Straight Talk About Gays


December 07, 1992|By GEORGE F. WILL

WASHINGTON — Washington. -- The school board of District 24 in the borough of Queens, New York, has been suspended by school chancellor Joseph Fernandez, who is the sort of bureaucrat-bully who may yet shatter America's valuable but perishable support for public education.

The board refuses to implement the ''multicultural'' curriculum Mr. Fernandez's staff wrote to indoctrinate children with particular attitudes about, among other things, homosexuality. The bibliography of the ''Children of the Rainbow'' curriculum recommends for first-graders (preschoolers must make do with a gay and lesbian coloring book) books such as ''Daddy's Roommate,'' ''Heather Has Two Mommies'' and ''Gloria Goes to Gay Pride,'' in which one of Gloria's mothers explains the Gay Pride Parade: ''Some women love women, some men love men, and some women and men love each other. That's why we march in the parade -- so everyone can have a choice.''

Remember that word: ''Choice.''

Proponents of the curriculum say it teaches ''tolerance,'' but they blur the distinction between tolerance and societal indifference. The curriculum constitutes ''consciousness-raising,'' a euphemism for propaganda asserting the moral equivalence of heterosexual and homosexual lifestyles.''

The curriculum's supporters say it promotes ''respect'' and ''appreciation'' of gays and lesbians, just as it does for racial and gender differences. But the question of what constitutes sensible policy about sexual orientation is more complex than the question of what is sensible policy regarding racial and gender differences. Race and gender are genetically determined, not the result of choices. But postnatal events, including choices, influence sexuality.

School board 24 is confronting this dilemma of social policy: We should combat irrational prejudice about and injustice toward homosexuals, and affirm their human dignity. But we should not communicate societal indifference, thereby weakening social promptings toward heterosexuality.

This dilemma is addressed by E.L. Pattullo in ''Straight Talk about Gays'' in the current Commentary. Mr. Pattullo, formerly associate chairman of Harvard's department of psychology, argues that the movement to abolish all societal distinctions between heterosexual and homosexual relationships is problematic because there is reason to think ''that a very substantial number of people are born with the potential to live either straight or gay lives'' -- to ''grow in either direction.''

Much is unknown about the genesis of homosexuality. There may be both prenatal and postnatal determinants of sexual orien tation. But surely the social environment, including schooling, sends shaping messages.

Mr. Pattullo agrees that sexual orientation must result from ''a chain of events so complex that we are unaware of having made a choice.'' But it is ''possible that substantial numbers of youngsters do have the capacity to 'choose' in the same sense they 'choose' the character that will mark them as adults -- that is, through a sustained, lengthy process of considered and unconsidered behaviors. Though we acknowledge some influences -- social and biological -- beyond their control, we do not accept the idea that people of bad character had no choice. Further, we are concerned to maintain a social climate that will steer them in the direction of the good.''

There should be similar steering toward heterosexuality. Decency toward homosexuals is compatible with social policies -- from the adoption of children to school curricula -- that avoid communicating societal indifference or moral equivalence to children of unformed sexuality.

Mr. Pattullo says, ''We dare not risk failing to give children clear, repeated signals as to society's preference'' for heterosexual families. ''Daddy Has a Roommate'' (which says, ''Being gay is just another kind of love'') and ''Heather Has Two Mommies'' (which says, ''Heather's favorite number is two. She has two arms, two legs, two ears, two hands . . . two mommies: Momma Jane and Momma Kate.'') send injurious signals.

Regarding the entangled issue of AIDS education, references to anal intercourse have been deleted from fifth-grade instruction but retained for the sixth grade, and lessons on condom usage come in the fourth grade. Such Solomonic compromises are the mark of Mr. Fernandez's ''moderation.''

The poorest preschoolers in New York have a lower rate of immunization against measles, tuberculosis and other diseases than children in Mexico and Uganda. But if these New York children survive, the city that cannot immunize them will give them an HIV-AIDS curriculum (for kindergarten through sixth grade) that will at least enrich their vocabularies. The curriculum's glossary includes: ''Dental dam -- a piece of latex that can be placed over the vulva during oral sex to protect against transmission of viruses that may be present in vaginal fluids, or over the anus during anilingus (oral sex involving the anus).''

I wonder: Are New York's sixth-graders as well informed about history, geography and poetry as they are about it being (this from their AIDS curriculum) ''wise to use latex condoms with a contraceptive foam or cream containing a chemical, nonoxynol-9.''?

George F. Will is a syndicated columnist.

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