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NEA resolution on gays likely won't affect Utah

The national umbrella of Utah's largest teachers union is suggesting creating curriculum to meet the needs of gay students.

The National Education Association is pitching a resolution to support the "development of curriculum and instructional materials and programs designed to meet the needs of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students," among other methods of boosting school safety and educational opportunities for those students.

The undoubtedly controversial resolution will be debated at the NEA's July Representative Assembly. The Utah Education Association, a chapter of the national teachers union, will send 120 elected delegates to the annual meeting. The assembly includes 10,000 delegates from NEA chapters nationwide.

The idea is sure to spur controversy in Utah, where about 80 percent of teachers belong to the UEA.

The issue of gay-straight alliance clubs in high schools was the subject of a special legislative session and a federal court lawsuit filed against Salt Lake City School District. The state Legislature for two years has wrangled over restricting the sex education curriculum. And gay Utah students have publicly complained of bullying and discrimination at school.

Though the resolution sends a message, it probably won't have any bearing on Utah schools, whose curriculum is set by the state, UEA President Phyllis Sorensen said.

"We teach abstinence only. We don't even say the word 'gay' or 'lesbian' in this state (in the schools) in any context," she said. "We want our kids to be safe, and they are not safe in the schools that allow bullying and harassment. Whether we want to think we have gay, lesbian and transgendered teachers and students, they are there. We have absolutely got to deal with this issue."

The NEA's proposed resolution was forwarded in the past month by its resolution committee. It is among 68 proposed resolutions under the NEA's belief statements on advancing education for all individuals, including teen parents and gifted children.

The proposed resolution suggests developing programs that "promote a safe and inclusive environment" for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and questioning students and their families.

That could be done by: disseminating programs addressing those students' high drop-out and suicide rates and health-risk behaviors; accurately portraying and disseminating cultural contributions of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people; and recognizing those in the education community as role models.

The resolution also states curriculum, with involvement of the gay community, should be created to address those students' needs.

"It's a step forward that allows more comprehensive programs to come into place," said Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network co-chairman Doug Wortham. "It is not a panacea, but all (resolutions and belief statements) are a cure for homophobia, one step at a time."

Sorensen won't guess on the resolution's outcome.

"We are a voice of 120 in an auditorium of 10,000. I will tell you some of us will vote yes on it, and some of us will vote no," she said. "I will say it's just one more thing people will use to bash the NEA over."


E-MAIL: jtcook@desnews.com