The National Education Association's endorsement of the Lesbian and Gay History Month in October has resulted in a war of words between the union and conservative activists.
The NEA passed a resolution in July that "recognize[d] the importance of raising the awareness and increasing the sensitivity of staff, students, parents, and the community to sexual orientation in our society." The union resolved to support the celebration of Lesbian and Gay History Month "as a means of acknowledging the contributions of lesbians, gays, and bisexuals throughout history."
That resolution prompted an outraged response from Beverly LaHaye, the president of the Washington-based Concerned Women for America. She fired off a letter to her group's 600,000 members, asking them to complain to the NEA and the U.S. Congress. The letter stirred debate and protests across the country, in states such as Arkansas, Maryland, North Dakota, and Tennessee.
The union issued a statement to clarify that its resolution did not direct members to observe the month. It said the resolution supported the concept of an awareness month to "promote tolerance and eliminate name-calling and classroom jokes."
Concerned Women for America said the NEA was backing down. "They're hiding behind semantics," said Christine O'Donnell, a spokeswoman for the women's group.
Meanwhile, the group that originated the concept is trying to bring the focus back to increasing students' and teachers' awareness of contributions by homosexuals. Kevin Jennings, the president of the New York-based Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Teachers Network, said the conservative campaign was "beyond our control, because they obviously have a lot more money, a lot more resources than we do."
Framingham State College in Massachusetts has planned a tribute to Christa McAuliffe, the teacher who died in the Challenger space-shuttle disaster, for Jan. 26, 1996--the 10th anniversary of the tragedy.
The college has invited teachers to include a lesson about the teacher and her participation in nasa's "Teacher in Space" program in their lessons that day. The college, Ms. McAuliffe's alma mater, will publish a chronicle of the day's events.
Teachers can design their own lessons or request a sample from the Christa Corrigan McAuliffe Center for Education and Teaching Excellence, Framingham State College, 100 State St., Framingham, Mass. 01701; (508) 626-4050; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.