Next week, fourth-grade students at Penn Valley Elementary School in the gilded Philadelphia suburb of Lower Merion will spend part of their school day watching and discussing a very clever piece of cinematic propaganda courtesy of organized homosexuality. The film is called That’s a Family!, and it is endorsed by the Human Rights Campaign along with other homosexual activist groups.
As a fellow practitioner of the occult arts of persuasion, I must confess my admiration for That’s a Family! The film clearly is a product of the institutional wing of the gay-rights movement, and the filmmaker’s earlier efforts include many examples of the Left’s garden-variety sex and sexuality obsessions: It’s Elementary — Talking about Gay Issues in School, One Wedding and a Revolution (“contains now-historic footage of the tearful exchange of vows between long-time lesbian activists Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon who, celebrating their 51st anniversary, were the first couple to tie the knot”), Straightlaced: How Gender’s Got Us All Tied Up. The ingenious thing about That’s a Family! is that it does not present itself as a straightforward piece of gay agitprop. Though the same-sex couples are clearly at the center of filmmaker Debra Chasnoff’s agenda, she deftly mixes them in with other kinds of “different” families: children with divorced parents, children being raised by guardians other than their parents, adopted children, etc. Crucially, there is a racial-ethnic angle: Families that speak Spanish at home and mixed-race families, here amusingly enough represented by an adorable little girl who explains: “My dad’s Chinese-American and my mom’s German-American. My parents aren’t the same race, but they can still be married,” a statement that obviously is not directed at the imaginary cabal of bigots protesting Sino-Germanic romances.
Which is to say, That’s a Family! is an extended exercise in intentionally begging the question: Moral reservations about homosexuality extending to questions related to marriage and childrearing are indistinguishable from prejudices against mixed-race marriages or discounting the value of adopted families. Question the gay-rights program and you may as well be a member of the Klan — and not the kind of Klansman that Democrats send to the Senate, either. The identification of moral objections to homosexuality with racism is the holy grail of gay-rights rhetoric. As I used to tell my persuasive-writing students, begging the question may be a logical fallacy, but it often is an extraordinarily effective rhetorical tool: Most people are not intellectually sophisticated enough to understand how they have been manipulated. (Me, cynical? In an age of “hope and change” political rhetoric, it is impossible to set the bar too low.)
Most newspaper-reading adult voters do not understand the logical fallacy of begging the question, and I am entirely confident that Lower Merion’s fourth-graders do not, either, high-achieving kids though they may be.
I lived for many years in Lower Merion, where I was the editor of the local newspaper. The township has government schools that are both excellent and shockingly expensive. (I was endlessly entertained by the fact that the local schools’ million-dollar boss styled himself: “Dr. Jamie P. Savedoff, Ph.D.” — Dr. and Ph.D., the guy’s got you coming and going.) Though once a Republican stronghold, the place is not exactly a hotbed of social conservatism, unless by conservatism you mean “serve from the left and clear from the right.” Nonetheless, there are a fair number of Catholics and a few of the old Main Line WASPs who may not be entirely on board with the mandatory celebration of homosexual parenting, and they must of course be suffocated by the very government agency into whose care they are compelled by law to entrust their children for more than a decade.
That’s a Family! is not about tolerance or treating people decently. It is about indoctrination, a fact that its enthusiasts make little attempt to hide. It lists among its endorsers such Democratic worthies as Senator Barbara Boxer, who declares that the film can be used to “break down” attitudes she finds disagreeable. Loret Peterson, a fourth-grade teacher in (of course) San Francisco, wrote that the film provides “a gentle starting point to reach elementary age children with a message of respect for all differences before biases become entrenched and the pressures of middle school set in. . . . We have the opportunity to take an active, moral approach to deflating the power of stereotypes by addressing them in the classroom.”
An active moral approach. I am not at all sure that the government schools are the proper venue for an active moral approach to anything touching fourth-graders and homosexuality. But if children are to have moral instruction in the schools, rather than at home or in the church, then we should probably have a much longer and more detailed conversation than we have thus far about what will be included in that moral curriculum. Is circumspection regarding the situation of a child who identifies four parents consisting of two homosexual couples as his “moms” and “dads” an uncomplicated moral imperative? Hardly. When a child declares, “My two moms are Marilyn and Adrian, and my two dads are Michael and Barry,” that opens up a discussion about which an entire doctoral dissertation in moral theory could be written. Chasnoff and her partisans claim to be driven in part by a desire to prevent bullying, but bullying is precisely what they are engaged in, using the power of the schools to force their political views onto children.
The country hardly needs a state-sanctioned and publicly funded homily on tolerance toward gays (to say nothing of Sino-Germanic couples). This country’s conservative political party fields gay candidates, its annual conservative convention includes a gay-oriented event, and its leading conservative journal benefits from the work of gay contributors. It is also a country in which a great many people believe that traditional family structures play a unique and irreplaceable role in society — and those are the views that It’s a Family! seeks to eliminate. That the gay-rights movement is allowed to co-opt the government schools in its crusade — that it is in fact encouraged to do so — ought to be of concern even to those of us who are broadly in favor of helping gays to go about their business in society much the same as anybody else. If progressives were intellectually honest, they, too, would have some concerns about using the power of government to cultivate particular political opinions in children. But progressives are confident that they will control the educational institutions for the foreseeable future.
There are no cease-fires in the culture wars, because the Left simply will not stop until it has achieved total conformity, which it pursues under the banners of “tolerance” and “diversity,” i.e., a virtue the Left does not possess and a condition the Left will not abide. The front runs through every corporate human-resources office, every college campus, every church, and the fourth-grade classroom at Penn Valley Elementary School, too.
— Kevin D. Williamson is roving correspondent for National Review.