This is part II in a two part series. Part I can be found here.
There are some important things that can be lost and then recovered. Health. Finances. Friends. Even reputation. Innocence, however, is not one of them, especially the prepubescent, sexual innocence of a child.
My wife, Nancy, and I are blessed to have four amazing grandchildren, aged four to 10. They can be silly. They can be mischievous. They can be sarcastic (having been trained well by their grandfather). At times they can even be disobedient (although hardly ever to their doting grandparents). Yet they are profoundly innocent when it comes to sexuality. Why is it that some people are determined to shatter that innocence?
Every few years, there is a push to “out” the Sesame Street characters Bert and Ernie, claiming that they must be gay (I kid you not). Even now, there is a petition on the Change.org website, stating, “For over 40 years, our beloved Sesame St. characters, Bert and Ernie, have been living as ‘roommates’ and we would like PBS and Sesame St. to allow them to live as a gay couple and maybe eventually, marry. It would show children and their parents that not only is it acceptable but also teach children that homophobia is wrong, bullying is wrong and that Sesame Street should recognize that there are LGBT relationships, families, and include them in their show.”
Putting aside the obligatory references to “homophobia” and “bullying” (does anyone really believe that turning Bert and Ernie into gay characters will combat homophobia and bullying?), it appears that the folks at Change.org have failed to realize that the kids watching Sesame Street are, on average, between two and five years old, and they no more understand the concepts of gay or lesbian or bisexual than they understand the concepts of quantum physics. And Bert and Ernie are Muppets, for heaven’s sake.
Sadly, as absurd as this latest petition drive is, the queering of elementary education (to borrow the title of a well-known book) is no laughing matter. What, then, are some of the implications of the recently passed Senate Bill (SB 48) in California, which mandates “social sciences instruction on the contributions of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people,” with no way for parents to pull their kids from the classes?
On the one hand, LGBT pioneers will be celebrated, including people like Leslie Feinberg, the “transgender warrior,” author of Stone Butch Blues, among other books, a woman who dresses like a man, is partnered to another woman, and prefers to be called “ze,” as opposed to he or she. (She is already celebrated in some gay educational curricula.) What will our little ones make of “hir” (again, the preferred pronoun, in contrast with him or her)?
Should we also assume that every figure highlighted in history classes who is not LGBT will be identified as heterosexual? “Today, children, we’re learning about Thomas Jefferson, who was straight.” Is this what we can expect? And why must our kids be told the sexual or romantic inclinations of historical figures?
But there’s more. There will be people like George Washington Carver, a man often claimed as gay by LGBT historians and already featured in gay class lessons. Would his alleged sexual orientation now become a topic of instruction? If so, consider first that there is no clear evidence that he was homosexual, simply speculation among some of his biographers. Second, even if he was same-sex attracted, and even if he acted on those attractions, that was certainly not something he wanted to be known. Will he now be posthumously outed? Third, the real story about this important historical figure is what we do know, namely, that he overcame racism, that he was a committed Christian, and that he made many important discoveries. Why in the world should we bring allegations about his sexuality into the classroom?
Yet there’s more still. On a recent radio interview, GOProud’s Jimmy LaSalvia stated that if he was learning about men like Walt Whitman and Oscar Wilde in school, he would want to know that they were gay. The problem, however, is that they were not simply gay. As noted by Jim Kepner, formerly curator of the International Gay and Lesbian Archives in Los Angeles, “If we reject the boylovers in our midst today we’d better stop waving the banner of the Ancient Greeks, of Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Oscar Wilde, Walt Whitman, Horatio Alger, and Shakespeare. We’d better stop claiming them as part of our heritage unless we are broadening our concept of what it means to be gay today.”
We won’t get into a discussion of Shakespeare’s sexuality here (or most of the others on this list), but Kepner’s point is well taken. Shall we tell the young teenage boys the whole story, namely that Oscar Wilde had a preference for boys their age?
In my opinion, it is just as outrageous to introduce the categories of adult homosexuality and bisexuality to elementary school children, and now is the time to draw the line. Otherwise, your 8 year-old daughter might come home from school to tell you that she just learned that Joan of Arc was transgender. (After all, wasn’t she a cross-dresser?) Or perhaps your little boy will tell you how exciting it was to learn about the drag queens who started a riot at the Stonewall Inn in 1969.
The fact is that our educational system is having a hard enough time teaching our kids the three R’s. Must they now learn LGBTQ’s? Now is the time to stop sexualizing our children. They should not be casualties of the culture wars. Do you agree?
Michael Brown holds a Ph.D. in Near Eastern Languages and Literatures from New York University. He is the author of 25 books, includingLine of Fire. Follow him at AskDrBrown on Facebook or @drmichaellbrown on Twitter.
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