I am writing to contrast the safe and welcoming climate toward LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) parents at Beye Elementary School before the Illinois Safe Schools Alliance came, with the post-alliance climate. Before the alliance came, you’d have found a school where children of parents or guardians from all sexual orientations were respectful of one another’s diversity.
Unfortunately, you would have found incidences of negative speech using the word “gay.” Fortunately, you would have found the Chapter 4 lesson in PBIS (Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports), the district-wide anti-bullying program, which tells students not to call someone “gay” in an effort to put them down.
On Jan. 16, Beye Principal Jonathan Ellwanger sent a clarification letter to parents. He explained that “a recommendation and research led us to Shannon Sullivan and Safe Schools Alliance.”
In her training given to our teachers, her objectives were “to educate on the effects of homophobia and heterosexism, to provide tools to school personnel … affected by homophobia and heterosexism.” Another slide titled “Forms of Oppression” included the definitions of homophobia and heterosexism. She defined heterosexism as “an ideological system that denies, denigrates and stigmatizes any non-heterosexual form of behavior, identity, relationship or community.”
Is it fair, welcoming and safe to instruct our teachers that parents who differ ideologically (heterosexists?) are oppressive? Were the teachers also instructed on the viewpoint that some parents could be ex-gays, who are also welcome at our school?
In his clarification letter, Mr. Ellwanger informed parents that a few Oak Park and River Forest High School students from the gay-straight alliance, along with their advisers, would be at the PTO meeting.
During the panel time, one OPRF student spoke critically of the Catholic parents of her childhood friend, and their views on her lesbian parents. Then, when a lesbian student made a derogatory remark about Trinity High School, most of the audience laughed with her. Derogatory comments about Catholics do not make our Oak Park community “more welcoming.”
Shannon Sullivan commented on the PTO meeting in the Feb. 3 article in Windy City Times. At the end of a question-and-answer session, Sullivan said a parent read a statement about the controversy that she called “pretty mean … a couple of students left the room crying.” Sullivan said that her organization had fielded a number of calls on the matter – some of which were supportive, she said, and some that she characterized as “blithering idiot stuff.”
Today, an assessment of the post-alliance climate at Beye would find a minority of parents who hold an ideology concerning homosexuality that differs from the alliance – characterized as blithering idiots, prejudiced, oppressive, misinformed, biased and deserving of derogatory remarks followed by a room full of laughter. That doesn’t sound like Oak Park to me. It doesn’t sound very welcoming, either.
Margaret Brown is an Oak Park resident, Beye parent, and co-author of the “statement of dissent” at the elementary school’s PTO meeting.