Saturday, April 29, 2006

tolerance

A controversy started recently over an unorthodox lesson plan in a Lexington, MA, school. A teacher read a new fairy tale called "King & King" in her 2nd grade class. It is a story about two princes who fall in love and get married, presented as part of a lesson on different kinds of weddings. Some parents objected because they said they were not notified before it was read in class. Other objected just on the basis of the gay marriage issue.

I have not read the book, so I cannot judge its presentation of the subject. I understand that parents would want to know what material was being presented. I can't go along with the idea of protesting the depiction of a gay couple as normal to a second grade class.

Kids learn prejudices starting when they are young, at home and among their peers. We all know how cruel kids can be to each other. The high suicide rate among gay teens is largely due to lack of acceptance and persecution.

I have known a few gay/questioning teens and young adults - good, kind people with much to contribute to society. We have talked about their struggles and concerns. We discuss the experiences of their friends who have come out in junior high and high school and been persecuted and ostracized. The picture I get from them is not pretty. They and many of their GLBT friends stay in the closet except to their closest and most trusted friends and family. Fear of persecution can kill one emotionally, even if one is not physically attacked. No one wants to be the next Matthew Shepard.

Sometimes the cruelest twist is being shut out by their immediate family. A few older gay friends were completely cut out of their families' lives when they came out as younger men. Some have had no contact with their families for 30 years or more after their families said "You are no longer one of us."

A longtime friend who grew up in a Southern military family struggled for years to get his family to accept him as gay. They eventually did. He is now a lawyer who is fighting for gay civil rights in Florida and trying to get the ban on gay adoption overturned.

I will not condone persecution of people just because they are biologically different. My hope is that more people will open their minds and judge others by their individual merits, not sexual orientation or race or ethnicity.

Tolerance has to start somewhere. If people don't teach their children to hate, we all have a better chance.

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