JRC Open Letter to African American People of Faith

By rnickens

August 31, 2011

An Open Letter to People of Faith in the African American Community
Regarding the FAIR Education Act

For a productive dialogue to begin is important to acknowledge the existence of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) people not as “outsiders” who are separate from the Church community but as people and Children of God who are members of this community. It must be accepted that LGBT people are sons, daughters, fathers, brothers, sisters, aunts, cousins, friends, and contributing members of the Church family. We are not seeking acceptance outside of the Church community but rather recognition and support as a part of that community.

Our primary concern is the creation of a safe environment for all children. More specifically, our concern is fostering an environment which allows for self-expression and acceptance which doesn’t come at the cost of violence and abuse. The FAIR Education Act allows for this, as it stands for principles that are cherished in our community: Fair, Accurate, Inclusive and Respectful. It has been proven that students who learn about LGBT people are much less likely to participate in bullying and harassment, creating a safer and less violent environment for all students, as anti-gay derogatory language highly contributes to a hostile environment for all regardless of sexual orientation.

Perhaps if the FAIR Education Act had had been in place, 15 year-old Larry King, a child of mixed race from Oxnard, California, would not have been shot to death by his classmate, who killed him because he was gay. Perhaps if students heard more accepting and tolerant rhetoric from their teachers and parents, LGBT students , or those perceived as gay, would not have to endure the terrible bullying that leads to so many teen suicides every year. No matter your specific opinion on LGBT people, as people of faith we know you agree that intolerance and ignorance should never cost a young person their life, regardless of the justification. The FAIR Education Act gives us a chance to save lives and prevents other families and communities from suffering such tragic deaths.

Here are the facts about the FAIR Education Act. The FAIR Education Act amends an existing law that requires non-discriminatory, inclusive teaching materials. It requires that the contributions of LGBT people, people with disabilities and Pacific Islanders be included, along with the contributions of other people of color, into history and social studies courses – nothing more. Students are free to have their own opinions about these contributions and to discuss them with teachers and their parents. Just an accurate accounting of history including the events at Stonewall in New York, the passing of the American’s With Disabilities Act, the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy and its repeal, the contributions of Bayard Rustin, Barbara Jordan and others. We simply want the facts to be taught.

We already know the importance of non-discriminatory and inclusive education. Young people develop a sense of their own place in history by knowing about those that came before them. When Black children learn about the enormous contributions of Rev. King and other civil rights heroes, it bolsters their sense of self-worth. For children to also learn of the contributions of openly gay activist Bayard Rustin, who served as an advisor to Rev. King and key organizers in history it teaches pride, tolerance and understanding. And if that child also happens to be gay, it will help them to develop their own sense of self-worth. Unfortunately, today, most children learn of the contributions of Bayard Rustin and Barbara Jordan, a Black lesbian who was the first Black person elected to the Texas Senate and the first southern Black woman elected to the US House of Representatives, only after reaching adulthood.

It is absolutely unacceptable to pretend that any particular people or group simply did not contribute to America as it is today. We want fair, accurate, inclusive, respectful and responsible teaching.

Christianity—among many religions—teaches that what is expected of us is to have an understanding and appreciation for our fellow man. It teaches us to respect all people, even those different from us. It teaches us that each life is just as valuable as any other. It is in this spirit that we want you to open a sincere and honest dialogue with us on the FAIR Education Act for the sake of our children, our community, and our common struggles.

Yours in faith,

Milton Davis, Program Director, the Jordan/Rustin Coalition

Roland Palencia, Executive Director, Equality California

Rabbi Steven Jacobs

Rev. Dr. George Regas

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Categories : JRC