Striving for ‘respect for all’

January 6, 2011 — by Denise Lin and Priyanka Nookala

Rochelle Hamilton got up in the morning, just like her peers. She got ready for school and later arrived at Vallejo High School for just another school day. However, to some of the students and staff at the high school, she did not fit into the ideal of what a female student should be.
Hamilton was lesbian. And that was enough to nail a target to her back. She was told by her school counselor to “change” her sexual orientation, for being lesbian was “a sin,” and would cause her to “go to hell.”

Eventually, Hamilton went to court, which settled the case in her favor. The Vallejo City Unified School District agreed to adopt a curriculum, called “The Respect for All Project,” that aims to reduce harassment and discrimination regarding sexual orientation and gender identity. The curriculum is mandatory for students.

While this may seem like a victory for the LGBT, or Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender community, the curriculum faces some heated opposition. Some feel that requiring students to attend the tolerance classes is an infringement on their rights.

In particular, parent Helenmarie Gordon declared that the curriculum offends her Christian beliefs and that she is unprepared to discuss homosexuality with her son.

Gordon is especially concerned with three films being shown as a part of the curriculum, including: “That’s a Family!,” a video for elementary students that raises awareness about non-traditional families; “Let’s Get Real,” a film designated for middle school students to address harassment caused by factors such as race, religion, sexual orientation and immigration status and “Straightlaced—How Gender’s Got Us All Tied Up,” a film for high school students that addresses how societal gender role norms lead to anti-gay harassment, risky sexual practices and violence.

While Gordon’s concerns have some merit, it is important to recognize that the films in question are not solely focused on homosexuality. Much of the films also address issues of race, religion and the traditional family structure.

Gordon and other parents need to realize that accepting the diversity of people’s sexual preferences and gender identities entails education on the subject of diversity and tolerance.

As for Gordon’s hesitance to discuss homosexuality with her son, it is imperative to realize that
homosexual people are just as much a part of the world as heterosexual people are. They are here, and they are part of our community. It would be insulting not to recognize them.

In modern day America, previously scorned groups, such as women and African-Americans, now enjoy basic rights that have been granted through legislation.

It is the duty of the Vallejo school district to endure all criticism and institute “The Respect for All Project” as a mandatory and permanent course. Educators must address discriminating behavior to create a learning environment where students feel safe and respected.

Ultimately, embracing “The Respect for All Project” would be a great step forward for the Vallejo community. Even in schools like Saratoga High where tolerance for diversity is promoted through clubs like the Gay Straight Alliance, this program would provide further support and education. If all schools have such programs, it will be a small but significant step forward for America, so that one day the country may accept all of its people.

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