Opponents of gay marriage – which is to say, opponents of equal rights, equal protection, and equality of social life for gay, lesbian, transgender, and non-heterosexual individuals – always state that if gay marriage is legalized, then “gay marriage will be taught in the schools.” During the electoral battle over Proposition 8 in California in 2008, proponents of gay marriage would counter this charge by saying that “gay marriage would not be taught.” But this counter-statement should itself be countered, not by saying that the denial is false and that gay marriage will, in fact, be taught, but by saying that all children – and all human beings – should be presented with what humanity knows: namely, that it is in our essence as humans to be attracted to one another, that the majority of humans in the case of romantic/sexual attraction are attracted to those of the opposite gender and that a minority of humans are attracted to those of the same gender. Students should be taught that these two variations in human attraction are no different than variations in hair color, skin color or any other natural variation. If presenting such knowledge means that gay marriage is being taught, then the reply should be that yes, in this manner, gay marriage and gay relationships should be one aspect – one legitimate, proper and happy aspect – of the many aspects of life about which children should know.
But, first of all: what exactly do opponents of civil rights and equality of existence for non-heterosexuals mean when they say that, “Gay marriage will be taught?” And what does it mean to say, “No, it won't be taught?” Neither statement is ever explained by those who make it, nor is either statement ever examined or evaluated in journalistic coverage, or in commentaries and op-ed articles. Instead, both are simply left to float free, simultaneously attracting and reinforcing whatever received, shallow and prejudicial opinions are already floating about in the very limited sphere of the mainstream media.
But opponents of gay marriage do mean something specific. They do not want any mention, other than condemnations, of homosexuality in school. They certainly do not want any mention of homosexuals that would imply that gay people are simply those who belong to a minority population in the way that those with red hair belong to a minority population. They do not want any mention of anything that would counter their belief that homosexuals stand outside human norms and either, “sin against divine and human principles,” or are willful deviants or clinically diseased.
But when the proponents of gay marriage say that, “Gay marriage won't be taught,” they adopt a defensive position which affirms that there is something wrong with homosexuals, and that there is something wrong with speaking to children neutrally or positively about homosexual attraction. A day prior to the overturning of Proposition 8's ban on gay marriage, the Los Angeles Times ran an op-ed article by David Fleischer, director of a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) mentoring project within the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center's Learn Act Build (LAB) program. Fleischer argued that new data showed that the principle reason Proposition 8 passed was because the charge that, “gay marriage would be taught” had produced a last-minute shift on the part of an electoral block, “parents with children under 18 years of age,” who began to support the proposition they had previously opposed. When Fleischer wrote that, “among the array of untrue ideas that parents could easily take away: that … impressionable kids would learn about gay sex,” he repeats the same defensive countercharge, that is, “gay marriage won't be taught.” For Fleischer, “the lesson” to be learned is this: “It's not enough to make the case for same-sex marriage. It's also important to arm voters – particularly parents – against an inevitable propaganda attack. And it's crucial to rebut lies so parents don't panic.” This is true, but the posture Fleischer proposes, of simply “rebutting lies,” will only reinforce prejudices and will not transform the way the parental electoral block in question thinks and votes.
To tell parents that, “It won't be taught, don't worry,” will not persuade them, still less convince them, nor do anything to undo the prejudices and misconceptions that motivate them, not just as voters, but in all the ways that they think, act, and influence their children about the nature of human attraction, love and existence. Their profoundly rooted ways of being and thinking in relation to homosexuality can only be countered by a direct educational approach about what constitutes human attraction – both heterosexual and homosexual. Full equality of life for the LGBT community will be brought about only by a sustained attempt to put forth directly, in public and in all educational venues – whether for children or adults – a discourse about what human life, human sexuality and human attraction are. This is a much wider field of knowledge than “gay marriage.” The best way to engage and transform negative attitudes towards the LGBT population – and to aid the entire population, heterosexual and homosexual, adult and child – is by a direct presentation of this kind of wide knowledge about the fundamental and beneficial place of human attraction in human life, and the ways in which human attraction marks the absolute unity and commonality of all of us, regardless of sexual orientation.
