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From the Washington Blade:
Broward County, Fla., schools silent on homosexuality
Activists, educators speak out on invisibility of gays in sex-ed
By PHIL LaPADULA | Nov 26, 10:20 AM
In April 2002, the Broward County School Board approved a partnership agreement with the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network after a much-publicized fight with conservatives. The agreement allowed GLSEN representatives to train teachers, staff and administrators about gay and lesbian issues, including anti-harassment issues.
But the training never took place, according to Dee Palazzo, former chair of GLSEN Fort Lauderdale.
The school system never followed up on the agreement, and GLSEN Fort Lauderdale recently disbanded. The school system’s diversity training program currently does not include gay issues, Palazzo said.
No mention of gays in school
A front-page story that ran last week in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel highlighted the absence of any discussion of gay issues or homosexuality in the Broward County School System’s curricula, including its sex education curriculum.
Broward Schools Superintendent Frank Till defended the absence of gay issues in the school systems curricula.
“You can’t teach everything, and there are some things we are not in the best place to teach,” Till told the Sun-Sentinel. “We have to stop pretending that we can be all things to all people.”
Till did not return repeated phone calls from the Express seeking his comments, nor did he respond to an e-mail. Broward County School Board Chairperson Stephanie Kraft also did not respond to phone calls and an e-mail seeking her comments on the issue.
But some educators and gay activists think a “silence-is-golden” approach to gay issues in the schools does a disservice to both gay and non-gay students.
“LGBT people should be included in history and literature classes as well as in health education programs,” said Riley Snorton, communication director for GLSEN’s national organization in New York.
Expert: Most sex-ed curricula exclude gays
But the Broward school system is apparently not alone in excluding gay issues from it curricula.
“Most school systems, unfortunately, do not include sexual orientation in their sex-ed curriculum,” said Adrienne Verrilli, director of communications for the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States.
SIECUS provides training in comprehensive sexuality education to teachers and other educators.
Gay issues are “absolutely part of the training,” Verrilli said.
But, Verrilli said, every school system treats sex ed different.
“What is actually taught is determined very much on the local level,” she said.
Martha Fugate, executive director of the YES Institute, a Miami-based group that deals with gay youth issues, thinks school officials and anti-gay conservatives are deluding themselves if they believe gay issues are not already in the schools.
‘Adults avoid issue, not kids’
“Students deal with these issues every day,” Fugate said. “It’s the adults who are afraid of this topic, not the kids.”
The YES Institute conducts workshops for teachers and community leaders on sexual minority youth issues and suicide prevention. The group is sometimes asked to address students.
Fugate thinks fighting to have gay issues included in school curricula “is not the way to go.” She thinks a better approach is for outside educational groups to come in and initiate a dialogue in the schools.
“I think it begins with a dialogue and authentic communication in which the opinions of all sides are respected,” Fugate said.
Fugate thinks liberals and conservatives can find common ground in the need to keep students safe from anti-gay bullying and harassment.
She also believes educators should frame the issue as one about gender, gender roles and gender conformity.
More about gender than sex?
“When people hear the word gay, they automatically think of sex,” Fugate said. “But in the schools, the issue is really about gender. Boys are called sissies in elementary school before they even realize they are gay. But there are effeminate boys who are not gays, and masculine girls who are not lesbians.”
Robert Lupo, co-chair and executive director of GLSEN South Florida, conceded that the group has had more success in reaching out to educators in Miami-Dade County than in Broward.
He said GLSEN is in the initial stages of setting up a meeting with the Broward County Teachers Union to discuss possible training workshop on gay issues.
“We are working to continue initial conversations with school officials in Broward so we can replicate some of the success we’ve had in Miami-Dade,” Lupo said.