Sept. 1, 2010 -- 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."
Most States Have Anti-Bully Laws
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.
"The fact that they argue in this vein indicates that it is often gays and lesbians who are most often the targets of this abuse, and that's why it's doubly important to protect them."
Focus on the Family takes particular issue with recent curricula adopted in Alamdea, Calif. The school board there last year adopted an anti-bullying program for elementary school students that specifically mentioned gays and lesbians.
The Colorado-based organization says the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network has targeted thousands of school districts nationwide with literature. "Schools are only allowed to provide one message about homosexuality; that it's normal and should be embraced," Focus on the Family said of the gay group's message.
"The school introduced anti-bullying lessons but really they're teaching elementary school kids about gay marriage," Cushman told ABC News.com. "We think parents should have the right to teach kids about it in their own way."
Some Christian Parents Conflicted
The Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network says its anti-bullying campaign was created with input from educators, psychologists and even members of religious organizations, and its goals are distinct from its support of same-sex marriage.
The group, however, does not deny that there is mention of same-sex marriage in some of its anti-bullying literature.
Some parents who advocate for anti-bullying legislation and are conservative Christians say they are torn between seeking the most programs in the most places and avoiding mention of homosexuality in the classroom.
"I am a Christian. I am conservative. Some would call me right-wing," said Brenda High, whose son, Jared,committed suicide in 1998 when he was 13 after being routinely bullied and beat up at his Washington state middle school.
"The problem is our schools are not teaching kids to become responsible adults. When you allow kids to call people names or bash them because they think they might be gay and make assumptions and judge people, that's when kids get hurt.
"There's nothing wrong with a little religion: Teach them the Christian idea 'to do unto others,' everyone gay or straight, any religion, even atheists agree with that one," she said.