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Religious Tolerance logo

Teaching about homosexuality in North American public schools

Topic 1: Definitions of terms,
and how they differ among various
secular and religious groups.

Definitions of homosexual terms:

Different secular groups, religious groups, and individuals assign conflicting definitions and meanings to some homosexual terms. This makes dialogue very difficult. It also makes it hard for people in one group to understand talks and articles prepared by individuals from other groups. Students need to be aware of these differences in terminology in order to be able to understand information supplied by a variety of sources.

Generally speaking:

bullet Social conservatives, conservative political groups such as the Christian Coalition of America, fundamentalist and other evangelical religious groups and members, such as the Family Research Council, Focus on the Family, Promise Keepers, Traditional Values Coalition, etc. may use one definition.
bullet Gays, lesbians, bisexuals, human sexuality researchers,  professional mental health organizations, religious liberals, secularists, etc often use a different definition.
bullet However there is a significant amount of cross-over usage where one group will use the definitions of another.

Common conservative religious usage

Common usage by the LGBT community, religious liberals, human sexuality researchers, etc.


Homosexuality is defined as: A sexual preference A sexual orientation Preference implies choice; orientation implies a fixed status.
Homosexuality itself is... A lifestyle A sexual orientation Again, lifestyle implies a choice; orientation implies a fixed status.
Nature of homosexuality A behavior; what one does An orientation, based on one's feelings, sexual fantasies and self-identification. This is an important distinction because it defines who is gay and who is "ex-gay"
Sexual orientation Some define it very broadly to include: bestiality, homosexuality, necrophilia, abusive pedophilia, etc. Comes in one of three types: homosexuality, homosexuality, and bisexuality. Some include asexuality as a fourth orientation. By including criminal activity within the definition of homosexuality, it would totally change hate-crime legislation.
Role of sex-ed classes which discuss homosexuality May involve the promotion of homosexuality Involves education about homosexuality This involves whether education about something implies promotion of it.
Bisexuality Often ignored Considered one of three sexual orientations Again, this can define who is gay and who is "ex-gay."
Legislation guaranteeing human rights. Homosexuals seek special privileges Homosexuals and bisexuals seek equal privileges This involves whether homosexuality is an innate trait or a chosen lifestyle.
Cause A chosen lifestyle; an act of rebellion against God and nature. Determined by genetics and perhaps triggered by  environmental factors  

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bullet Defining homosexuality as a preference or a lifestyle, implies that it is a choice. Defining it as a "sexual orientation" often implies that it is a fixed and unchosen trait.

bullet By defining homosexuality in terms of behavior, then a person with a homosexual orientation who decides to be celibate is considered no longer a homosexual. They have become an "ex-gay" and are cured of their homosexual behavior. They have left the homosexual lifestyle. So too for a bisexual who decides to restrict her/his sexual activity to members of the opposite sex.

By defining homosexuality in terms of sexual attraction to, and fantasies of sexual activity with persons of the same sex, then a person with a homosexual orientation who decides to be celibate is still a homosexual. They are a celibate homosexual. A bisexual who decides to restrict his/her behavior to members of the opposite sex is still a bisexual.
bullet By defining homosexuality to include criminal acts totally changes the meaning of human rights and hate-crime legislation. This definition is only used by a minority of religious conservatives, and is not recognized by legislatures, courts, dictionaries, etc.

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Site navigation: Home > Conflict > Homosexuality > Religious impact > Teaching > here

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References used:

  1. L.R. Holben, "What Christians think about homosexuality: Six representative viewpoints," Bibal Press, (1999). Read reviews or order this book safely from online book store.

  2. There is no consensus on the total number of Muslims in the U.S. Estimates range from 0.5% to over 2%.

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Copyright © 2005 to 2017 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally posted: 2005-MAY-8
Latest update: 2017-JAN-24
Author: B.A. Robinson

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