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'Sexual diversity' in schools

Marcus Lütticke / asbJanuary 12, 2014

Rarely has a curriculum caused this much of a stir: In the German state of Baden-Württemberg, "acceptance of sexual diversity" is to be taught in schools in the future. Resistance has been expressed on the Internet.

Two males holding hands in front of a rainbow flag
Image: picture alliance / dpa

For the past year, a commission has been drawing up a new basic syllabus for schools in the German state of Baden-Württemberg for 2015. Although there are no final results yet, internal working papers have indicated that the topic of "sexual diversity" is to be embedded in the new curriculum.

But a middle-school teacher from the Black Forest region in southwest Germany has recently initiated a petition on the Internet expressing discontent with the direction of the new plan. According to him, plans to teach about sexual diversity are geared towards "an educational, moral, and ideological reeducation" in the state's schools.

The petition currently has more than 104,000 signatories, about half of these supporters from the state of Baden-Württemberg, for which the petition was designed.

Petition had to be modified

The teacher had to change a first draft of the petition because it violated the terms of use of the online portal, with some of the passages being formulated too drastically and discriminatorily. It could be argued that the current version sounds unclear and uses coded language.

The petition is directed against the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community.

According to the petition, the educational plan fails to "reflect the negative side effects of an LGBT lifestyle" - which the petition cites as including suicide, drug misuse, HIV and mental illness.

Thomas Hitzlsperger
German athlete Thomas Hitzlsperger's recent outing has triggered a debate on homosexuality in GermanyImage: dictum law communications/dpa

But the petition also reads: "We support the desire to not discriminate against homosexuals, bisexuals, transgender, transsexuals, and intersexuals. Existing discrimination should be addressed in the classroom." This sentence was added to the second version of the petition.

The debate may have been triggered by former soccer star Thomas Hitzlsperger's recently outing himself, which has put the topic of public homosexuality back on the agenda.

Other states more progressive

The educational plan for the schools in the state of Baden-Württemberg are nothing special, according to Karla Etschenberg, an educational researcher and former professor at Germany's University of Flensburg.

"The states of Berlin and Brandenburg are absolute pioneers in this field, while the state of North-Rhine-Westphalia is also very advanced," she told DW in an interview. She added that for the past several years, the latter has funded a project that connects different groups which are educating pupils about the LGBT community.

New training for teachers

For Etschenberg, imparting acceptance of sexual diversity should not be taught in sex-ed classes, but rather be included in social education as discussion component on basic social values. That's exactly what the educational plan for schools in the state of Baden-Württemberg envisions, as an interdisciplinary educational goal.

According to Doro Moritz, head of an educational and science union in the state of Baden-Württemberg, teachers' qualifications would need to be refined in order to implement this. "The topic needs to be included in the education and training of teachers who are already employed," she said.

Boys in Baden-Württemberg classroom
It's often difficult for teachers to broach the topic of homosexuality with their studentsImage: picture-alliance/dpa

Moritz thinks the sought-after curriculum reforms are extremely necessary. "So far, this is a topic that can be touched upon if a teacher feels like it. But since this is a difficult topic for teachers, it hardly ever comes up."

Government staying firm

For Moritz, the petition's ambition is obvious: "This is a clear attempt to keep the topic of sexual diversity out of the classrooms," he said. According to him, the first draft of the petition demonstrates its true intentions. "It conveyed fears that are not backed up by the working papers at all," he added.

The petition is not likely to have any political effect. The German Ministry of Education and Cultural Affairs has, regardless, provided a written statement clarifying the goals of the new educational plan.

"Information about pluralism in life planning as well as sexual preference is supposed to strengthen the self-esteem of children and teenagers, as well as their appreciation of others, ultimately helping young adults to develop their own personalities," the statement reads.

There is also a counter-petition supporting the goals of broaching sexual diversity in the new educational plan - thus far, it has about 46,000 signatures.