East High School Parents
Q: Well let's just start and talk a little bit about history as we were doing, and I'll just say again, I know that you've lived with this issue for a long time. And so I'd like to hear from you how it's impacted your family and what issues and what it's brought up for you as a family.
Father: I believe the issue has helped strengthen the beliefs and the values that we as a family stand for. And it's helped us spend a little more time than we probably would have, talking about the issue and what we believe as a family and individually.
Mother: One of our children was a student at East High the first year that the club issue came up. And he had been part of some clubs that he really enjoyed. And it was a difficult issue. It was an emotional issue for the students, even in in expressing their opinions and deciding, do we vote or give our input to have the clubs removed? Because we're not comfortable with this, do we give up what we like? And it wasn't an easy issue for them, but they felt strongly about it. Not out of dislike for people, but they felt strongly enough to put their support in the direction of banning the clubs.
Mother: I think that a there was a feeling among students, and this was really not even with so much parental input, but there was a feeling among students that really wasn't a club in the same regard as the spirit club or the German club or the Debate club or even the Pep club. That maybe that type of club had more of a place of a community center or at a church than in the schools.
Q: So you mentioned as a family this issue brought you together and you talked more. What was the bottom line for you, as a family as you talked about this?
Father: The bottom line really is more of a religious issue as to what we believe, we believe that a family with a with a husband and a father and children is what will bring us together.
Mother: And a wife.
Father: And wife. And a wife will bring us the most happiness in living in that type of a of a setting. And that's all it really is, more of a religious a belief and the values that we a believe in because of that--a belief.
Q: So what did you feel, I guess I'm assuming then that you felt that with having the club, by bringing this issue into the school then, making it a part of the school, would impact in some way upon your religious belief.
Mother: No, I would say at that time there wasn't even as much discussion in our home as a family as there is now. If I'm remembering right, it was more that ya know, I think from in our family anyway, the the kids, the students, there was input and involvement there. I just think that I would say religion and morals. I think that there was a feeling among a lot of the students. That is a difficult thing to say because as we're accused of being intolerant. I really think there's been a real effort.
There are students and parents who feel, and I know this is offensive, but they feel it's morally, it's not something they they want to really embrace or say we think this is right, but but we don't want to; ya know that's a touchy thing to say. Because I think there is a feeling and I don't think it's perceived, but there is a feeling of caring about the people. And of not wanting really to offend and say we don't want that, but I think the kids were uncomfortable with it. I don't think they necessarily identified it as I'm uncomfortable with this because it goes against my religion, it was something that they felt was wrong.
Now, I can then understand where the Gay-Straight Alliance feels like well we need to correct those misconceptions, we need to educate you that this isn't wrong. But the truth is in our home anyway, and there are kids who feel that this is not something they want to embrace or accept and the more they're educated on it, the less they want to embrace it. The less they want to accept it.
Q: So what do you tell your kids? How do you approach it with them?
Father: We listen. I I think it's a most important to listen as to what they a think. And how this is affecting them and what they believe. And and a share with them how we feel about it as well. But a I think the most important thing that's happened with our children is that we've listened to them and a they realize that a they can come here and talk about how they feel. And they know what we believe.
Mother: And as my husband says, we've listened and within these last few years as the clubs were banned and then the Gay-Straight Alliance were able to have a club. And this may be partly administration problems, but their voice is heard in the school, and it's heard quite loudly. And it's caused frustration.
Q: I think you're bringing up a very important point. A lot of kids, are afraid to speak out. Do you perceive it to be kind of a silent majority in a way? Let's talk about that a little bit.
Mother: I agree with you a hundred percent on that, and we have talked about that, my husband and I. Between us we think the reason, another reason that is a silent majority is because it's a touchy issue. I think we generally do care. I mean I care that kids aren't heard. I care about people. I care deeply.
And it's hard for me to say, "please stop, we disagree with your lifestyle. We disagree with your lifestyle." And telling them more is not going to change things because from our perspective and I don't think it's just my religion. I've talked to other people. There are a lot of people who feel that this may be a choice, it may be hereditary, but that there are other things that people may be born with that they may need to choose to try to not bring it fully into their lives and it's uncomfortable to compare homosexuality to alcoholism or to a drug addiction. That's an offensive thing to say.
And I think the other side, the Gay-Straight Alliance side, is more willing to say offensive things to judge us as intolerant; where I think we genuinely want to be careful, we don't want to offend people. That's the last thing I want to do is offend someone. But to me the heart of the issue is to keep pushing and saying accept us, accept us. It forces us to say we're not going to accept it. And in our home, my husband talked about listening.
We do listen, but when our child says in my classroom, it's being promoted and he says I don't want to accept it and I like the people, but I don't like what they do. I am not gonna say to him, like what they do.
And we together will say we want you to be kind, we don't want you to ever hurt anyone. We don't want you to ever do anything that will bring harm to someone, but we also don't want you to accept it and we feel you have every right to say, I disagree with that, I don't like it, and I don't want it in my face. But that offends and then they say we're intolerant.
