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Religious Tolerance logo

Teaching about homosexuality in North American public schools

Topic 4: Historical Movement
Towards Equality In The U.S.;
Trends; Public Opinion Polls.

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Historical movement towards equality:

Many people develop their beliefs about race, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, etc. during their childhood or teen years, and resist changing them during their life. Thus, country-wide change is slow. Social acceptance of oppressed groups usually takes generations or even centuries to complete.

Three major conflicts in which groups have worked to attain equal rights, privileges and protections in North America are:


Slavery: Anabaptists started to oppose slavery in the late 17th century. They were joined by Quakers and Mennonites. When John Wesley, founder of the Methodist movement, focused on slavery in the 18th century, the small protest became a mass movement for the abolition of slavery.

Slavery in Canada was phased out, starting in the early 19th century. Slavery in the U.S. was abolished in the 1860s as a result of the Civil War. The process in North America took two centuries. However negative affects of slavery in the U.S. and Canada endure to the present time in the form of racism, racial segregation, vote suppression, etc.

For example, a report in 2003 by Harvard's Civil Rights Project found that:

"At the dawn of the 21st century, education for Blacks is more segregated than it was in 1968.

Black students are the most likely racial group to attend what researchers call "apartheid schools," — schools that are virtually all non-white and where poverty, limited resources, social strife and health problems abound. One-sixth of America's black students attend these schools.

Whites are the most segregated group in the nation's public schools. Only 14% of white students attend multiracial schools (where three or more racial groups are present).

Latino students are the most segregated minority group in U.S. schools. They are segregated by race and poverty; immigrant Latinos also are at risk of experiencing linguistic segregation.

Asian American students are the most integrated group in the nation's public schools. Three-fourths of Asian Americans attend multiracial schools.

Racial segregation in schools is strongly linked to segregation by class. Nearly 90% of intensely segregated, black and Latino schools are also schools where at least half of the student body is economically disadvantaged."


Women's rights: The drive for equal rights and opportunities for women in North America gained strength in the late 19th century. Women were granted the right to vote in 1920. Almost a century later, women had attained equal rights in many areas. However, they are still not permitted to function in certain military roles. Also, the Roman Catholic Church,  Orthodox Churches, many conservative Protestant churches, and other religious organizations prohibit female ordination.

Overall, women's earnings are significantly less than men's. During 2015, in the U.S.:

"Women's median weekly earnings for full-time work = $726 compared to $895 for men." 1

This is a gap of slightly under 20%. However, a comparison of men and women with the same educational background, job continuity, training, etc. shrinks this gap somewhat. For example, many women will leave employment to have and raise children, which places them at a financial disadvantage later in life.

Major move to equality has taken over a century so far and continues to progress.


Homosexual rights: In colonial days, homosexual behavior was often considered a capital crime. Changes in attitudes accelerated in the mid-20th century. The "homosexual agenda" has as one of its goals the general acceptance of homosexuality as a normal, natural sexual orientation. This is the position expressed by the American Psychological Association in 1994:

"Homosexuality is neither mental illness nor moral depravity. It is simply the way a minority of our population expresses human love and sexuality.

A half century has passed since the first meaningful study of homosexuality, and many advances towards equality have been accomplished, including the legalization of same-sex marriage in Canada during 2005 and in the U.S. during 2015. But much remains to be done.

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Trends towards acceptance of homosexuality:

