Outrage on Right Over ’Straight Questionnaire’ Given to High Schoolers

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Friday December 5, 2008

If the enemy of intellectual tyranny is incisive inquiry, some would counter that, "Questions are scary."

That's the headline of a story that appeared Dec. 4 at GLBT Web site Good As You.

The story the headline referred to was one about a Wisconsin high school's English class assigned to fill out a questionnaire that takes anti-gay assumptions and stands them on their head, re-phrasing questions that gays and lesbians often hear so that the same issues are brought up for heterosexuals to contemplate.

The Good As You item noted that "The Heterosexual Questionnaire" has been around for more than 35 years.

The questionnaire was devised in 1972 by Dr. Martin Rochlin, an openly gay mental health professional and the creator of the Society for the Psychological Study of Lesbian and Gay Issues, which is part of the American Psychological Association.

The questionnaire is now part of a kit designed for use in classrooms as a tool to stimulate discussion and critical thinking around societal prejudices.

As reprinted at the Advocates for Youth Web site, the questionnaire is accompanied by advice on how to administer the questionnaire.

Reads the text posted at Advocates for Youth, "Explain to the group that, when gay, lesbian, and bisexual youth are beginning to 'come out,' they are often asked questions that are nearly impossible to answer.

"In order to help participants understand the heterosexist bias in our culture, you will ask them to grapple with these same questions in regard to heterosexuality.

Continue the procedural instructions, "Say that you will give them each a handout. They will break up into groups of four or five and try to come up with answers.

"Say that you want them to try to answer each question as well as to react to the questions as a whole. Irrespective of each participant's sexual orientation, everyone should attempt to answer as though he/she is heterosexual.

"After about 10 minutes, ask everyone to reassemble in the large group," the instructions continue. "Ask the participants the Discussion Questions below."

The questionnaire given to the English class of Pecatonia High School, in the community of Blanchardville, the population of which is just over 800, included the following queries, according to a Dec. 2 article posted at right-wing Web site WorldNetDaily.

"When and how did you decide you were a heterosexual?"

"Is it possible that your heterosexuality is just a phase you may grow out of?"

"Do your parents know that you are straight? Do your friends and/or roommate(s) know? How did they react?"

"Why do you insist on flaunting your heterosexuality? Can't you just be who you are and keep it quiet?"

"Why do heterosexuals feel compelled to seduce others into their lifestyles?"

"With all the societal support marriage receives, the divorce rate is spiraling. Why are there so few stable relationships among heterosexuals?"

"Statistics show that lesbians have the lowest incidence of sexually transmitted diseases. Is it really safe for a woman to maintain a heterosexual lifestyle and run the risk of disease and pregnancy?"

"Would you want your child to be heterosexual, knowing the problems that s/he would face?"

The exercise is meant to be followed by a discussion period. The Advocates for Youth site posted suggestions for discussion topics:

"Did you find the questions hard to answer? Were some harder than others? Which? What, specifically, was so difficult?"

"How did the questions make you feel?"

"What does it say about our society that gay, lesbian, and bisexual youth are asked similar questions?"

"What can you do in the future if you hear someone asking such questions?"

Reported Good As You, "Well, leave it to the reliably rabid WorldNetDaily to turn one specific usage of the questionnaire into an example of 'the radical gay agenda?.'"

According to WorldNetDaily, the mother of one of the students in the class evidently took the questionnaire at face value and thought that it was an example of the teacher attempting to "shove" homosexuality "down our throats."

The WorldNetDaily article was written in the same vein, with the headline announcing, "Teacher forces teens to question being 'straight.'"

Chafed Good As You, "You know, because it's totally fine for the anti-gay side to tell kids to question homosexuality (which really means to reject it)."

Continued the text at Good As You, "This, like so many points in the anti-gay's orbit, raises the question: What are the so afraid of?!

"Why don't they trust that their side's answers to the questions will hold up to scrutiny?"

Added Good As You, "We have nothing but faith in our pro-acceptance answers--Why are those in the 'pro-family' community so frequently threatened by inquisitive minds?"

The Good As You article continued, "We just want to know when the side of peaceful logic will stop having to even justify their benign embrace of everyone's human dignity!"

The WorldNetDaily article did not contain any context for the questionnaire, which has been used widely in the 36 years since it was written. Nor did the World News Daily article identify Dr. Rochlin as the original author of the questionnaire.

The WorldNetDaily article quoted the student's mother, Marilyn Hanson, as saying, "I really believe this was outright indoctrination to the homosexual viewpoint."

Added Hanson, "I could see this being discussed in a debate class, where both sides were presented. But the other side was not presented."

The WorldNetDaily article reported that Hanson went to the teacher about the assignment, and was informed that the questionnaire was part of a lesson on tolerance. Hanson then took her complaint to the principal, telling him, "tolerance is fine. We shouldn't be mean or call people names."

The article continued to quote Hanson, who added, "We want to love homosexuals, but I think this goes beyond tolerance."

WorldNetDaily quoted the principal, Dave McSherry, who explained, "Our English department does excellent work in writing language arts, getting kids to be able to discuss and debate issues, and engage in critical thinking."

Continued McSherry, "The critical thinking part is the biggest part we're trying to get these kids to learn.

"As they move on to college, we want them to be able to think for themselves, be able to weigh issues and hopefully make smart decisions down the road."

McSherry reassured WorldNetDaily that, "We're not promoting homosexuality. We never have, never will."

Such explanations did not satisfy Hanson, who was quoted in the article as saying, "Why is the abuse of this rule on controversial issues being done by this teacher and principal?"

Said Hanson, "I think it's behind the parents' backs, because unless the students show their parents this worksheet, they aren't going to know about it."

Hanson, the WorldNetDaily article said, was looking into getting the school to change its policies on such material. She had also approached legal groups, though they indicated to her that legally there was no case.

A more complete version of the questionnaire is available for viewing here.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. 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.