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Things we don’t say about homosexuality will hurt children

School is more than a place to learn. It is the place citizens gather to acquire the resources and tools to support the fragile, beautiful but breakable gift of freedom. 
 Linda S. Wallace

Back in the late 1960s, a nun who happened to be my Latin teacher looked out of the window of my high school and said to the class, “This neighborhood is getting bad because of all the “n…ers” moving in.”

As the only African American in the class, twenty or so pairs of eyes turned upon me. My classmates had turned to stare, halfway expecting me to yell. Instead, I gathered my books, slowly and deliberately, and walked out.

I can’t remember feeling scared or angry as I walked into the principal’s office. When he was available, I explained what happened and told him I would not be going back to class until the teacher apologized. The principal walked me back to the classroom, offered the teacher an opportunity to explain, and then said to her, “You owe Linda an apology.”

Case closed. I took my seat and returned to the most important job my parents had entrusted to me: graduation.

School is more than a place to learn. It is the place citizens gather to acquire the resources and tools to support the fragile, beautiful but breakable gift of freedom. We learn how the government works, why we must vote, how to appreciate differences and, if you are like me, how to stand up for ourselves. (Many thanks to the principal who backed me up: justice is a team sport.)

A healthy republic, after all, is not one that requires that all citizens agree; rather it is one that requires its citizens to learn how to disagree and safeguard freedoms for minorities. Schools are the place where we pass the torch to a coming generation.

In Tennessee last Friday, the state Senate passed a bill that would ban teachers from discussing homosexuality. Critics have nicknamed it the “Don’t say gay” bill as it seeks to prevent teachers from discussing homosexuality with elementary and middle school students. Instead, conversations and materials would be “limited exclusively to age-appropriate natural human reproduction science.” Republican Stacey Campfield of Knoxville, the proposal’s sponsor, says this makes sense since “homosexuals don’t naturally reproduce.”

On the day the Senate approved the proposal by a vote of 19-11, Gallup released a poll revealing that American attitudes towards homosexuality are changing and 53 percent now believe same-sex marriage should be legal.

Classroom experiences, interactions and instructional materials form a noble stairway that allows students to advance critical-thinking and problem-solving skills.

Gary Elgin, former director of Knoxville Pride and Rainbow Community Awareness Project, told journalists the bill has caused “national embarrassment” for the state.

“Tennesseans are not narrow-minded; it’s only the fringe and the far right who have made their voices the loudest,” Elgin said. “We are a state of peace-loving and quality-minded people, and our laws need to reflect that.”

He is right. This bill means Tennessee students’ journey to the mountaintop of community diversity will be delayed, leaving them further behind with lots of ground to cover.

The children of gays and lesbians are not the only ones who will be hurt. This would set back an entire state.

(Linda S. Wallace is The Cultural Coach. Read her Cultural IQ blog at http://theculturalcoach.typepad.com/cultural_iq/.)

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