I am an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church currently serving Wesley UMC in the El Dorado Park neighborhood of Fresno.
In 1984, the members of Wesley voted to become a Reconciling Congregation. We welcome and celebrate all people as members and participants in all avenues of church life regardless of their gender identification or who they love. Wesley members and constituents are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning and straight allies.
No one taught us to choose who to love. We were, as the song says, “Born this Way.” We understand that our creator knew us when we were being knit together in our mother’s wombs and loves each of us as we were created, gay or straight.
Our United States constitution allows us the freedom whether to follow a particular religion or no religion at all. I remind the board that there are more than just Jews and Christians in Fresno. There are Muslims, Sikhs, Buddhists, deists, agnostics, pagans and atheists.
There are Christians of many different denominations with many different understandings regarding the authority of scripture. As the school board president, your role is to help prepare students and give them a good education. It is not your role to decide what “Judeo-Christian” morals should be taught to them.
And from a paper published by the Human Rights Campaign study we learn that in areas that implement abstinence-only curricula, students may hear messages that:
▪ Promote fear of same-sex attraction: “Young persons may sense affection and even infatuation for a member of the same sex. This is not the same thing as ‘being’ homosexual. Any same-sex “sexual experimentation” can be confusing to young persons and should be strongly discouraged.”
▪ Reinforce gender stereotypes and heterosexual relationships: “What do guys talk about in the locker room? (Girls) What do girls talk about at sleepover parties? (Guys)”
▪ Mandate heterosexual marriage: “The only safe sex is in a marriage relationship where a man and a woman are faithful to each other for life.”
▪ Disparage non-traditional families: “Single women are trying to be both mother and father. The absentee dad has become a norm in many communities. It is interesting that domestic violence, child abuse and increased poverty have also increased in proportion to the decline in the sanctity of marriage.”
Sex education programs that stigmatize LGBTQ people help cultivate hostile school environments by ignoring LGBTQ identities and experiences, or worse, actively promoting LGBTQ stigma.
Gay Lesbian & Straight Education Network’s National School Climate Survey found that LGBT students who reported receiving an abstinence-only sex education curriculum were less likely to feel safe at school, more likely to miss school because they felt unsafe or uncomfortable, less likely to feel comfortable talking about LGBT issues with school personnel, and less likely to be able to identify educators who were supportive of LGBT students.
In the eight states that prohibit the positive discussion of homosexuality in schools, students were more likely to hear homophobic remarks from school staff, less likely to report feeling supported by school staff, less likely to receive an effective response to harassment from school staff, and less likely to have LGBTQ resources in schools such as comprehensive anti-harassment/assault policies and gay-straight alliances.
Furthermore, LGBT students who reported high levels of victimization and discrimination at school because of their sexual orientation or gender expression are more than three times as likely as their peers to have missed school in the past month, have lower GPAs, lower self-esteem and higher levels of depression compared to their less frequently victimized peers.
If we truly want all of our students to be successful and achieve their highest potential, they need and deserve comprehensive sexual education. If parents or school board members choose to keep their children home and do the instruction themselves, that is up to them and their right. But don’t harm the rest of the youth of Fresno.
I am asking president Ashjian to step down as board president and resign as a board member. If he will not do either voluntarily, I ask the other six board members to act by making a motion and then nominating and voting in another board member as president.
I recommend they elect Christopher DeLaCerda, who was nominated last January, but lost to Ashjian, three votes to four.
And if Ashjian will not voluntarily resign as a board member, I ask the residents of the Bullard area to work together to replace him with another member of the Bullard community as soon as possible –someone who will work on behalf of all students, and who speaks in ways that are becoming of a board member and most importantly, are a role model for our students.
The Rev. Karen Stoffers-Pugh is a pastor at Wesley United Methodist Church. Connect with her at https://wesleyfresno.org/contact-us/.