Friday, December 30, 2005

Anti-gay parent bashes NC Governor's School gay-friendly seminar

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Logo of the NC Governors SchoolA letter to the editor from an anti-gay parent bashing the NC Governor's school was published today in The Daily Dispatch (Hendersonville, NC). The parent "regrets" sending her child to the honors school because of a seminar which was being offered, entitled "The New Gay Teenager":
To the editor: After reading the announcement concerning the nominees for the 2006 N.C. Governor's School program, I have to encourage the parents to research this program before entrusting the staff with their child. I expected the program to live up to its reputation for being an excellent academic enrichment program for gifted and talented students. However, my experience showed that people with other agendas have found this to be a very easy program with which to impress their beliefs on unsuspecting young minds. After my child returned from the 2005 North Carolina Governor's School-West program, I found a schedule from the final week which showed that an optional seminar entitled “The New Gay Teenager” had been sponsored by GSW. Parents were not given schedules as to the material that would be presented in the classes or seminars. In addition, it was conducted by GSW staff members who, according to the director, were all homosexual and relating their personal experience. I feel that this was totally inappropriate for the students who were 15, 16, and 17 years old. I totally regret sending my child to this supposedly great honors program. Remember that this program is supported by our tax dollars. Beverly Burrows Candler, NC
The NC Governor's School-West is held at Salem College in Winston-Salem, NC, during every summer. The East program is held at Meredith College. The Governor's School is the oldest statewide summer enrichment program for academically gifted students. The anti-gay parent may regret sending her child to the school but I regret that she has the audacity to accuse the NC Governor's School of trying to indoctrinate her child. Now I don't know for sure, but I can pretty much bet that the name of this optional seminar to which the anti-gay parent objects came from a very scholarly book by the same name: The New Gay Teenager, which was written by Ritch C. Savin-Williams, the Professor of Clinical and Developmental Psychology at Cornell University. The book itself was the recipient of the American Psychological Association's 2005 Distinguished Book Award. The New Gay Teenager, courtesy Harvard University PressDoing a quick Google search on the name of the seminar gave me that result, and I had thought I had seen the book itself in the Resource Library of UNCG PRIDE!. Here is a summary of the book, from the Harvard University Press:
Gay, straight, bisexual: how much does sexual orientation matter to a teenager's mental health or sense of identity? In this down-to-earth book, filled with the voices of young people speaking for themselves, Ritch Savin-Williams argues that the standard image of gay youth presented by mental health researchers--as depressed, isolated, drug-dependent, even suicidal--may have been exaggerated even twenty years ago, and is far from accurate today. The New Gay Teenager gives us a refreshing and frequently controversial introduction to confident, competent, upbeat teenagers with same-sex desires, who worry more about the chemistry test or their curfew than they do about their sexuality. What does "gay" mean, when some adolescents who have had sexual encounters with those of their own sex don't consider themselves gay, when some who consider themselves gay have had sex with the opposite sex, and when many have never had sex at all? What counts as "having sex," anyway? Teenagers (unlike social science researchers) are not especially interested in neatly categorizing their sexual orientation. In fact, Savin-Williams learns, teenagers may think a lot about sex, but they don't think that sexuality is the most important thing about them. And adults, he advises, shouldn't think so either.
As the anti-gay parent pointed out, the Governor's School seminar was optional. No one made her child attend, although she doesn't even mention whether or not her child did attend it. She talks of people using the Governor's School to push their own political agendas. I disagree... I think the Governor's School staff was trying to teach those who were willing (since it was optional) about diversity, acceptance, tolerance and also about how society may view sexual orientation and sexual identity. I am sure that the anti-gay parent is thinking of sex and sexual activities when the words "gay" or "sexual orientation" enters into her mind, but in my experience within any type of academic setting, sexual activities are something that would just not be discussed. I think it is ironic she wants to accuse others pushing an agenda. What exactly does she think she is doing? She is pushing an agenda of her own, one of bigotry and prejudice. Yes, you are right Ms. Burrows, the school is supported by tax-payer money... so guess what, you have to include all sides and you cannot exclude anyone. Although, I really liked the last paragraph of that book's summary and I think Ms. Burrows would be wise to follow its wisdom:
In fact, Savin-Williams learns, teenagers may think a lot about sex, but they don't think that sexuality is the most important thing about them. And adults, he advises, shouldn't think so either.
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