A HOT TOPIC AROUND TOWN the last several months has been Alameda Unified School District's proposed anti-bullying curriculum, which has been discussed with increasing fervor, and has turned into a referendum on gay rights. I admit I'd only been paying half attention to the debate (though my husband has been actively advocating for the curriculum's adoption), until Tuesday night when I watched hours of testimony at the school board meeting, my heart dropping as a long line of speakers voiced their opposition to a few short lessons acknowledging the existence of gay and lesbian families.
"It's about sex!" the opponents claimed. But teaching about same-gender families is no more about sex than the words "marriage" and "husband" and "wife" and "wedding" are about sex. Yes, marriage is based in part on a sexual commitment, but we speak about husbands and wives all the time in a way in which sexuality is not the focus. To children, the word lesbian is no more about sex than the word marriage is.
"But I want to teach my child about these things," parents said. "I want to teach my beliefs to my child." I have strong empathy for parents who want to impart their values to their children. But I do not have empathy when that "value" is that someone else is a lesser person. Imagine if the "value" in question were that women should not own property or that people could be owned by other people or that people with certain skin color should not be allowed to vote. These are not "values," these are discriminatory prejudices.
At Tuesday's meeting, the technique of the well-organized and coordinated curriculum opponents was to attack the series of lessons — designed to complement an already-established anti-bullying curriculum — on a number of technical grounds. "It's not legal," they said. "It doesn't go far enough" or "It privileges one group over another."
But these attacks were contrived and disingenuous. Most curriculum opponents operated from what only few more frankly admitted: They don't think gay families are the moral equivalent of their own straight families. They don't think gay families are "OK" and they don't want their kids being taught that they are.
As many in this debate have done, all you have to do is switch the opponents' arguments to another social group to see how undemocratic their viewpoints are. Would the district allow a student to opt out of a Black history lesson? A celebration of Chinese New Year? To leave the room any time divorce is discussed?
Of course not.
Religion has been used to support all sorts of atrocities past and present (as well as all sorts of good things). Because an argument is religion-based doesn't mean that it is more right, more valid or more just. In this country, in this democracy, in this friendly city of 70,000, it is our shared value that all people are created equal — and to those parents who want to teach otherwise, well, this is not a "value." It is bigotry. And it has no place in our community's schools.
It has surprised me that in this day and age, in the Bay Area, that some are so hostile to difference and so obsessed with other people's sex lives. The aim of the Alameda school district curriculum is simple: to teach about reality in order to help children skillfully and respectfully navigate their diverse community. All families (the majority of families, in fact) don't look like the Cleavers. Families have all sorts of configurations, incorporating grandparents and cousins, step-siblings and stepfathers, same gender couples and opposite gender couples. That is reality. Children should be taught what's real.
A side note: Starting today I will be taking a three-month hiatus from writing this column, taking time to work on other projects. Former Alameda Journal editor Lucinda Ryan will be filling in. Enjoy your summer, your own particular family and loved ones, and I'll see you in September.