The foundational belief is that homophobia thrives in an atmosphere of silence and ignorance, and that once people know that they have loved ones who are lesbian or gay, they are far less likely to maintain homophobic or oppressive views.
National Coming Out Day is meant to be a positive and celebratory event. Since 1988 it has spread to all fifty states and seven other countries besides the U.S. 1990, NCOD became a part of the initiatives sponsored by the Human Rights Campaign. This quote from co-founder Robert Eichberg speaks to the heart of the purpose of National Coming Out Day:
Most people think they don't know anyone gay or lesbian, and in fact, everybody does. It is imperative that we come out and let people know who we are and disabuse them of their fears and stereotypes. (1993)
Over the past week I learned that a group of Howard County parents were expressing strong negative feelings about a social media post from a parent that showed a lesson from HCPSS involving a coming out story. Responses ran from enraged that the school system would discuss the topic at all to a complete rejection that eleven year olds should ever be faced with a story that contained information about LGBTQ people. These parents felt that they should have a right to either a) censor such content for their own children or, b) prevent it from being included in the HCPSS curriculum.
The truth is that, even if these parents had their way, the world they live in is full of variations in sexual orientation and gender. Not only that, research shows that awareness of this comes early in life; eleven years old is hardly too young to learn about it. “Protecting” young people by excluding and therefore marginalizing certain parts of the community actually puts them at a disadvantage. They are forced to view the world through a distorted lens where whole chunks of the population are artificially erased.
Imagine that one of those highly protected children is struggling to come to terms with their own sexual orientation or gender identity. Or wondering how to support a friend or a family member.
That’s why the survey from CARY is so important in the Board of Education election. As I asserted in an earlier post:
Issues that impact LGBTQ+ students are life and death issues. Bullying, the experience of minority stress in school situations, and elevated risk for homelessness due to parental rejection all contribute to an increased risk for suicide. Incidents of suicide and attempted suicide for Transgender students are linked with whether or not young people are supported by the use of their correct name and pronouns. Numerous scientific studies bear all of this out.
A public school system must be committed to the well-being of all students. If a group of parents, or a Board of Education candidate, seeks to dilute that over-arching goal by demanding that the needs of some are not worthy of care and respect, they are clearly not committed to the mission of public schooling. Public schools should not and must not offer to “protect” any subset of their population because their desire is to exclude or erase other portions of the population.
Some private schools allow that kind of environment. Public schools have no such obligation. Public schools, like a healthy functioning democracy, are meant to reflect “We, the people.” Not “Me and my people.”
On this Coming Out Day I commend to you the work of these local groups who support LGBTQ children and families:
In addition, each Howard County High School and most, if not all Middle Schools have support groups for students called Gender Sexuality Alliance. (Formerly Gay/Straight Alliance) These groups are student-led with a faculty sponsor. I’d give you a link on the HCPSS website but I couldn’t locate one. Hmm.
In November of 2019 County Executive Calvin Ball established an LGBTQ Work Group. Its purpose is to:
...work with County agencies, non-profit organizations, and other community groups to facilitate an environment of inclusion, communication, understanding, and respect throughout Howard County.
If you are interested in learning more about National Coming Out Day, visit the Human Rights Campaign. Their homepage leads off with these words: Equality for all, not for some.
And that’s exactly why we have lessons about all kinds of people in our schools.