Both the Chicago Tribune and The New York Times published articles about gay issues in public (government) schools last Friday (Feb. 20). If that isn't a sign from the empyrean that I should write about that, I don't know what one would look like.
The Tribune story was about gay students at a high school in suburban Lincolnwood holding a "high kitsch" mixer for gay students but open to all students at area schools.
There are the predictable objections from the anti-gay sector. For instance, schools shouldn't take sides in the culture wars by sponsoring gay events. But it is, after all, the students who are sponsoring the event; the school is merely allowing it. Then too, schools have long been taking sides in the culture wars by sponsoring a heterosexual institution. It's called "high school."
Social conservatives also object that schools can shield students from discrimination without mixers and dances. But this the schools utterly fail to do. Ask any out-of-the-closet gay or lesbian student if they were shielded.
The New York Times story was about a school in conservative Orange County, California, that was going to put on a toned-down version of the Broadway show "Rent." But the principal objected to the presence of two gay characters and a prostitute in the show.
Her position was that a high school show should be appropriate for people of all ages, including children. But one would think it mainly needed to be appropriate for high school students, a pretty worldly group, you'd think, what with the Internet, easy access to porn, and-for goodness sake-television.
The principal's second objection was that "Rent" could offend school alumni and others who come back to see the Broadway shows each year. So maybe it is those older adults that she had in mind when she referred to "people of all ages." But you would think a simple warning sign about "controversial content" would handle the difficulty adequately. No such luck. And there have been similar objections in other cities.
Obviously we would all like to help gay and lesbian high school students and help promote just a bit of openness and acceptance. What could help this along?
More gay parents and parents of gay students need to come out and be actively supportive.
Those parents need to consider running for school board. Principals are responsible to the school boards that hired them, so gay-supportive school boards are an important pressure point. Remember that the Religious Right urges parents to run for school board to promote their issues such as creationism, sex-less education, and opposition to gays.
More gay teachers need to come out and be supportive, so long as they have tenure and a supportive unions.
More heterosexual high school students need to be organized as supportive, which is why Gay/Straight Alliances are so important to have in more schools. They provide a way to do that safely.
Gay-supportive community leaders and clergy need to step forward to be more vocal on behalf of gay students-attending mixers, dances and controversial plays, and speaking out in public.
Here in Chicago, a new wild card has been thrown into the mix with Mayor Richard M. Daley's appointment of his former Chief of Staff and Chicago Transit Authority head Ron Huberman to be head of the school system. Huberman is gay and has publicly disclosed that fact in print.
Huberman is a Daley loyalist and will have his hands full trying to improve Chicago's dismal public schools, so he probably will not make any bold initiatives on gay issues. But the very fact that he is gay and holds the position he does may provide encouragement at the level of local school operations.