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Teaching about homosexuality in North American public schools

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We recommend that a comprehensive course in homosexuality at the high school level involve seven main topics. The final topic involves the findings of public opinion pollsters concerning acceptance of homosexuality. Of particular interest are changes in opinion over time, and opinion differences among different age groups.

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This essay is currently being expanded

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Movements towards equality:

Many people develop their beliefs about race, gender, and sexual orientation during their childhood or teen years, and do not change them during their life. Thus, 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:

bulletSlavery: 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.
bulletWomen's rights: The drive for equal rights and opportunities for women in North America gained strength in the late 19th century. Over a century later, women have attained equal rights in many areas. However, they are still not permitted to function in certain military roles. The Roman Catholic Church,  Orthodox Churches, many conservative Protestant churches, and other religious organizations prohibit female ordination. The move to equality has taken over a century, and the clock is still ticking.
bulletHomosexual rights: In colonial days, homosexual behavior was often considered a capital crime. Change in attitudes has been rapid, starting 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. But much remains to be done.

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Trends towards acceptance of homosexuality:

bulletIn 1950, psychologists and psychiatrists still regarded homosexuality as a severe emotional disorder.
bulletDuring 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
bulletThere was a delay of about one generation while mental health professionals gradually accepted the findings of studies by Hooker and subsequent researchers.
bulletThe revolt by gays, lesbians, transsexuals and others against police harassment at the Stonewall Inn in New York City, NY, triggered the gay liberation movement.
bulletIn 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.
bulletDuring 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.
bulletIn the year 2000, a Vermont bill to allow same-sex couples to enter into civil unions became law.
bulletThe year 2003 saw many developments:
bulletIn 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.
bulletIn the case Halpern et al. v. Canada (A.G.) et al., the Ontario Superior Court of Justice ordered the province of Ontario in Canada to start issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
bulletIn 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.
bulletBy 2005-MAY, same sex couples can marry in Massachusetts, and can enter into civil unions or domestic partnerships in California, Connecticut and Vermont. They can also marry in 7 out of 10 Canadian provinces which contain almost 90% of the country's population.

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:

bulletAn 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%. 3
bulletA 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.

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Shifts in public opinion:

bulletFrom 1977 to 2004, the Gallup Organization found that the percentage of American adults agreeing with the statement "Should homosexual have equal rights in terms of employment" went from 56% to 89%.
bulletOver the same interval:
bulletThe percentage approving of gays and lesbians in the military rose from 51% to 80%
bulletThe percentage approving of gays as clergy rose from 35% to 61%
bulletThe percentage approving of gays as elementary school teachers rose from 27% to 56%.
bulletFrom 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%.
bulletBetween 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%. 3
bulletZogby International and Hamilton College conducted a poll of "class of 2001" high school seniors. This is particularly indicative of future cultural trends. They found that:
bullet92% felt that homosexuals should be able to serve in the military.
bullet88% support  anti hate-crime legislation to protect gays and lesbians.
bullet85% believe that gays and lesbians should be accepted by society.
bullet78% of students who have a close gay friend favor same-sex marriage. This reduces to 59% for those who only know a gay person, and 55% of those who don't know any gay persons.
bullet66% 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. L.R. Holben, "What Christians think about homosexuality: Six representative viewpoints," Bibal Press, (1999). Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store.

  2. "Evelyn Hooker, PhD," at: http://psychology.ucdavis.edu/
  3. 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 Amazon.com online book store.

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Copyright � 2005 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally posted: 2005-MAY-8
Latest update: 2005-MAY-8
Author: B.A. Robinson

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