When It’s Elementary: Talking about Gay Issues in School was first broadcast on PBS 10 years, it broached the then-radical notion that we should be teaching about gay and lesbian lives in classrooms – in elementary school classrooms yet. Oh wait, I forgot. It’s still a radical notion.
Not that I’m surprised. The dissemination of knowledge about sex and sexuality has been controversial in America for over 100 years. (It probably would have been controversial 200 years ago had there been any attempt to educate Americans about sex and sexuality.) When the mechanism for spreading syphilis was discovered (s-e-x), many doctors argued that infected wives shouldn’t be told how they got the disease for fear that it would cause marital breakdowns. When the first organized sex ed programs began in public schools, they faced immediate opposition from people who argued that teaching children about sex would foster immorality. When doctors discovered that penicillin cured syphilis, many doctors and public health officials worried about publicizing the news, for fear that it would make men more likely to have “illicit” sex (not a word about the women, by the way). And let us not forget the never-ending battle over whether sex education should be comprehensive in scope or should emphasize abstinence to the exclusion of other information.
So suffice it to say that when It’s Elementary aired 10 years ago, a firestorm of controversy erupted around it as antigay activists mobilized to try and keep it off the air. I had the chance to see the documentary in advance of today’s official re-release and also to watch the accompanying documentary It’s STILL Elementary: The Movie and the Movement. And I understand now why this film scared the willies out of antigay activists. It sends the powerful message that not only can educators (and parents!) talk to young children about lesbian and gay lives in a way that’s sensitive and age appropriate, they have a moral obligation to do so. [More after the jump.]