Can't We All Just Dance?

May 29, 2006

My 20th high school reunion will take place this summer, so memories of 1986 are rising up to the surface of my mind like so much beer foam. I attended prom–for five minutes. My date was the only admittedly gay person in high school, and for prom, he dyed his hair flame red, wore a headband, and dressed like a genie. We dropped acid beforehand, and once we stepped into the pastel dream of a gym festooned with crepe paper, my date promptly disappeared. We spent the next ten minutes searching for him, only to find him cowering in the back seat of the car. We left and drove up into the hills outside of town.

If my prom had occured in 2006, my date might not have been overcome with such a strong sense of NOT belonging. In the last decade, it’s been heartening to witness the proliferation of gay-straight alliance clubs in high schools across the country, and the general turning tide of acceptance. But you can’t have progress without backlash.

Those same Energizer bunnies who keep fighting to get creationism taught in science class have trained their sights on high schools where the prevailing message is that gay is OK.

Conservative Christians and Jews have teamed up with men and women who call themselves “ex-gay” to lobby — and even sue — for the right to tell teenagers that they can “heal” themselves of unwanted same-sex attractions.

They argue that schools have an obligation to balance gay-pride themes with the message that gay and lesbian students can go straight through “reparative therapy.” In this view, homosexuality is not a fixed or inborn trait but a symptom of emotional distress — a disorder that can be cured.

Some of these people are just shits: New Jersey’s Jews Offering New Alternatives to Homosexuality is looking for parents and kids willing to sue to get the gay-is-a-disorder viewpoint into schools. Liberty Counsel of Orlando is encouraging teens to form “Gay to Straight Clubs” and hang “Choose to Change” posters in their schools. If an administrator balks, Liberty Counsel vows to provide legal backup. Ugh.

Aside from these litigious lunatics, there are cooler heads who believe that the dissenting opinion deserves equal airtime. Charles Haynes, for example, is a First Amendment scholar who served as mediator for an unlikely coalition of gay activists and conservative Christians. He helped them develop school guidelines for dealing with the topic of homosexuality in a way that is non-offensive to either camp. Sez Haynes:

“I can see where it might be offensive to some to say that ex-gays, or any other group with controversial views, should get a place at the table,” he said. “But that’s America. That’s who we are, on our best days.”

As much as I hate the belief system that paints gay people as defective, I am a fan of the First Amendment, and that can be uncomfortable at times. I wonder how the ex-gay community can get their point across in a way that is not harmful to young gay people, labelling them as defective and setting them up for failure?

If school teachers, counselors, and hired speakers are compelled to mention the alternative view that a person can be “cured” of homosexuality, I sure hope they are required to also mention the pitiful and questionable success rates of the “deprogramming” therapies.