October 1, 2015

Exciting safe schools work coming from PFLAG Metro DC and a coalition of partners, and we're happy to share their work with you, courtesy of the following from handbook author David Fishback:

With the school year beginning, I am reminded of the importance of what is taught – and not taught – in our schools about sexual orientation and gender identity. Too often, there is a deafening silence about such important matters. Such silence too often allows misconceptions and unwarranted prejudices to fester and poison the atmosphere for our LGBTQ children. One of the most important things PFLAGers can do is to work with our schools to convey accurate information on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Efforts to change what is taught in our schools can be daunting. Such efforts demand hard work, wisdom, empathy, and determination. But they can succeed.

On June 17, 2014, the Board of Education of Montgomery County, Maryland, unanimously gave final approval to a revised health education framework for secondary schools.  This revised framework is based specifically on the longstanding findings of every mainstream American medical and mental health professional association regarding sexual orientation and gender identity, including the propositions that being LGBTQ is not an illness and that so-called “reparative” or “conversion” therapies are dangerous and ineffective. This action brought to a successful conclusion a dozen years of work by members of the Metro DC Chapter of PFLAG and others to bring the wisdom of the mainstream health care professionals into the middle and high school health education curriculum.

The Montgomery County experience may be useful for others around the country who seek to make schools not only safe for our LGBTQ children and children of LGBTQ families, but to help create a climate in which all of our children understand and appreciate each other.

Based on that experience, as PFLAG Metro DC Advocacy Chair, I created this publication, Curriculum Victory in Montgomery County, Maryland: A Case Study and Handbook for Action.

I recommend that readers be aware, on the one hand, of the fact that this process took place in a relatively progressive community (which made it easier than it might be elsewhere); but also, on the other hand, of the fact that the culture in America has moved significantly in the last dozen years (which means that the dozen years it took from the start of the process in 2002 to the 2014 culmination could well be far longer than future efforts in other places).

In some communities, there may be widespread opposition to change; in others, opposition may be limited to a very small group of people. In some communities, political leaders may be very supportive; in others, they may be antagonistic or reluctant to “make waves.” In some communities, there may be a pent up desire to make the needed changes; in others, there may be a great fear of even talking about sexual orientation or gender identity. Within school bureaucracies, much may turn on the life experiences and hopes and fears of particular administrators. Every community is different, but there are common threads, the main one being that, as PFLAGers, we advocate for our childrens’ lives, and we do so with the support of the mainstream American medical and mental health community.

We thank David and the PFLAG Metro DC chapter for their incredible work on this effort, and David’s work on the handbook.

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