Editor's note: This interview was originally posted October 13, 2009, by former LFA Executive Director Claus von Zastrow. Given the recent light shed on the pressures of gay teenagers, it seems fitting to repost it now as a resource that schools and districts can use to help protect all of their students.
For another resource, referenced in the interview, see Public Schools and Sexual Orientation: A First Amendment framework for finding common ground.
Charles Haynes is one of the nation's leading experts on religious liberty in the public schools. He has worked with groups from across the political spectrum to help schools create ground rules for respectful dialogue on hot-button social issues.
Haynes recently spoke with us about one of the fiercest battles in the culture wars: the battle over sexual orientation and public schools. This battle has grown all the fiercer since Education Department official Kevin Jennings started drawing fire for his past work at GLSEN, the Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network.
Schools need to create a safe environment for civil dialogue, Haynes told us. They need to protect the rights of everyone, from conservative Christians to gay rights advocates. They cannot guarantee that everyone will agree, but they can promote trust and respect.
Haynes gives Jennings a full-throated endorsement for supporting these essential principles.
Public School Insights: What do you think is happening when people discuss sexual orientation in public schools?
Haynes: I think in many places people are speaking—or should I say shouting?—past one another about this issue.
Schools, as usual, are caught in the crossfire of the larger culture wars in the United States. We have administrators, teachers and school board members struggling to figure out how to handle this very difficult issue at a time when the larger culture is not handling it well.
Public School Insights: Is it possible for teachers, administrators and other school stakeholders to create common ground on issues of sexual orientation?
Haynes: Yes. I think it’s not only possible, I think it’s imperative that we try harder.
Unfortunately, in many school districts people put their heads in the sand and hope this issue will just disappear and that they won’t have a fight. But then they are unprepared when something emerges, and ...