In this perspective, let us think for a moment about what actually happens in school, and in other places of our social world, when it comes to human attraction. When I was in first grade, there was a girl named Raina whom I liked a lot. She was pretty and I liked looking at her. I was attracted to her, and she liked me, too. Several times, my mother drove me over to her house, and I would have dinner with her family. Then Raina and I would play in her yard. One time, when we were playing baseball in front of her house, two boys from our class rode by on their bikes and teased me for “playing with a girl,” but I paid them no mind. I actually thought it was fine to be playing with a girl – and a pretty one at that! Was I precocious in this thought? No. From infancy, we humans are attracted to some people. We enjoy being in their presence and we are delighted when we find out that the person to whom we are attracted is attracted to us in turn. In fact, this attraction, and the delight and warmth it brings us, are absolutely central and fundamental structures of our lives from start to finish. Everyone knows this, although we do not, paradoxically, reflect upon it enough.
But there was something I didn't know in first grade, and something I didn't think about until I was older. It is quite possible that, in my first grade class, there was a boy who looked at me in the same way that I looked at Raina. And if there were such a boy, he was attracted to me and felt all the things that I felt when I looked at Raina. And it is quite possible that there was a girl in my class who looked, not at me, but at Raina, in exactly the same way that I looked at Raina. Such a girl would have been attracted to Raina in exactly the same way that I was attracted to Raina. Yet there would have been a difference. At the age of six, I did not reflect upon my attraction. It simply existed as such. Yet I could constitute a certain reflection upon it. Prior to starting second grade, my family moved. In my new school, I found a new source of attraction. Her name was Linda. We used to eat lunch together and ride on the school bus together. I gave her a little plastic ring. One day, when my mother picked me up at school, Linda ran up to her and said, “Look at the ring Harold gave me! We are going steady!” Even at this early age, we could describe our mutual attraction in the given terms of romantic combination: “going steady.” Since we belonged to the majority heterosexual population, for us, the pairings – woman/man, girlfriend/boyfriend, wife/husband, etcetera – existed as omnipresent models available in the presence of the standard family structure, available on television and in the movies, available as the standard social picture and representation of attraction and coupling. It was wholly unproblematic.
But what of the boys and girls in our second grade class, and in Raina and my first grade class, who found themselves attracted to someone of the same gender? A generation ago – but even today, despite the increasing openness, understanding and inclusion of homosexual life within some societies – a young child who finds him- or herself with feelings of attraction to someone of the same gender will not have an immediately available and preexisting social framework and language that allows understanding and expression of their feelings. I could understand my feelings in relation to Raina or Linda as simply the “way of human attraction.” Men and women are attracted to each other. This “idea” or “fact” is already known to every child; it is socially constituted for them from infancy. But for the girl/s in my classes attracted to Raina or Linda, or for the boy/s attracted to me or to some other boy, there was no comparable available social image and framework. Even today, very young gay and lesbian children do not yet have any publicly constituted social representation of attraction and coupling which would provide them the immediate comfort and ease that is provided heterosexual children.
But when I was six and seven years old – and still today – there certainly was and continues a powerful framework of negation and denunciation, especially for those children growing up in families, churches and other religious institutions, and in social networks and geographic communities where condemnation of same-sex attraction and coupling is widespread and strong. The boy in my class who might have been attracted to me or the girl who might have been attracted to Raina could easily have found themselves confused by their feelings, scared of their feelings, anxious about their feelings or simply in a state of bewilderment. And all this could have been all the more bewildering and frightening as this child got older and reached the middle school years, where attraction becomes more intensely sexualized. This possible bewilderment or anxiety (and the associated need to remain silent and secretive) would have been (and is) immensely increased if such a boy or girl received a harshly negative representation and condemnation of homosexuality from the people and institutions around them.
