Anoka-Hennepin School District Ends Silence Policy Toward Sexual Orientation

UPDATE – 2/14/12: The school board placed this information on their website about the change (scroll down to see the approved policy):

The Anoka-Hennepin School District has a new policy designed to promote a respectful learning environment in which teachers facilitate student discussions of contentious topics in a balanced and impartial manner that encourages development of critical thinking and decision-making skills.

“I believe this policy is the best thing for Anoka-Hennepin and for all students,” said Board Chair Tom Heidemann, who went on to say it “takes away some of the confusion that existed in the previous policy.”

The School Board approved the Respectful Learning Environment – Curriculum Policy Feb. 13 following more than two months of discussion and hours of public input regarding replacement of the Sexual Orientation Curriculum Policy (SOCP). Some teachers felt that the SOCP was confusing. Board members asked the administration to bring forward a new policy that would eliminate the confusion.

The board sought a policy that would address any issues that may be contentious instead of focusing on specific topics. (The new policy replaces the Religious Activities Policy as well as the SOCP.) They also wanted to ensure that staff would not attempt to persuade students to adopt a particular viewpoint, and to clarify that the board-adopted curriculum is the basis for education in district schools.

After rejecting an earlier proposal in December when public input revealed little support for it, staff developed the Respectful Learning Environment-Curriculum Policy and presented it to the board Jan. 23. According to Paul Cady, district general counsel, the new policy meets the intent of the board, responds to public input, and reflects academic research on how to best deal with issues of public controversy that may arise in the classroom.

“It’s not the district’s role to take a position on these issues and it’s not acceptable for professional staff to persuade students to adopt or reject any particular viewpoint,” said Chair Heidemann. This was one of several elements he felt were missing in the previous policy.

He also stressed that the district’s curriculum will not change as the result of adopting the Respectful Learning Environment – Curriculum Policy. “Curriculum changes only if there are four votes on this School Board,” Heidemann said.

Board member John Hoffman noted that the district has a transparent process for adopting curriculum and community members have the right to participate in that process.

Board members also stressed that the new policy emphasizes a safe and respectful learning environment for all students. “It gets to the intent of our founding fathers of this great state and ensures all are welcome to participate in this wonderful experience of free, public education,” said Hoffman

Board member Scott Wenzel stressed that by adopting the Respectful Learning Environment-Curriculum Policy the board removes a policy that singles out one minority group and establishes the dignity and self-worth of all students. “I believe our teachers always have the best interests of students at heart. [This policy] provides the reassurance that our teachers will continue to do that.”

The proposed policy opens with a commitment to a safe and respectful learning environment for all students and an education that respects all students and their families. It stresses that teachers must follow the board-adopted curriculum, which is based on state standards, and it acknowledges that political, religious, social or economic issues may be contentious in a learning environment “in which conflicting views are held by a broad segment of people in our schools, our community and our nation.”

The policy states that the district does not take positions on these issues and that staff shall not attempt to “persuade students to adopt or reject any particular viewpoint with respect to these issues.” When contentious issues are discussed in classrooms, it states that the discussions must be appropriate for the developmental level of students, related to the course content, and presented in a balanced manner with varying points of view. They should be designed to help students “think critically and develop decision-making skills and techniques for examining and understanding differing opinions.”

It closes by stating that in these discussions, staff “shall affirm the dignity and self-worth of all students.”

………

Earlier tonight, various news sources reported that the Anoka-Hennepin School Board was considering a replacement for their gag policy on teacher discussions of sexual orientation. The old policy forbid teachers from discussing with students aspects of sexual orientation as a reality.

(Read policy after the break)

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The Evangelical Blackout of Sexual Orientation Research, Part 2

Last week, I commented on what I see as an evangelical blackout of sexual orientation research by Christian media and organizations. While I stand by that viewpoint, the situation is actually worse than a blackout. The blackout is selective; some new research is reported. However, the studies reported and the way they are reported seem designed to create a slanted picture.

A case in point. Currently, on the NARTH (National Association for the Research and Therapy of Homosexuality) website, scientific advisory board member, Chris Rosik, reviews a new report from Gartrell, Bos and Goldeberg about lesbian parenting recently published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior. The headline for the review is

New Study: Daughters of Lesbian Parents More Likely to Engage in Same-Sex Behavior and Identify as Bisexual

This is definitely a new study. The blackout is not total, but as I will demonstrate, it is selective. NARTH ignores the hard science involved in the brain scan studies but finds one aspect of a small longitudinal study of lesbian parenting to report. Now that you read the headline, read what Rosik says about how the study can be used.

