying. “I don't know if that rainbow insignia would inspire a feeling of safety for, let's say, kids who believe in traditional views of sexuality,” he observes. “Any kind of measure that seeks to alert one demographic group versus another is counterproductive in schools.”
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, only one percent of school bullying and harassment incidents are due to a student's sexual orientation. In any case, Throckmorton contends there are ways schools can provide safety for all students without singling out specific victim groups.
“I think if any kid is being harassed for any reason,” the psychology professor says, “teachers should intervene. There doesn't need to be an emphasis on the victim of the harassment as if there's something about the victim that caused the harassment. That's not the point. Bullies bully because they're able to, and teachers need to intervene every time they see bullying not just when [the bullying involves] certain groups of kids.”
Throckmorton questions the approach the National PTA and PFLAG have taken to address school safety. He feels public schools should provide a safe environment for all children, including those with traditional views, and that witnesses and targets of school bullying should be provided means of turning in that information to school counselors and teachers without being penalized or stigmatized.
A Columbus Connection?
Some members of the National PTA are criticizing their organization's decision to shut an “ex-gay” group out of the PTA's annual convention in Columbus. Although the PTA has refused to comment to the press on its rejection of the group Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays (PFOX), disturbed convention delegates are not remaining silent on the issue.
One delegate from Columbus a public school teacher who wishes to remain anonymous for fear of retribution from PTA leaders believes she knows why the PTA denied exhibit space to PFOX.
“We have a very large gay population here in Columbus,” she explains, “and clearly, I believe that someone on the board of the PTA is connected to that community and because of their connection with that community, I feel … that's why that organization has been shut out.”
She contends the PTA favors the presence of homosexual activist groups in public schools. “I just believe that it's a political agenda,” she says, “and whoever made the decision to deny [exhibit space to PFOX] is connected to the gay community in some way. Therefore they made a decision to shut out this group.”
Overall PTA membership nationwide as well as attendance at this year's annual convention are both down. Some believe that is due in large part to the organization's liberal stance on social issues like homosexuality.