Open Lives, Safe Schools has a clear political agenda: it is a response to what editor Donovan Walling calls the Religious Right's "systematic campaign of hatred and intolerance that targets gay men and lesbians for harassment and discrimination" (p. 2). Donovan describes the Religious Right as having a "pervasive power lust" that manifests itself in public policy, including educational legislation. For example, Senator Jesse Helms, the Republican Senator from North Carolina and Congressional ally of the Religious Right, proposed an amendment to the recent reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) that would have prevented ESEA funds from supporting any program that encouraged or supported "homosexuality as a positive lifestyle alternative" (p. 2). Such legislation, Walling argues, censors educational dialogue and puts gay and lesbian students "at risk" by keeping information from them that would reaffirm their life decisions. This book attempts to address the "risk" of being a gay or lesbian student, parent, or educator by providing a listing of gay and lesbian resources and a dialogue about "a number of important gay and lesbian issues in education, from the coming-out processes of students and adults to gay-positive/gay-visible curricula to parenting and family concerns" (p. 3).
Open Lives, Safe Schools is divided into five sections. In Part One, "Professional Issues," four educators provide personal narratives recounting their experiences coming out to students and colleagues. Each essay in this section is short, engaging, and honest. For instance, Dan Woog, a high school soccer coach, tells of how his secrecy inhibited his interactions with his players and other students, while his coming out allowed students and staff to openly discuss gay and lesbian issues.
Part Two deals with curricular issues. Arthur Lipkin's chapter leads this section, making "The Case for a Gay and Lesbian Curriculum." He provides practical, sound advice for teachers interested in incorporating a gay and lesbian curriculum in their teaching of health and sex education, social studies, and literature. He considers the need for staff development and the use of age-appropriate materials. Lipkin's work is followed by two essays that argue for the use of gay and lesbian literature in elementary and secondary classrooms. This section also includes three essays about gay and lesbian studies programs in higher education, two of which examine programs in Australia and England, providing an international flavor to this volume. This section concludes with Ian Barnard's seven suggestions for "antihomophobic pedagogy." This is a simple, prescriptive list, without a critical review of the ideas presented. These suggestions range from "We should not assume that all our students are straight" (p. 136) to "Lesbian and gay teachers should come out to students" (p. 141).
Part Three is an eclectic mix of articles organized under the rubric of "Youth, Parents, and Families." The section begins with a reprint of Lynn Johnston's newspaper comic strip, "For Better or For Worse." In this particular strip, a teenage boy grapples with his sexuality and ultimately comes out to the comic strip's protagonist. Next, David Timothy Aveline and Kathryn Brown examine questions about homosexuality that students at a midwestern university submitted for discussion at gay/lesbian/bisexual speaker panels. Shulamit Kleinerman, a student at Northfield Mt. Hermon school, provides a first-hand account of a conundrum of youth — she's old enough to understand her own sexuality but not old enough to avoid the patronizing appraisals of adults who pay little respect to her experiences and knowledge.
The fourth section examines some well-publicized responses to gay and lesbian issues. Rita Kessen investigates the effects of anti-gay ballot initiatives in Oregon and Colorado. Virginia Uribe, the founder of Project 10 in Los Angeles, presents her program as a model for replication. Kevin Jennings, founder of the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Teachers Network, shares his lessons learned in moving from a "closeted, traumatized young teacher who lived in dread of being fired" (p. 251) to a nationally known activist.
The final section of this volume is a resource guide that focuses on bibliographies, directories, curricular and professional issues, and available print and video materials on topics such as parents and families. This is a relatively short resource guide, intended only to provide a starting point for readers interested in obtaining more information.
Overall, this is a useful volume for educators interested in practical discussions about gay and lesbian issues in education. In keeping with the book's political agenda, the works chosen for this compendium offer little self-criticism and lots of advocacy. Many of the articles have been printed elsewhere, but their thematic organization and engaging writing styles make the book an enjoyable read.