While this small study is valuable as a starting point for longitudinal research into same-sex parenting, professionals and policy makers should be very wary of making any meaningful conclusions from its findings.  Serious methodological limitations also argue against making sweeping generalizations.  As is the case for the vast majority of studies in this area, the sample size is quite small, constituting only 78 adolescents.  The sample of lesbian parents is self-selected and appears to be different from the general population on important demographics such as socioeconomic status and educational attainment.  Demand characteristics (i.e., external influences such as political goals that might motivate study participants to respond in a particular manner) are not considered or assessed by the study’s authors with respect to the lesbian mothers or their adolescent children.

And then…

Certainly the Gatrell, et al. (2011) study provides some intriguing though entirely non-generalizable findings that are consistent with the hypothesis that non-heterosexual experiences and identities are more common among daughters of lesbian families than those raised in heterosexual families.

First, Rosik reports, via headline, the finding that would be of concern to religious conservatives but then in the article says one cannot make such generalizations. If one cannot generalize beyond the sample, then why report the finding as if one could?

The study also found that no children were abused in lesbian homes. This finding is in contrast to heterosexual families where abuse is reported (26% of teens report physical abuse by a parent or caregiver according to national surveys). Since NARTH is commonly represented in cases against same-sex parenting, and such information is relevant to their membership, why was that fact not a part of the headline?

Another interesting finding in the study was that boys were less likely to have been sexual involved with girls in lesbian families than in straight families. Isn’t that what abstinence educators want to promote?

My point here is that NARTH leaders do keep an eye out for new research, however, their reporting of them is selective. And then when they choose to review a study, their review is selective.

I have established that NARTH is a key source of information for Christian right organizations. When some relevant studies are ignored, and others are selectively reported, it seems clear to me evangelicals are poorly served by the organizations they count on for information.

Hillary Clinton’s Remarks Calling for Decriminalization of Homosexuality

I am late to this story which unfolded on Tuesday, Human Rights Day. The Obama Administration called on the rest of the world to decriminalize homosexuality, punctuating this call with remarks from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Geneva. The full text of these remarks are here. I am going to pull out some comments that are significant to me.

Clinton directly makes the case that laws criminalizing homosexuality are violations of human rights.

It is violation of human rights when people are beaten or killed because of their sexual orientation, or because they do not conform to cultural norms about how men and women should look or behave.  It is a violation of human rights when governments declare it illegal to be gay, or allow those who harm gay people to go unpunished.  It is a violation of human rights when lesbian or transgendered women are subjected to so-called corrective rape, or forcibly subjected to hormone treatments, or when people are murdered after public calls for violence toward gays, or when they are forced to flee their nations and seek asylum in other lands to save their lives.  And it is a violation of human rights when life-saving care is withheld from people because they are gay, or equal access to justice is denied to people because they are gay, or public spaces are out of bounds to people because they are gay.  No matter what we look like, where we come from, or who we are, we are all equally entitled to our human rights and dignity.

Then she dispels the myth that homosexuality is a Western invention.

The second issue is a question of whether homosexuality arises from a particular part of the world.  Some seem to believe it is a Western phenomenon, and therefore people outside the West have grounds to reject it.  Well, in reality, gay people are born into and belong to every society in the world.  They are all ages, all races, all faiths; they are doctors and teachers, farmers and bankers, soldiers and athletes; and whether we know it, or whether we acknowledge it, they are our family, our friends, and our neighbors.

Being gay is not a Western invention; it is a human reality.  And protecting the human rights of all people, gay or straight, is not something that only Western governments do.  South Africa’s constitution, written in the aftermath of Apartheid, protects the equality of all citizens, including gay people.  In Colombia and Argentina, the rights of gays are also legally protected.  In Nepal, the supreme court has ruled that equal rights apply to LGBT citizens.  The Government of Mongolia has committed to pursue new legislation that will tackle anti-gay discrimination.

Clinton directly addressed the perceived conflict between gay rights to live freely with religious beliefs.

The third, and perhaps most challenging, issue arises when people cite religious or cultural values as a reason to violate or not to protect the human rights of LGBT citizens. This is not unlike the justification offered for violent practices towards women like honor killings, widow burning, or female genital mutilation. Some people still defend those practices as part of a cultural tradition. But violence toward women isn’t cultural; it’s criminal. Likewise with slavery, what was once justified as sanctioned by God is now properly reviled as an unconscionable violation of human rights.

In each of these cases, we came to learn that no practice or tradition trumps the human rights that belong to all of us. And this holds true for inflicting violence on LGBT people, criminalizing their status or behavior, expelling them from their families and communities, or tacitly or explicitly accepting their killing.

