Conference: "New Moment" in Homosexual Activism

July 7, 2008 - 8:02 PM

Atlanta ( - More than 700 teachers, administrators, high school and college students, and homosexual activists gathered in downtown Atlanta this weekend to strategize on how to make schools around the nation more homosexual-friendly.

The third annual national conference of the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) featured a keynote address by civil rights activist and Georgia Democrat Rep. John Lewis, comic relief by comedienne Margaret Cho, a "prom" for homosexual youth, and symposia on topics such as "Responding to the Religious Right" and "Addressing GLBT (gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered) Issues in Middle School."

Kevin Jennings, founder and executive director of GLSEN, opened the conference by proclaiming, "We are at a new moment in our history."

College freshman Derrick Henckel, who "came out" to parents and friends at age 12, recounted his high school experience, which he said included beatings, name calling and verbal attacks.

"I never knew what awaited me every time I turned a corner," said Henckel. "I can only think what would have happened if there had not been community organizations like GLSEN when I had been in high school."

Lewis's keynote address pledged the support of the civil rights community for homosexual activists.

"We have one more bridge to cross to reach that time when no one is left behind because of race, color or sexual orientation," Lewis.

"We have a moral obligation and a mandate to speak out," continued Lewis. "If we fail to speak out, then we become less than human."

While the conference was spurred by what organizers described as "an atmosphere of fear" that oppresses homosexual students in American schools, symposia focused on the necessity of making today's students more friendly to the homosexual agenda.

"The fear of the Religious Right is that the schools of today are the governments of tomorrow," said Deanna Duby of the National Education Association at a symposium. "And you know what, they're right."

"If we do our jobs right," added James Anderson, director of communications for GLSEN, " we're going to raise a generation of kids who don't believe [the claims of] the Religious Right."

Strategies discussed included creating Gay-Straight Alliances (GSAs) in high schools and middle schools, including lessons on homosexuals in otherwise unrelated classes - for example, emphasizing homosexual victims of the Holocaust in history classes - and inviting homosexual partners and their adopted children to speak in schools about "diverse families."

Other symposia, such as "The Locker Room: The Last Closet" and "Sports, Sexual Orientation, and School Climate," discussed how to make locker rooms safe for homosexual students, and how sports may influence a school to be less friendly to homosexual students.

Activists from GLAAD, the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund (LLDEF), the ACLU, and Americans United for Separation of Church and State also gathered with attendees to give tips and trade strategies on how to change school policies on issues such as homosexuality in sex education classes, homosexual literature in school libraries, school-sponsored homosexual student groups, and cross-dressing among "transgendered" students, as well as fighting "parental rights" amendments and the elimination of sex education.

"The Right would love to have prayer in schools and religion classes, but they would accept a neutral curriculum that only taught the '3 Rs,'" said Steven K. Green, general counsel of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. "You've got to watch for that sort of watering down of sex-ed in your community."

Cathy Renna, director of community relations of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), told attendees at a symposia on "Responding to the Religious Right" how to approach journalists writing stories on gay issues.

"One of the most important things you can do is have those tough conversations with journalists about when it is completely inappropriate to run to some radical group like the Family Research Council because of misguided notions of 'balance,'" said Renna.

"We have to offer them some more moderate voices, or convince them that there is no other side to these issues," she continued.

"If [journalists] do a feature on Gay Pride, they invite the American Family Association to comment," agreed one attendee. "If you did a story on Hanukkah, you wouldn't get the Aryan Nation to comment, would you?"

Above all, presenters and attendees discussed strategies to portray religious voters as extremist and homosexual activists as mainstream.

"We are now in the position of being able to say, we have the high ground, we have the facts, and we don't have to go one-on-one with these people," said Renna. "We've come such a long way - we're the mainstream now."

The GLSEN conference received corporate sponsorship from Levi's, which also provided youth scholarships for ore than twenty high school students to attend, as well as American Airlines and several homosexual-orientated businesses.

Exhibitors at the conference included the Log Cabin Republicans, a homosexual GOP group; the U.S. Department of Education; the photo exhibit "Loves Makes a Family," a study in "family diversity" featured in the film It's Elementary; and Out magazine, which supplied free copies of its latest issue to attendees. The issue included an interview with a male prostitute-turned-author, and a feature story on New York actor Jonah Falcon, which focused on his 13.5-inch penis.

Other material available at the information booth included the publication Etc., which featured a variety of sexually-explicit advertisements for homosexual gyms, bath houses, and phone sex lines.