Wisconsin Teacher’s Anti-Homophobia Class Horrifies Christian Right

by Kilian Melloy
Tuesday Jan 20, 2009

A high school teacher is Wisconsin gave students assignments designed to encourage critical thinking about homophobia and diversity. To the religious right, however, the curriculum represented a "regimen" of "homosexual indoctrination."

Anti-gay religious-right Web site reported on the story in a Jan. 16 article titled "Wisconsin High School Features In-Depth Homosexual Indoctrination Regimen," in which the site reported that educator Sarah Arnold, who teaches at Elkhorn High School, a public school in Elkhorn, WI, was inspired to create a program of learning to combat homophobia for her 11th grade class after she overheard exchanges between students that smacked of anti-gay prejudice.

Such language is not uncommon in schools, according to the Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network (GLSEN), an organization that provides teaching materials to schools nationwide to help educate teachers, administrators, and students about homophobia.

GLSEN has helped establish more than 4,000 Gay-Straight Alliances, which are clubs in which students of all sexualities stand against prejudice, in an effort to promote safe schools and decrease instances of harassment, physical attack, and intimidation aimed at students who are, or who are perceived to be, GLBT.

GLSEN also conducts research into the roles played by GLBT parents in their children's education, and the levels of hostility that GLBT students, or straight students mistaken for GLBT, encounter.

In one recent report, GLSEN documented that nearly 9 out of 10 GLBT students suffer harassment at school.

In the case of high school teacher Sarah Arnold, the educator took the initiative herself to develop a curriculum to examine the phenomenon of homophobia and to instill in students critical thinking faculties to assess homophobia consciously and with deliberation.

The lesson plan, called "Exposing Hidden Homophobia," reportedly lasted 38 days and resulted in a reduced degree of anti-gay hostility, the article said, citing a source article that was published by the Southern Poverty Law Center an organization that monitors extremist groups, takes legal action against white supremacist groups, promotes protections for guest workers, and works to diminish human trafficking.

Not everyone lauds the efforts of groups like GLSEN and teachers like Arnold, however.

The item reported that some parents objected to the curriculum, citing their Christian faith as a reason for their opposition.

The article also quoted the Illinois Family Institute's Laurie Higgins as declaring herself to be "speechless" over news of the anti-homophobia curriculum.

The article quoted Higgins as writing in an article for the Illinois Family Institute, "Wisconsin public schools are permitting radical ideologues to use public money to promote their subversive, unproven moral conclusions and political goals about homosexuality."

Added the article by Higgins, "These propagandists, who should be teaching history or literature or writing, are instead pursuing their illegitimate goals of transforming the views of other people's children on the contentious issue of homosexuality."

Writing about the teacher who created the curriculum, Higgins added, "Arnold, like countless other English teachers, bases her text selections on whether the ideas conform to and advance her socio-political goals and her particular moral convictions.

"And she's doing this with public money."

The LifeSiteNews article provided contact information for Elkhorn High School's principal, Tina Bosworth.

The address and other contact information listed by the article were:

482 E. Geneva St.
Elkhorn, WI 53121
[Tel] (262) 723-4920
[Fax] (262) 723-8092

At the conservative chat site, one contributor asked, "Just how does an individual teacher get to create and implement their own 38 day curriculum?

"Doesn't this school have an approved curriculum meeting state standards?

"Where is the school administration and the school board in this?"

Wrote another, "How do you stop these things? You never will but putting back some of "the old laws" and a moral conscience sure would help."

Quipped a third, "More reason for seperation [sic] of school and state."

Another conversant offered, "Gays say their lifestyle isn't a choice, that they're born that way. If I'm 'homophobic' it's because I was born that way, I don't chose to be that way.

"I'm the victim here!!! Just let me be who I am!! Where's the tolerance?!"

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.


  • , 2009-01-21 04:19:22

    When are some parents going to realize that homophobia is learned from an early age? Almost all phobias are either learned or shocked into the psyche. The last moron’s comment about being the victim shows how dimwitted their views of homosexuality and homophobia are. Many of these people are what I call Christofascists. There are two kinds: the Elmer Gantrys and the Elmer Fudds. The Elmer Gantrys are the leaders to which the Fudds pay homage. Yet the Fudus are more dangerous: they’re the ones with the guns.

  • , 2009-02-10 20:56:29

    Ok I am a student from that school and I definitly do not agree with the unit. If someone wants to learn about tolerance in this degree, they should set aside a seperate class or after school group to learn about it. It is not fair to the students there who do not want to learn about these topics because of beliefs or other reasons

  • , 2009-03-30 18:09:48

    Yeah, Anon, why SHOULD you have to learn not to harass other people and treat everyone with respect and dignity? That’s SO unfair! You keep fighting for your right to remain ignorant and homophobic. Your beliefs or other reasons are way more important than gay students’ right not to be bullied. ...Grow up.

  • , 2009-04-19 15:35:59

    If you expect high school to cloister students and not prepare them for the real world, go ahead and stifle this kind of thing. A critical thinking exercise - this is hardly some kind of indoctrination or propaganda. I suppose the same thing addressing racism would be equally objectionable, because by its very discussion someone must be de facto pushing an agenda of racial equality...and if so that’s pretty horrible of them, right?

  • , 2009-06-17 05:53:04

    I’m a teacher and have developed a similar curriculum, although of shorter duration. The issue of homophobia has to be addressed as it affects all students through incessant school bullying. Straight students are accused of being "fags". Gay students have to hear their sexual orientation berated constantly in the hallways. Recently in separate parts of the country two eleven-year-old students committed suicide because of all the anti-gay name calling directed at them in school. A year ago a student who identified as gay was shot and killed in his school. Most American public schools suffer from endemic homophobia and it is Christian hate talk that stands in the way of implementing anti-bullying standards that would address it. Until such standards are adopted by school districts it is up to each individual teacher to be an agent of social change that promotes peace and tolerance of differences.

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