Of course, it bears noting that rarely are cultural and religious traditions and teachings actually in conflict with the protection of human rights. Indeed, our religion and our culture are sources of compassion and inspiration toward our fellow human beings. It was not only those who’ve justified slavery who leaned on religion, it was also those who sought to abolish it. And let us keep in mind that our commitments to protect the freedom of religion and to defend the dignity of LGBT people emanate from a common source. For many of us, religious belief and practice is a vital source of meaning and identity, and fundamental to who we are as people. And likewise, for most of us, the bonds of love and family that we forge are also vital sources of meaning and identity. And caring for others is an expression of what it means to be fully human. It is because the human experience is universal that human rights are universal and cut across all religions and cultures.

Clinton seems on the mark to say that this conflict is challenging. Judging from the reaction of religious right talking heads, I think the challenge is right here in the USA.

Clinton then appeals to the Golden Rule. I like this.

Finally, progress comes from being willing to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes.  We need to ask ourselves, “How would it feel if it were a crime to love the person I love?  How would it feel to be discriminated against for something about myself that I cannot change?”  This challenge applies to all of us as we reflect upon deeply held beliefs, as we work to embrace tolerance and respect for the dignity of all persons, and as we engage humbly with those with whom we disagree in the hope of creating greater understanding.

Clinton here is not calling for anyone to agree that homosexual behavior is in line with their religious beliefs. However, she is calling for people to act in accord with their religious beliefs about reciprocal treatment. If you don’t want to be discriminated against for something intrinsic to you, then don’t do it to others.

Uganda's Family Life Network calls for passage of Anti-Homosexuality Bill

In a sign that debate is heating up in Uganda over the Anti-Homosexuality BIll, the Family Life Network of Stephen Langa convened a press conference yesterday and initiated the “Pass the Bill Now” campaign (Press release).
Stephen Langa organized the conference in Kampala in 2009 which featured Scott Lively, Don Schmierer, and Caleb Brundidge.

American Anti-gay Campaign in Africa: Family Watch International

Late yesterday, Religion Dispatches posted my lengthy report on the anti-gay work of Family Watch International and the World Congress of Families.
I became curious about FWI when I saw that they had distanced their organization from Martin Ssempa. I reported way back in January 2010 that Ssempa was associated with the group. However, efforts then to get FWI to respond to the issue were ignored.  Recently, however, FWI made a change which according to Slater was a reflection of their belief that gays not be killed or beaten for being gay. She told me in the interview that FWI did not support violence, but take no position on other penalties.
The question that came to my mind was – “Isn’t removal of freedom and being cast in jail violence?”
Apparently, not violent enough.
I hope you will go read the report at RD.

American Psychiatric Association opposes Uganda's anti-gay legislation

Over the weekend I received this from psychiatrist David Scasta:

8/14/11
Dear Warren:
I want to thank you for keeping me and the American Psychiatric Association apprised of the situation in Uganda regarding the Anti-Homosexuality Bill – which failed to make it on the agenda of the last Ugandan Parliamentary Plenary but apparently is being resurrected in a modified form for the current Plenary. As you know, the American Psychiatric Association was alarmed that there has been a credible attempt to criminalize homosexuality in Uganda with draconian punishment that includes the death penalty. While the APA likely will not comment on the religious dynamics behind the bill, the APA can comment on the psychiatric implications of the bill and the quality of the scientific pronouncements about homosexuality by Ugandan mental health organizations.
By way of context, the APA is the largest psychiatric organization in the world, numbering almost 38,000 members. On May 14, 2011 the legislative Assembly of the APA passed legislation without dissent putting the APA in opposition to criminalization of homosexuality and reiterating the APA’s longstanding positions about homosexuality that decry stigmatization and discrimination. The Assembly’s legislation made its way up to the Joint Reference Committee and the Council on Minority Mental Health and Mental Health Disparities. The Joint Reference Committee then called upon the APA Board of Trustees to direct the President of the APA to write to the President of Uganda and the Speaker of Parliament expressing the APA’s concern about the health and safety of Ugandan gay and lesbian citizens. Dr. John Oldham, the current president of the APA, sent that letter on July 26, 2011. I attach that letter for your readers’ perusal.
Thank you again for keeping all of us informed about this critical issue for the African continent.
David L. Scasta, M.D., DFAPA
Representative to the Assembly of the APA
Association of Gay & Lesbian Psychiatrists
Vice-chair, Assembly Allied Organizations Committee
Clinical Associate Professor of Psychiatry
Temple University Medical School

The letter from Dr. Oldham is attached and is addressed to President Museveni, Speaker of Parliament Kadaga and David Bahati, mover of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill. It also is copied to Charles Tuhaise, the President of the National Association of Social Workers – Uganda. That group has endorsed the AHB which seemed to bring motivation to the APA to go on record opposing the bill and criminalization of homosexuality in general.

