Focus Changed at Fistgate This Year; Less Raw Sex

MassNews Staff
March 20, 2003

The people who brought us Fistgate three years ago, GLSEN, were back at Tufts again this year on Saturday, March 15, for their 13th annual conference.

Although the focus has changed somewhat. the object is still to normalize homosexuality in the schools, beginning in preschool and kindergarten.

According to one educator who has attended previous GLSEN Boston conferences, "In past years the emphasis was on children and sex. This year's conference appeared to be geared more toward teachers and a 'stealth' agenda that took the focus off sex in favor of more subtle methods, using 'gay allies' to continue the homosexual agenda in schools."

A recurring conference theme was "Identity politics," based on the belief that homosexuality is an innate, immutable characteristic ("who I am"), rather than a chosen, controllable behavior.

Security was tight on the 150-year-old campus with armed guards stationed at all conference areas, including Dewick Dining Hall at lunchtime. The paranoid atmosphere was enhanced by a disclaimer in the official program book that prohibited the use of recording devices "in all conference facilities" and permitted no photographs to be taken "unless consent has been given by all those being pictured." Although it was announced that protesters were outside and attendees were told to ignore them, none were seen.

Approximately 500 people -- down from the 650 expected by conference organizers - attended the event, including "gay" Rep. Steve Gunderson (R-Wisconsin). In contrast to prior years where high school students were bussed in from as far away as Lowell, adults appeared to outnumber young people by approximately 2 to 1. The agenda included over 50 "gay" educational activism workshops.

GLSEN-Boston Chair Laments Funding Cuts

Participants assembled at 9:00 A.M. in the Aidekman Arts Center auditorium to the sounds of lesbian rock guitarist Melissa Etheridge. They were welcomed by Frank Pantano, who introduced himself as the "proud chair of the GLSEN Boston chapter and also a proud Boston public school teacher."

Pantano lamented what he said have been "deep budget cuts" as a direct result of the Fistgate scandal and the budget crisis. He cited loss of funding at the state level, as well as recent cutbacks in local school systems for extracurricular activities, including gay-straight alliance (GSA) clubs.

Although the nation is on the brink of war and faces an uncertain economic future, said Pantano, "I'm confident that we'll not only strive and survive, but we'll also thrive, because it is through our visibility and the contributions that we make to society that we are recognized. Not only is it our right, but it is also our responsibility to live in full recognition of who we are.

"It's incredible for me to be part of an organization that works in a movement in social justice to end the damaging effects of homophobia and heterosexism in our schools. It's an honor to be here today among so many young people and my colleagues in education who daily confront and combat homophobia and heterosexism, and who daily strive to make things in our own lives -- and the lives of young people -- better."

Pantano said that in addition to GLSEN Boston's programs, retreat, conference, school workshops and facilitated discussions, the organization is also using a substance abuse and mental health service administration grant that they received this year to build "a coalition of GLBT young people and organizations that will ultimately strengthen our community by addressing the needs of an under-represented community of sexual-minority youth."

He kept the message positive and did not mention that homosexuals in Boston have high numbers associated with substance abuse and STDs, or that the problem is increasing.

Producer of It's Elementary Making New Films for Students

Keynote speaker was Debra Chasnoff, a senior producer with San Francisco-based Women's Educational Media, a Wellesley College graduate with "close ties with Boston and the GLSEN community."

Chasnoff began with a look back over her 20-year filmmaking career. She showed a clip from Choosing Children, a 1984 film she made with "my partner at the time, Kim Klausner" where lesbian couples talk about their experiences having children.

Chasnoff's second film, It's Elementary, caused a national uproar in 1996 among pro-family groups due to its portrayals of teachers talking to elementary school students about homosexuality. When the film aired on public television in 1999, she said Concerned Women for America, Focus on the Family and other conservative groups "just went nuts trying to censor the broadcast." Chasnoff says she won

In 2000, she introduced That's a Family, a film for children about "family diversity" narrated by children who live in non-traditional households, including some headed by same-sex couples —but no children who live with their own monogamous, married, Christian parents.

Chasnoff is currently working on a new film about bullying, Name-Calling, targeted at middle schoolers. Funded by a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation, the movie is the second in a three-part video series for kids titled Respect for All. During her talk, Chasnoff showed a clip from the film, including a girl who talks about the good feeling she gets from sticking up for a harassed classmate. A third film aimed at high school students, Stereotypes, is currently in pre-production phase.

Chasnoff credited "the growing number of gay and lesbian adults who have children who grow up and have to go to school" and "the number of gay teens who have come out and who are insisting that they are allowed to be in school in a safe environment" as factors that have "made a difference in making [the homosexual] movement grow stronger and stronger and really being a force that will never go back for change."

The audience cheered as Chasnoff told how she thanked "my life partner at the time" while receiving an Academy Award for her 1992 film, Deadly Deception. "It turned out that I was the first lesbian - and I think to date the only lesbian - to have ever 'come out' at the Academy Awards."

The audience also laughed when Chasnoff recalled how "arch-conservative" Pat Robertson, during his 1992 presidential run "was giving speeches that basically said that what's wrong with America is that the homosexuals are taking over."

Among the goals of her films, said Chasnoff, are challenging the idea that kids are too young to discuss homosexual issues, challenging religious mores, challenging homophobia and challenging the idea that "gay issues can only be talked about at home."

Including "GLBT issues" in Kindergarten

Most of the workshops took place in nearby Olin Hall. Among them was: "Inclusion of GLBT Issues in the K-5 Classroom" presented by Newton 5th grade teacher Jan Shafer.

