California teachers have a rough road ahead. Mandated by new laws to teach about LGBT people in history classes, teachers are uncertain about how to plug the new information into tight curriculum. And they have to do it by January. I sympathize with them. From a gay teacher perspective, let me tell you what I would do.
The problems at the outset:
1. Teach the teachers. Just as teachers were taught history, literature, math, etc., asking them suddenly to know things they were never taught in schools is asking a lot. My first step if I were a principal of a school is to have a Teacher-Training day where you bring in an expert on LGBT history or LGBT information in general. Even us gays don’t know our history well–because it’s been hidden. But teaching the teachers about our history is the most important first step. Until THEY see how prominent gay and lesbians have been in history, they won’t be able to teach it.
A good start is Michael Bronski’s A Queer History of the United States, which addresses everything from pre-first contact with North America, on through the history of the US. It just gives a few brushstrokes of color to a queer history that had been erased.
2. Awkward to talk about heterosexual and homosexual people in history class. I rarely had a history course where ANYTHING was known about sexual orientation. No one talked about historical figures dating, or marrying. Most of the founding fathers, as far as we knew, were single and devoted to politics… no one bothered talking about who they slept with, because, frankly, it didn’t matter. Will teachers be required to emphasize that George Washington was “straight” or that he had a wife? I don’t know, but it’s awkward to just label people’s sexual orientation.
3. Time. I can’t imagine that a comprehensive curriculum will be developed for you that will include all of California and US history with its gay members polished up and shiny by January. Don’t worry right now about having to plug a litte bit of gay in every history lesson. No gay person expects that all will be suddenly be apparent–that every gay will be uncovered.
4. The importance of teaching it. The best quote I ever read about the importance of teaching LGBT history in schools was this one:
“Within the typical secondary school curriculum, homosexuals do not exist. They are ‘nonpersons’ in the finest Stalinist sense. They have fought no battles, held no offices, explored nowhere, written no literature, built nothing, invented nothing and solved no equations. The lesson to the heterosexual student is abundantly clear: homosexuals do nothing of consequence. To the homosexual student, the message has even greater power: no one who has ever felt as you do has done anything worth mentioning.” -Gerald Unks, editor, The Gay Teen, p. 5.
It’s for this reason, that I think just putting a little LGBT into your curriculum is worth so much.
Because it’s an easy framework, and not a heavy re-writing of current curriculum, I’m going to suggest Hidden Histories as a way to bridge the interim until you get more curriculum.
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Justin Lemphers has taken the lead in developing and starting a chapter of PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Gays and Lesbians). These groups are essential for families who have questions about their children, or relatives, or parents, who may come out to them. They are also a godsend for those us who are gay or lesbian–where we can ask questions when we don’t know who to turn to. They provide a safe space to discuss your questions about gay and lesbian, bisexual and transgendered issues–a safe space to ask your questions, no matter where you are coming from.
See this new article by Justine Davidson in the Whitehorse Star for a look at the reasoning behind starting a PFLAG. Listen to this CBC interview with Justin Lemphers.
Justin’s information and the website for PFLAG:
Justin (332-2330) and on the web: http://www.pflagcanada.ca/en/index-e.asp
Come be part of the healing when the meetings start up in January. If you’re looking for people who have some experience with going through a family member or friend coming out, PFLAG is designed as that perfect resource. Or if you don’t live in Whitehorse, use the link to find a chapter in your area.
“Welcoming and not affirming” is a murky idea. As an English teacher, it’s hard to read it and really understand what it means. We all know what “welcome” is and how to welcome, but it seems “not affirming” is an odd way to express a verb. It seems important to figure out what “affirming” is and then what “not” doing that would look like. According to the dictionary, affirming is defined as:
State as a fact; assert strongly and publicly
he affirmed the country’s commitment to peace
he affirmed that she was, indeed, a good editor
“Pessimism,” she affirmed, “is the most rational view.”
Declare one’s support for; uphold or defend
Accept or confirm the validity of (a judgment or agreement); ratify
Make a formal declaration rather than taking an oath (e.g., to testify truthfully)
(of a court) Uphold (a decision) on appeal
Offer (someone) emotional support or encouragement
Antonyms include: negate, reject, deny, nullify, renounce, refuse, decline
So, “welcoming and not affirming” could just as easily be said as “welcoming and denying ” or “welcoming and rejecting.” We can probably see that no one wants to have a billboard say that they are both “welcoming and rejecting”…. but in a sense that’s what welcoming and not affirming means.
The other problem with this phrase is that for most evangelicals the adjectives don’t modify the same noun. What are we “Welcoming” –all people, we might say. What are we “not affirming”–a sinful lifestyle. But without the nouns to make a difference, the phrase gets confusing—and we end up saying we are “Welcoming, but not affirming” actual people. Because we’re not saying we’re “welcoming and not affirming” a lifestyle…. You’re not welcoming a lifestyle into your church are you?
But perhaps there is another definition that we need to consider.
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Jesus met up with lots of sins he couldn’t affirm–especially lifestyle sins. But we only use the phrase “welcoming but not affirming” when we talk about gays and lesbians, not when we talk about sinners in general. We’ve already seen that the phrase itself is murky, at best. Surely, there must be a Biblical precedent for how to welcome but not affirm gays and lesbians. The church can’t possibly be using a method that Jesus himself would not endorse, and practice. Since there are no visible gays and lesbians in the Bible, we’re going to have to expand to those other sins that Jesus encountered. What did He do when He met up with greedy tax collectors, two adulteresses, a prostitute, the Pharisees as a group and as an individual, and rambunctious, argumentative disciples?
Jesus must be against greed. It’s a sin. Now Zaccheus was a greedy little man, but Jesus went over to his house. He eats there, accepts his food and family. He makes a public show of his acceptance to the whole crowd both outside and inside the house. He doesn’t say anything against Zaccheus, neither privately or publically that we can find. In fact, it is Zaccheus who repents because of this outpouring of acceptance. So Jesus never affirmed greed, but he also never displayed any disgust, any judgment, any reprimand, any opinion against greed. How do we know he didn’t affirm it? We know Jesus. Oh, wait, he did have a tax collector as his disciple, Matthew. We don’t know if Jesus ever publically rebuked Matthew. But the words we know he said to this sinner, of whose sin he didn’t approve or affirm, “come follow me.”
Jesus can’t have approved of sexual sin. But he does meet up with an adulterous woman, a promiscuous woman, and a prostitute.
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