Gay-rights groups' push for anti-bullying legislation and school programs is an effort to "promote homosexuality to kids," according to a conservative Christian activist organization.
The accusation has underscored the conflicting attitudes among some politicians and parents who have lent their support to these policies after a string of deadly bullying episodes across the country.
Focus on the Family has accused gay-rights groups of using tolerance and anti-bullying programs to introduce curricula and books into schools that promote political aims such as same-sex marriage. The same groups, it says, lobby for gays and other minority groups to be specifically mentioned in anti-bullying legislation and try to depict Christians opposed to such treatment as bigots.
"What parents need to be aware of is there are activist groups who want to promote homosexuality to kids because they realize if they can capture hearts and minds of our children at the earliest ages they will have for all practical purposes won the clash of values that we are currently experiencing," Candi Cushman, education analyst for Focus on the Family, said on recently launched website TrueTolerance.org.
"They've started introducing homosexuality lessons, sometimes even sexually graphic information under the cover of tolerance or so-called safe school initiatives or even anti-bullying programs," she said.
Gay rights organizations say they have sought anti-bullying legislation and worked to craft school-based programs and curricula to protect students, especially gay students who are disproportionately singled out for bullying.
Gay epithets and taunts are a routine part of school-aged bullying, said Eliza Byard, executive director of the Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network, and to ignore a prime cause of bullying would be a disservice to all students, gay and straight.
"The fact is that for many years, efforts to curb bullying didn't address LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender] students," Byard said. "Nine out of 10 LGBT students report harassment at school. Enumerated anti-bullying policies make a difference and reduce victimization."
Nearly a third of sixth- to 10th-graders said in 2008 that they had either bullied students or been bullied, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. A survey by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network found that gay students were three times more likely to be harassed.
After physical appearance, sexual orientation, or perceived sexual orientation, was the primary reason students said they were harassed.
Forty-three states have adopted anti-bullying legislation, according to Bully Police, an anti-bullying advocacy group composed of parents, many of whose children committed suicide as a result of bullying.
Massachusetts State Sen. Robert O'Leary, who wrote the state's recently passed anti-bullying law in the wake of the suicide of Phoebe Prince, a 16-year-old Irish immigrant who hanged herself after being harassed in school and online, said Focus on the Family is missing the point and using children's pain to promote its own agenda.
"We all understand that bullying has been around forever," the Democrat said. "We have to make an effort to stop and recognize it and understand it has enormously destructive impacts on children.