Shafer began her session by saying, "There are always going to be people - parents, administrators, students, colleagues, and maybe even your friends - who think that you shouldn't include GLBT issues in the classroom, that they don't belong in a younger grade classroom. But I think that they do, and I am assuming that you are here because you also think so."

She then asked participants to write down reasons why they think GLBT issues should be shared in the K-5 classroom. Among those given:

To validate children's personal stories

To destroy "gender binary" (male-female) stereotypes

To help children learn to become comfortable in the classroom by seeing their families respected

To help kids who "ultimately will be gay when they're older" feel "validated and comfortable at a young age."

One teacher intern at the Devotion School in Brookline gave this rationale: "It's important to help children become agents of change."

Shafer recalled that several years ago, while she was still "in the closet," GLSEN executive director Kevin Jennings paid a visit to her school and: "It was at that point that I was able to begin coming out."

She expressed concern that teachers in the younger-grades in the Commonwealth are being pressured to abandon values-related and social skill-building activities in their classrooms in favor of academic activities, such as learning to write an expository essay. "That's the message I'm getting, and I think a lot of teachers are getting that, and that's kind of scary to me, and I don't think it's an easy time to be a progressive teacher in Massachusetts right now."

One method that Shafer uses to inculcate homosexual acceptance in her 5th grade classroom is by hanging a calendar that depicts gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered families. At the end of the year, she cuts the calendar up and intermixes the photos of the deviant couples with pictures of other people in a display titled "Share the World, Everyone Matters." Passing out an "Images Checklist for Anti-Bias Environments," Shafer also encouraged teachers to take stock of the images, books and pictures on their classroom walls to insure they reflect diversity.

Another method, Shafer said, is to "come out" through lessons by "sharing your life." For example, in teaching a writing lesson where students learn to organize their thoughts according to "Who, what, when, where, how and why" principles, Shafer uses an outline for a summer vacation story where the "Who" is "My partner, Lisa." In teaching grades 4th, 5th and 6th graders how to write a persuasive essay, topics such as "Our laws treat homosexuals unfairly" can be assigned.

Shafer displayed an example in math of a "distance calculation" word problem where "Sarita and her two moms" are walking to raise money for hunger relief, and "Sarita walked eight more miles than her mom Carla."

She advised prospective teachers to "come out" during job interviews by telling principals, "This is who I am, and I'm open about it, and I want to know if that's going to be a problem here, because it wouldn't really work for me to work here if that's going to be a problem."

Shafer displayed examples of white sheets she hangs in her faculty lounge that have questions at the top such as, "How can I behave so our school is safe and welcoming for gay and lesbian people?" and "What can I do if I hear homophobic language?" In the space below, colleagues can write in their own answers.

In answer to the question, "How can teachers include lesbian and gay issues in the classroom?" Shafer offered the following suggestions:

Introduce vocabulary.

Look for the 'teachable moment.'

Use current events.

Change the sexual orientation of some of the characters in books or written assignments.

Among the handouts Shafer distributed to participants was a six-page list of "Books for Pre-K and Elementary Students" that recommended such titles for preschoolers as A Family Counting Book that "celebrates alternative families as it teaches kids to count from one to twenty," and One Dad Two Dads, Brown Dad Blue Dads by Alyson Publications. It is one of the leading producers of homosexual books, including Gay Sex: A Manual for Men Who Love Men that contains detailed instructions for homosexual men on how to avoid discovery and arrest when having sex with boys.

Other publishers on the list included Harcourt and Houghton Mifflin, as well as Tackling Gay Issues in Schools, a 230-page educators' resource binder published by GLSEN Connecticut and Planned Parenthood of Connecticut.

Shafer concluded her session by showing a 10-minute video, Both of My Moms' Names are Judy, which presents elementary school children talking about their families and their experiences with homophobia.

Santa Claus is "Coming Out"

The conference concluded with the off-Broadway comedy, Santa Claus is Coming Out, performed by Jeffrey Solomon. In it, a young boy named Gary writes to Santa asking for a Brenda Ann doll for Christmas, but Santa brings him a truck instead. The next year, Gary asks for a "Dream Date Norm" doll, but Santa fails to deliver it, too.

Disappointed, the boy writes another letter to Santa Claus that causes the children's icon to reveal the long-held secret that he is homosexual. Santa's disclosure triggers a chain of events, including "Santa-gate" headlines and a press conference in front of the United Nations.

Staged in the style of a TV documentary, the play - which according to Solomon was partly inspired by the uproar over Newton first-grade teacher David Gaita revealing his homosexuality to his class - shows multiple characters talking about Santa's "coming out" experience from their own perspectives. However, Santa never actually appears in the play.

Characters played by Solomon include Santa's long-time same-sex lover, Giovanni Gepeddo; Mrs. Claus; Sid Green, Santa's Jewish agent; Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, who heads the diversity committee at Santa's workshop; Benjamin Buckett, a televangelist modeled after Fred Phelps of "God Hates Fags" fame; and Mary Ellen Banfield, president of Families Against the Gay Agenda (FAGA), an apparent composite of the Saturday Night Live character "Church Lady" and conservative leader Phyllis Schlafly.

The play, which contained numerous profanities and sexual innuendos, and ridiculed Jesus Christ and Judeo-Christian morals, ended with a children's gospel choir singing this song to Santa:


"We don't care if you like boys.
We just want our damn toys.
We don't care if you are gay.
We love you Santa anyway."

The name of the event was EducationWorks: Creating Safety, Teaching Respect, Moving Forward. Corporate sponsors were Jordan's Furniture and Harvard Pilgrim Health Care. The complete name of GLSEN is Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network.


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