Why do the highest rates of suicide for children appear among gay and lesbian children? Because a framework of acceptance, understanding, and knowledge that their feelings of attraction are as normal and well founded as those of anyone else is not available to them. They are unaware that they simply belong to a minority relative to the larger heterosexual population in the same way that red-haired children belong to a minority relative to the larger black-haired population (in fact, the percentage of gay and lesbian members of the human population is at least three times and possibly four or five times that of the red-haired members of our population).
But if, in their early years, these children were provided knowledge which informed them about human feelings and human attraction, and which presented these feelings and these attractions as existing in a state of normal distribution – which is to say that the majority of humans are attracted to someone of the opposite gender, while a smaller, but significant number are attracted to someone of the same gender, or to both genders – then these children, who might have been scared by their feelings of attraction, would no longer have needed to feel confused or scared, would no longer feel that they faced danger and harm from the condemnation and hatred of their own families and friends and from society. They would no longer need to remain secretive in grade school, or to become increasingly so when they got to middle school, high school, and so on.
Add up the amount of fear, anxiety, and confusion felt by all the children on this planet at this very moment who find themselves attracted to someone of the same gender, but who do so in an intolerant familial, social, or religious framework. The sum is large; it is a heart-breaking, tragic and terrible sum. Everyone should ask him- or herself: do I want to contribute to fostering and sustaining this enormous sum of anxiety and pain? This sum can be diminished and, it is fervently to be hoped, one day eliminated, when these children are provided a framework for understanding their attractions and desires, the framework which is in fact the framework of our natural existence itself, as natural as red hair and black hair. I should add that although homosexuality is clearly an orientation one has from birth, even if it were not, even if it were a choice, it would still be something that should be considered as normal – and as proper and inconsequential – as would hair that had been dyed red or black or blonde.
What should be presented – and this is precisely what “teaching gay marriage” should and must mean – is what humanity has discovered about itself and its world. Homosexual attraction and desire, bisexual attraction and desire, and heterosexual attraction and desire are naturally constituted embodiments of human existence and joy. This knowledge and understanding should be presented simply because it is knowledge and understanding. But it should also be presented because it does enormous social good – for us all – and especially for children.
Teach? Provide and present that which is the most immediately evident of things: that attraction is a constituent element of being human in just the same way as laughing or drinking water or feeling the warmth of the sun, that reciprocal and requited attraction are as important for our health and well-being as food, drink, and sleep.
Opposition to gay marriage and opposition to lesbian, gay, and transgender members of our population are not simply oppositions. They are persecutions, and persecutions of children. But just as the advocates of creationism are advocates not of a reproducible knowledge of our nature and world, but rather of an immediacy of adherence – advocates who will never concede the validities of the present state of humanity's biological and anthrobiological understanding – so too will antihomosexual advocates continue to refuse the social, the scientific, the ethical and the existential legitimacy of the LGBT members of humanity. But this is all the more reason why homosexual and bisexual attraction should be part of all education. The variability over time of the planet's temperature and climate (as distinct from weather) is an incontrovertible fact of the history of our planet, although now, the geocausal history of this variability has found a quite significant anthrocausal variable. Our species now directly contributes to the planet's rising temperature and climate shift. We can certainly do something about the anthrocausal variable as regards planetary temperature and climate, if we so choose, but we can all the easier do something to transform for the better the climate in which children come to experience the nature of their feelings of attraction, desire and love. That something is precisely to inform children, as part of their education, that human attraction is naturally polyvalent, that its directionality is not merely across the two genders, but sometimes between and among the same gender – and that these different directionalities are all absolutely fine and praiseworthy.
With this better understanding, we can all exist in a classroom, in a school, in a city – and in all the subsequent classrooms and years of our lives – in such a way that confusion, distress, anxiety, hatred, prejudice, and persecution would have existed in ever-diminishing portions. In such a world, I could play in the street with Raina, and the two boys in our class riding by on their bikes would not have needed to say derisively, “You are playing with a girl!” any more than they would have needed to tease me, or even condemn or attack me, if I had been perceived to like boys rather than girls.