Q: Let's talk about the assembly. And your opinions about that assembly. And, because you talked to me on the phone and I know I've talked to people from the gay-straight alliance who say, we did this because we want to be included. We want people to know how we feel. And we feel like if we present these things to them, then they will be more tolerant, then they'll understand where we're coming from. How does that make you feel?
Mother: I think they did the opposite.
Q: Can you explain.?
Mother: Yes, I've heard a lot of parents address the issue that the kids couldn't leave. And kids did want to leave, I mean I've heard that all throughout our community, I know someone whose a teacher in the school and it was described by many people as as the feeling during the assembly.
I think there were several issues that made the assembly a problem. I think traditionally this is an assembly that the students of East High love. They love seeing the different cultures celebrated. We've been in attendance at several of these assemblies. And seen the Tongan community perform, we've seen sign language done. It's it's a wonderful assembly that the students love. I don't think that the Gay-Straight Alliance is a culture and I think that came across as difficult for a lot of people.
I think it made kids angry and they were offended. There were kids who wanted to leave and they couldn't leave. I don't think it was planned that way, I think it was just an unfortunate coincidence that they put this new policy into effect. But I think the Gay-Straight Alliance presentation should never have been in the culture multi-cultural assembly. I think by doing it in that way, from the response I've heard from students, is that it offended them and it did the opposite of creating tolerance; it created anger and it created intolerance. It was very very offensive to a lot of kids. And it made kids angry.
Q: I've heard the thing about the sign language. And I've heard people on the other side say but is sign language a culture. I mean how do you draw that line?
Mother: And even as I said sign language in my mind I thought, sign language isn't a culture. But the Hispanic community, the Tongan community, those are cultures.
Q: So where does this belong, does it have a place?
Mother: I personally feel that the issue may belong in schools, but if it does, it maybe belongs in a class on human sexuality. There's a class at the University on human sexuality, it can be an elective class. Um. I don't feel it belongs in the assembly. I don't feel that teachers at school who are teaching solid classes. I don't believe that signs in their room talking about homophobia, I don't think that's the place for it. I think that a class specifically addressed to that issue that people or students who wanted to know more about it, could learn about it in a classroom setting.
Q: What about those who feel this issue is a civil rights issue and would like to include teaching against, say, homophobia or about not using slurs or compare it to racial differences. Those who say but what we're trying to teach is tolerance, what we're trying to teach is that people can be different and that we don't call them names because they are different.
Mother: I think that's a legitimate issue and I think there's truth in that. I think the problem with this presentation in the assembly is that they went past education. I think when you're impressionable it's easy to stop when you hear think about it and to think, we'll goll, ya know maybe this isn't right, and and maybe I need to look at this differently.
And I think to put a list of these people who are gay and lesbian and to include people like Joan of Arc and Michaelangelo and Leonardo Divinci and Emily Dickenson. I mean how do they know? Do they have concrete evidence? By putting out statesman and artists and musicians and writers they are saying, look at these wonderful people. You don't have to be embarrassed.
I am aware as I'm saying this that it sounds really intolerant and that from from their perspective they're saying it's not wrong, it's just a choice. We should be able to choose. It would be right if the Gay-Straight Alliance could realize that as strongly as they feel in the core of our beliefs, we feel this is a moral issue and that there are people who may be born with this inclination, but it's not something that I'm going to teach. I'm going to teach to resist it because you will find more happiness in life, and I believe our community as a whole has more traditional families, but that is a hurtful thing to say.
Father: And to me too the word tolerance is for something that you a don't believe in, and that you would actually shun, a the lifestyle is not something that as a parent I would want to have educated to our children in school.
Tolerance or kindness or acceptance of people will be best always a taught in the home. And when it's not taught in the home, then the kids will learn it from their friends or others that they are associating with. If they have kind friends, if they have tolerant friends, if they have individuals that they hang around with that a are kind and and thoughtful of of all of the student body, then they'll be in in good stead. Those kids that hang around with kids who are looking for every a situation to blame or to ridicule or to make fun of, it's not the just the gay alliance, it's, it's the people who aren't the the norm. The kids who are are quieter who have other attributes that a kids will find some reason to make fun of them, and to not have tolerance for the way they are.
It all comes down to what they're taught in their home. Hopefully having good friends that will encourage friendship and kindness including those Gay-Straight Alliance and I believe that our kids should too.
Q: Which brings up the issue about what I'm hearing at the school or what I heard a while back is, as you said there are instances or were instances of intolerance and harassment where kids were being singled out or labeled. And even some of this was self labeling that they were gay. And these kids were treated with intolerance. Things like even tire slashing, people spitting on their cars, that type of thing. As a community of parents surrounding this school with kids going to this school, how do we then deal with that?
Father: We teach that it's wrong, that doing those things are wrong, that they're not acceptable. We're to treat everyone with kindness and we don't have to accept their lifestyle but we can live amongst them and make them our friends. We live amongst them and we need to make them our friends and to and to be neighborly and to be kind and thoughtful to them just as we would as our own family.
Q: I'm gonna kind of put you on the spot here though and say, these things have happened and as two parents here, how would you deal with that in the school if you had to. What do you think should be done?
