Board voted 4-1 Thursday to retain the “Respect for All” curriculum

Governments exist to protect the rights of minorities. The loved and the rich need no protection: they have many friends and few enemies.

 – Wendell Phillips 1811-1884

VALLEJO, Calif.—Parents whose children attend classes in the Vallejo City Unified School District will not be allowed to opt out of anti-bullying curriculum—including short films with gay and lesbian families—being presented in the schools. 

Wednesday night parents filled a Vallejo School Board meeting to support or protest a ‘tolerance’ curriculum that includes directly teaching students to respect the rights of sexual minority people and to ‘tolerate’ gender identity/expression differences among the children and families in Vallejo.

By today the news is out that the curriculum stays intact.  Vallejo children will continue to be taught to respect diversity despite the protestations of some within the community.

It is no surprise to me that the one-year-old ‘Respect All’ curriculum in Vallejo was designed and implemented as a result of a costly and publicly humiliating  legal settlement for the district. 

The curriculum was initiated last year after the district settled a law suit based upon ‘relentless’ homophobic discrimination against a Vallejo High School student.  Back in 2007 lesbian student Rochelle Hamilton was openly intimidated and harassed by the staff and students of Vallejo.

Hamilton reported that while some of the harassment she suffered came from other students, most of the time it came from school teachers and staff.

When the district settled this case an agreement was made to educate both the faculty and the students of Vallejo that bias, hate and discrimination are inappropriate behaviors in polite company. 

And all was well and good.

For about one year…

But this fall some members of the community, spurred by parent Helenmarie Gordon decided it should be their ‘right’ to keep their children from attending the tolerance lessons. 

You know, for Christian reasons. 

In Helenmarie Gordon’s impassioned defense of her Christian bias she noted there was too much focus on gay-bullying in the films selected for the “Respect All” curriculum.

Of particular concern to Helenmarie were three educational films used at the three educational levels, It’s Elementary, Let’s Get Real, and Straightlaced

Having used each of these films for both teacher training classes and in a middle school and high school setting let me just note that they do not focus strictly on ‘gay-bullying.’  In fact 80-90% of the families in That’s a Family are presumably heterosexual people.  Let’s Get Real offers equal treatment to an array of forms of bias pervasive among pre-teens and teens.  And Striaghtlaced is about gender expression.  This film teaches about gender identity and tolerance.  Straightlaced is as an equally important heterosexual teaching tool about sexual harassment, sexual objectification of girls, and the potential violence of some forms of masculinity.  Oh and each of these films also addresses pervasive homophobia.  (I’ve posted video previews to these films at the end of this blog post)

Not surprisingly it appears that simply including LGBTQ human beings existance in a curriculum about ‘tolerance’ or ‘respect’ is asking too much of some people.  Fortunately the tide continues to turn in favor of respect, civility, and decency.   Thanks to the courage of  former student Rochelle Hamilton, to the legal advocacy of the ACLU, and to a legal system that sometimes actually works to protect individuals from discrimination.

And finally, a thought kept distracting me as I was writing this post.  Food for future musing I guess but here are is the general idea that kept niggling at me while I was writing…

Helenmarie Gordon took the position that parents should have been given pre-notice of the curriculum and the option to remove their children from the respect lessons.

Initially, Gordon said she was surprised when one of her sons came home and told her about the film and associated materials. Gordon, an active volunteer with the district, said she was ill-prepared to have a conversation about homosexuality with her son.

“It’s kind of like you signed up for college, and your teacher said these are your prerequisites — but guess what? We’re not even going to tell you what you need,” Gordon said.

Gordon’s argument reminded me of a discussion I had with one of my daughters when a class parent asked me if his child was teasing her about having two moms.  This father knew his child was ‘bullying’ mine and he asked me to find out if his child was being homophobic as part of the problem.  His suspicion piqued mine.

So I asked my daughter, explaining that this parent wanted to teach his child not to be homophobic if that was part of the problem. 

And my 10-year-old child said back to me, “No, that’s not part of the problem.  But shouldn’t he be teaching her that anyway?”

Mrs. Gordon was ill-prepared for a discussion about community respect and tolerance?

Maybe that isn’t a parenting tactic some should publicly defend.

And just to save you a little search time, here are previews of the three films that caused this stir in Vallejo.

That’s a Family

Middle School:
Let’s Get Real

High School:
Straightlaced: How gender’s got us all tied up

And here are a couple other films I like for this sort of teaching:
Out in the Silence
Put (This) on the Map

And this is Rochelle Hamilton’s It Get’s Better YouTube

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