bullet In 1950, psychologists and psychiatrists still regarded homosexuality as a severe emotional disorder.
bullet During the 1950s Evelyn Hooker completed the first meaningful study of homosexuals in society and showed that "homosexuals were not inherently abnormal and that there was no difference between homosexual and heterosexual men in terms of pathology." More details
bullet There was a delay of about one generation while mental health professionals gradually accepted the findings of studies by Hooker and subsequent researchers.
bullet In 1969, a revolt by gays, lesbians, transsexuals and others against police harassment at the Stonewall Inn in New York City, NY, triggered the gay liberation movement.
bullet In 1973, almost a generation after Hooker's work, the American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from its list of mental illnesses. Subsequently, many other mental health, legal, educational, and social work professional associations issued statements accepting homosexual orientation.
bullet During the next generation, homosexual rights organizations gradually whittled away at laws which criminalized homosexual behavior,. They successfully promoted anti-discrimination laws and bylaws in many cities and states.
bullet In the year 2000, a Vermont bill to allow same-sex couples to enter into civil unions became law.
bullet The year 2003 saw many developments:
bullet In the case Lawrence v. Texas, the U.S. Supreme Court declared state anti-sodomy laws to be unconstitutional. These laws existed in 13 states. They banned same-sex sexual behavior in private between consenting adults.
bullet In the case Halpern et al. v. Canada (A.G.) et al., the Ontario Superior Court of Justice ordered the Canadian province of Ontario to start issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
bullet In the case Goodridge et al v. Department of Public Health, the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts ruled that the state constitution allows same-sex marriage or civil unions.
bullet On 2005-JUL-20, a federal bill in Canada was signed into law to legalize same-sex marriage throughout the country.
bullet On 2015-JUN-26, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling in the case Obergefell v. Hodges that legalized same-sex marriage throughout the country.

Recent legal developments became possible because the general public's perception of homosexuals influenced the courts and legislators. Also, the decisions of various courts and legislatures to grant homosexuals equal rights have influenced the public's beliefs about homosexuals.

Other contributing factors were:

bullet An increasing number of gays and lesbian have come out of "the closet" in recent decades, and gone public with their sexual orientation. Coming out is a risky process. However, this has vastly increased the percentage of North Americans who personally know at least one gay or lesbian. A Kaiser Family Foundation survey in the year 2000 showed that among those who don't know any homosexuals, 68% agreed with the statement "Homosexual behavior is morally wrong." Among those who know a homosexual as a personal friend, the percentage dropped to 47%. 2
bullet A vast amount of information has also become available in recent decades about sexual orientation in general, and homosexuals, lesbians and bisexuals, their relationships, their families, and their children in particular.

However, change cannot come fast enough for the approximately 40% of homeless youth who are lesbian, gay, or bisexual. They are over-represented by a factor of about four in the homeless community.

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Shifts in public opinion:

bullet From 1977 to 2008, the Gallup Organization found that the percentage of American adults agreeing with the statement "Should homosexuals have equal rights in terms of employment" went from 56% to 89%.
bullet Over the same interval:
bullet The percentage approving of gays and lesbians in the military rose from 51% to 80%.
bullet The percentage approving of gays as clergy rose from 35% to 61%.
bullet The percentage approving of gays as elementary school teachers rose from 27% to 56%.
bullet From 1996 to 2004, the Gallup Organization found that the percentage of American adults who felt that marriages between homosexuals should be recognized by the law as valid rose from 27% to 42%.
bullet Between 1987 and 2003, the UCLA / ACE survey of 7 million entering collegians in America showed that the percentage who agreed that "It is important to have laws prohibiting homosexual relationships" dropped from 53% to 26%. 2

bullet Zogby International and Hamilton College conducted a poll of "class of 2001" high school seniors. This is particularly indicative cultural trends in our future, because that class would be in their mid 30's by 2017, and would be more influential in government and private employment. They found that:
bullet 92% felt that homosexuals should be able to serve in the military.
bullet 88% support  anti hate-crime legislation to protect gays and lesbians.
bullet 85% believe that gays and lesbians should be accepted by society.
bullet 78% of students who have a close gay friend favor same-sex marriage. This reduced to 59% for those who only know a gay person, and to 55% for those who don't know any gay persons.
bullet 66% feel that same-sex marriages should be legal.

More polling data.

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

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "Women's Earnings and Income," Catalyst, 2016-APR-08, at:
  2. Cited in David G. Meyers & Letha Dawson Scanzoni, "What God has joined together? A Christian case for gay marriage," HarperSanFrancisco, (2005-JUN), Pages 140 to 147. This is based on a proof version of the book; the page number may be changed in the final published copy. Read reviews or order this book safely from online book store.

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Copyright © 2005 to 2017 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally posted: 2005-MAY-8
Latest update: 2017-JAN-23
Author: B.A. Robinson

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