Father: Well I think it's first of all most important, before you even look at the school, you have to go to the homes and encourage in our individual homes to again realize that we need to be accepting and and kind to to everyone. And we shouldn't be trying to a get together and force and try to create some ill will through some of the actions of intolerance or unkindnesses that are done.
Mother: But when you ask that also, I mean it does happen in the schools, we have a child in junior high and I don't think the question you're asking is a Gay-Straight Alliance issue. I think it is a kid issue. And we have a junior high student who will say things in an unkind way about people who are different than him. And he he categorizes people. And we tell him clearly, that is so wrong. Just because someone is different than you they are not bad, they are only different. And different is good.
I think what my husband says of teaching in the homes is the most important. But the fact is it's not taught in all homes. And so the schools are gonna have to deal with it. I would suspend a kid who slashed a tire. I would have zero tolerance for any kind of just the thing in Littleton. If I knew of a kid being slammed against the locker, I would have no tolerance for it.
I would have an assembly, the community of caring is in place, that's what they're there for. I think the schools are making an effort to teach values, and I think it would be perfectly appropriate to have an assembly based on zero tolerance for harrassment of any kind. I don't think that it needs to be zero, no harrassment to gay straights. Let's have no harrassment of of any kids. And I think that should be a policy put in place in all schools.
Q: I'm gonna back track just one little bit. You've kind of expressed this to some extent, why have you decided to speak out now, why are you fearful of doing so openly?
Woman: When we were asked if we would do this interview, I said no at first. Then I said yes, but I need to talk to my children. And there was a very strong feeling among our children that they would not want us to speak out. They feel they would be ridiculed and harrassed. I have to be honest, I the thought my home would be egged. I worry about that type of thing. And I would be untruthful to say I didn't. I would say what I'm saying here to anyone who asked me. But I feel my first responsibility is to my own children. And they would not want me to speak out. They expressed the opinion that they they don't want to be have trouble come to them because of what we say, and they feel it would.
Q: So those that are asking for tolerance, you are saying they're not as tolerant?
Mother: I feel they would be intolerant. Equally as intolerant as they accuse us of being. And I have children, we have children in three different schools where the children are aware in each school of teachers who are part of the Gay-Straight Alliance. And I even as a parent feel that my children in each school could have difficulty based on what I'm saying. I think they could have prejudice dished out towards them based on our opinions.
Q: So, again in closing, we talked about this on the phone. Gay and lesbian activists say that they're not going to let this issue go. I mean for them, this is a battle almost. So from your perspective as a parent and a community member, where do you see this going in the future? Are you optimistic, what's the solution?
Father: I think it's important that we remain firm in the values and beliefs and the standards that we believe in, and that we're willing a to teach them. And encourage them and but also to be accepting of others who have different beliefs and different lifestyles.
Mother: I feel if the gay-straight alliance continues to push and fight and call intolerance and want us as a community to say we accept your lifestyle, it's not going to happen. And because it's at the core of people's beliefs and as far as their family and their children's happiness and the type of lives that we want to see our children be able to create for themselves. I do not think as a community the gay-straight alliance will ever be able to get our community to say we embrace you. We accept what you are doing, I think I I don't think that will happen.
Q: So what is your solution? What, is there a compromise, what would you like to see happen?
Mother: They got what they wanted with the clubs. I would like to see them just quietly go about what they want to do and not fight to educate people. If they want to educate, educate generally of tolerance for differences. But don't educate about the gay-lesbian lifestyle, we don't want our children to be educated about that.
Father: If the Gay-Straight alliance group is happy, if they're a group that are fulfilled and they're at peace in their life with what, with the the lifestyle they've chosen. Then let them be at peace and enjoy the lifestyle they have chosen and we will as well with the lifestyle that we have chosen.
Mother: And you say let them be in peace, but what you mean is then then just live it.
Father: Yeah, let them live their lifestyle and we will ours. But let us be accepting of each other and and a be kind a to each other. That's the that's the best solution.
Q: The one last question that I have and that is that there are a lot of kids, they say a lot, but I can't put a number on it, but there are kids that are hurting, kids that are going to this Gay-Straight Alliance club. (By "they" I mean activists, I'm talking about gay-lesbian activists.) They say our kids are committing suicide. Our kids are hurting and they have no place to go. They don't have a place to reach out. And I just wanted to know what you would say about that.
Mother: Well, to me that goes back to the heart of the issue and it's not an easy thing to say, but first, I feel that the home, the parents, or whoever is in the home of the kids who are hurting, it is their primary responsibility to help their children. The school shouldn't be the place to protect children from suicide. I don't know that that the desire to commit suicide or to hurt yourself is only because of what happens in school.
This is obviously a difficult lifestyle choice. And my heart aches for anyone whose hurting, but my approach to helping them to find peace and to find a desire to live would be different than the Gay-Straight Alliance's approach. And maybe they need to to look at some of those issues and not hold a community that disagrees with their lifestyle responsible for their desire to commit suicide. And I believe the kids need help, but I think their churches, their families, should be their first line of support, not the schools.