WASHINGTON – Jesse's Dream Skirt is causing a stir in California. For one, he's a little boy wearing a skirt.
Second, he's part of an elementary school plan designed by activists pushing for acceptance of the transgender lifestyle.
But Jesse is just one of the more outrageous examples of the "gay agenda" infiltrating the public school systems across the country today, according to a group gathered at a Washington seminar on Monday.
Standing before a picture of the be-skirted Jesse, Robert H. Knight, director of the Culture and Family Institute, said parents are not being told the truth about what their young children learn in school today. "If most parents understood the depth of the homosexual agenda in the schools," he argued, "there would be a revolution."
Knight joined representatives of other groups in denouncing what they called a massive effort on the part of groups like the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) to promote the homosexual lifestyle, using "diversity," safety and anti-discrimination programs as a stalking horse.
"They are getting in and out before parents even know what's going on," said Peter LaBarbera, an analyst for the Culture and Family Institute. "What they are doing to kids is manipulating them. "
LaBarbera and others maintain GLSEN and other gay activist groups actually force an intolerant climate among teachers and students who may not agree with their agendas.
National GLSEN members dismissed Monday's criticisms as old and "off-base," and as a result would not comment directly, according to its media relations department.
The group has sparked controversy in the past. In 2000, a parent audio-taped a GLSEN-sponsored conference in Massachusetts in which three state health and education employees led a youth workshop called "What They Didn't Tell You About Queer Sex and Sexuality in Health Class."
California has been spotlighted for a law it recently passed requiring teachers and administrators to provide a safe environment to students harassed because of their sexual orientation or "gender identity." That led to the creation of a task force, which included at least three members of GLSEN and a host of other activists, that in turn adopted a list of recommendations to ensure schools obeyed the law.
Those recommendations include teacher training, promoting awareness, encouraging student-led activist groups and incorporating lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender historical figures, related events and concepts to curricula.
"All California students deserve equal opportunity to learn, to have role models with whom they can identify, to have educational content that applies to them and to have an equal voice in their education," said the report's final recommendations.
One school district has already attracted attention for putting the plan into action. Some parents in the Novato Unified School District were outraged when they found their children, some as young as seven, were required to attend a series of plays dedicated to "bridging the gap" between gay and transgender students and their parents and teachers.
Speakers at Monday's conference said they did not intend to single out anyone for being different.
"This is not about intolerance, it is about redirecting the hate to anyone who disagrees with the gay agenda," complained Karen Holgate, president of the Parents’ National Network. "There is intolerance for those teachers or students who don’t agree, and who are labeled homophobic."
But Caryl Stern, corporate executive officer of the Anti-Defamation League and first director of A World of Difference, which teaches tolerance programs in schools, disagreed.
"We’re not teaching sexual behavior. The curriculum does not call upon schools to condemn or condone any aspect of a lifestyle, but to call upon people to respect people regardless of what makes us different from one another," she said.