Ghanaian prof says homosexuality not a US import

Two Saturdays ago, I interviewed Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Jr by phone about the recent upsurge of anti-gay rhetoric in Ghana. Dr. Okoampa-Ahoofe is a Ghanaian who now lives in the US and is a college professor at Nassau Community College. I intend to incorporate his input in future articles on Ghana. For now, I am just going to refer to a column he wrote for Myjoyonline about our interview. He included just about everything we discussed so it is a pretty efficient way to get across his views.
In short, he is concerned about the level of anti-gay sentiment in Ghana and hopes the country does not move toward a Ugandan approach. Please note, this is a Ghanaian observing Ghana and making this comparison.

I am scheduled to be on CNN Newsroom Sunday

I will be on CNN Newsroom Sunday at 8:30am (ET) 7/24 to talk about evangelicals and reparative therapy.
I believe the focus is going to be on the recent issues relating to Marcus Bachmann’s clinic, Exodus, and Mark Yarhouse’s research demonstrating no orientation change on average in mixed orientation marriages.

Al Mohler presents us with a conundrum

Rev. Al Mohler, who lately has been calling evangelicals to speak honestly about homosexuality, seemed to defend religiously based orientation change yesterday in a column on his website.
Much of what he writes about sin and redemption most evangelicals would agree with, but then he says this about Christians and same-sex desire.

Christians with same-sex sexual desires must know that these desires are sinful. Thus, faithful Christians who struggle with these desires must know that God both desires and commands that they desire what He wills for them to desire. All Christians struggle with their own pattern of sinful desires, sexual and otherwise. Our responsibility as Christians is to be obedient to Christ, knowing that only He can save us from ourselves.

Earlier in the column, Mohler said that “…those whose sexual orientation is homosexual face the fact that they also need a fundamental reordering of their sexual attractions.” Correct me if I am misreading him, but he appears to be arguing that orientation change is required for believers who are attracted to the same sex.
This appears to be at odds with Mohler’s statements that evangelicals have “lied about the nature of homosexuality” and that same-sex attractions is “not something that people can just turn on and turn off.”
I sense a problem.
Last Friday, I pointed to a study Mark Yarhouse’s team at Regent University in the Christian journal Edification which found no change in orientation on average for married gay and lesbian people. Behavior changed modestly, but same-sex orientation remained the same. Gary Welton and I are now writing up a report of a study that found same-sex attraction actually increased on average in a similar group of married GLB people. Religious affiliation is associated with a smaller increase in SSA but these changes could not be considered a “fundamental reordering of their sexual attractions.”
At this point, I can’t satisfactorily reconcile what counseling and study participants* are telling us with what Rev. Mohler teaches in this column. Perhaps we are dealing with semantics when it comes to defining what orientation is, or what “a fundamental reordering” looks like.  When Rev. Mohler says that God commands that gays desire what He wills them to desire, that sounds a lot like turning desires on and off – in short choice. I hope he will address this in a future column. I feel sure that the emphasis on orientation in Mohler’s column will be discouraging to GLB men and women who have entered heterosexual marriage, but remain attracted to the same sex.
I suspect this will not be the only column on this matter, but for now I wanted to raise what looks like a conundrum for evangelicals raised by research and Mohler’s column.
*Here I refer to my recent study, Yarhouse’s report and the longitudinal study by Jones and Yarhouse. Even in that study of Exodus participants, reports of a “fundamental reordering of their sexual attractions” were infrequent. Even the small number of people who reported categorical changes reported ongoing SSA.

Ghana's Western Region Minister orders arrest of all gays

Yesterday, I reported on the worsening situation in Ghana for human rights for GLB people. Today, a government minister ordered the arrest of all gay people in his region.

The Western Region Minister Paul Evans Aidoo has ordered the immediate arrest of all homosexuals in the region.
He has tasked the Bureau of National Investigations and all security agencies to smoke out persons suspected to be engaging in same sex.
He also enlisted the services of landlords and tenants to provide reliable information which will lead to the arrest of homosexuals.
His directive follows months of campaigns against the practice of homosexuality in the country.
Only yesterday, the Christian Council of Ghana capped months of protestations against the practice of homosexuality with a strongly worded message against the practice and courting Ghanaians not to vote for any politician who believes in the rights of homosexuals.

UPDATE: In a sign that there are forces of reason in Ghana’s leadership, the President said he was misquoted when a news source said he intended to crack down on gays legally. It is not clear what he will do about this call for unlawful arrests.