Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Mass. Safe Schools Program Directors Admitted Explicit Queer Sex Ed Needed for Kids

The question continues to be asked: Would “Safe Schools Czar” Kevin Jennings have expected the explicit content in the GLSEN Fistgate fisting workshop?
The DOE employees who led that GLSEN-Boston workshop in 2000 worked for Jeff Perrotti and Kim Westheimer, the program directors and coordinators for the “Safe Schools” program in the Massachusetts DOE since its inception in 1993. Perrotti and Westheimer published a book in 2001, When the Drama Club Is Not Enough; Lessons from the Safe Schools Program for Gay and Lesbian Students. They tell about the early days of the program.
In 1993, shortly after Kevin Jennings’ Commission on Gay and Lesbian Youth education committee report was released, and the state Board of Education unanimously adopted four out of five of his recommendations, the Commission:
… lobbied government officials to fund the Safe Schools Program for Gay and Lesbian students at the Massachusetts DOE. In its first year, the program provided teacher trainings, resource materials, and grant money to schools to help them implement the Board of Education Recommendations. …
The Massachusetts Safe Schools Program attracted a group of innovative, committed activists and educators. We were given a unique opportunity to develop a landmark program, and there were no models to follow. We started by asking, “What do you think this program should be about?” “Whom should we talk to?” “How do we start?” And people told us.
We spoke to DOE staff who had dealt with other controversial school change initiatives and who had developed statewide programs. We talked to students to find out what they thought their schools needed. We called our activist friends and asked them for help – people from the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF) and Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD). The Governor’s Commission on Gay and Lesbian Youth gave us parameters to follow, and we relied on the expertise of school administrators and teachers in the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN). Many of the people with whom we spoke had already been tirelessly working to create supports for gay, lesbian, and bisexual youth and to make schools, communities, and government institutions more accountable. The fledgling Safe Schools Program benefited from their wisdom and experience.  [Perrotti and Westheimer, pp. 3-5]
One of the tireless activists Perrotti and Westheimer called on to help set up their program was Bob Parlin, Jennings’ lover, according to Jennings’ own memoir (Mama’s Boy, Preacher’s Son, p. 201):
… [in 1993] a line item was put in the education budget to create a program to implement the new policy [Jennings’ Commission recommendations, adopted by the State Board of Education]. The program – Safe Schools for Gay and Lesbian Students – would be the first of its kind in the nation. Having no idea how to design such a program, the department turned to us [GLSEN] for guidance, and a series of meetings ensued that were actually quite comical…. After several fruitless meetings, they [the DOE bureaucrats] realized they had no expertise or ability in this arena and decided to bring my partner, Bob, on to develop and implement the program.

Bob Parlin (R), Kevin Jennings' former partner and designer 
of Mass. "Safe Schools" program, with post-Jennings 
partner -"husband" in 2004.  [photo: Harvard Crimson]
Perrotti and Westheimer continue (pp. 138-139):
When the Governor’s Commission and the Department of Education (DOE) initially created the parameters of the program [1993], there was a conscious decision not to address sex directly. It was thought that raising the topic of sexual orientation in schools would be controversial enough without combining it with sexuality education.
There are limitations, however, in setting this narrow a focus when designing program for gay lesbian, and bisexual students. The safety and well-being of gay, lesbian, and bisexual students can’t be separated from sexuality and AIDS/HIV prevention. Obviously, safety refers to physical safety—the ability to attend school without being threatened or being attacked. For young people, it also means being safe to express and explore their identities, including their sexuality.
Currently [2001] most gay, lesbian, and bisexual adolescents do not have this kind of emotional safety. Many do not see themselves or their sexuality reflected in their families, schools, or culture. They do not have the opportunity to go through the typical dating, breakups, and other rites of passage that help young people develop a sense of themselves. In this absence, they may not feel empowered to make choices about whether or not to be sexually active and may not know how to engage in healthy relationships. They may not have relevant information about HIV prevention. Because of these factors, they may explore their sexuality secretly and be vulnerable to abuse.
The impact of this lack of safety is reflected in the epidemiology regarding sexually active young gay men. As a group they are at increased risk for AIDS/HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. The Massachusetts Youth Risk Behavior data show that gay, lesbian, and bisexual students are less likely than their heterosexual peers to use condoms. …
To be effective, any HIV prevention program needs to include explicit discussions about sex. If adolescents can’t talk about sex, it is unlikely that they will be able to negotiate safe sex. The AIDS/HIV prevention program at the Massachusetts DOE has been at the forefront of addressing these issues.