In the wake of racist murders in Queens in 1986 and Brooklyn in 1989, the New York City Board of Education created a curriculum for first grade teachers in 1991 to promote racial and ethnic harmony and decrease prejudice and bigotry.
Called the Children of the Rainbow Curriculum, the resource guide contained 443 pages of suggested lessons and readings for educators to help their students develop academic and social skills.
Amid debates about multicultural education, advocates argued it was essential for students of diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds to see themselves represented in the classroom. It also included references to same-sex headed couples in the “Families” section.
Opponents seized on the mentions of same-sex couples as well as the recommended books
Heather Has Two Mommies, Daddy's Roommate, and
Gloria Goes to Gay Pride. Queens Community School District 24,
headed by President Mary Cummins, refused to adopt the curriculum.
“We will not accept two people of the same sex engaged in deviant sex practices as ‘family’,” remarked Cummins.
The Christian Coalition of America mobilized to oppose the curriculum in New York City and multicultural education nationwide.
Following the disputes, Children of the Rainbow was defeated in 1992, and the contract of Schools Chancellor Joseph Fernandez was not renewed in 1993 due to his backing of the curriculum as well
as his support of AIDS education and condom distribution in public high schools. In response to the tumult,
Matt Foreman of the Anti-Violence Project and Ed Sedarbaum of Queens Gays and Lesbians United organized the “March for Truth” in Ridgewood,
Queens in District 24 to protest the rejection of the curriculum and counter the lies, myths, and distortions of the opponents.
Danny Dromm, a fourth grade teacher in P.S. 199 in Sunnyside, Queens in District 24 came out in public as a gay man and became a champion of the curriculum.
He also began to plan a parade with activist Maritza Martinez in Jackson Heights to increase the visibility of the local LGBTQ population in a borough often associated with bigotry.
The inaugural Queens Lesbian and Gay Parade and Block Party Festival took place on June 6, 1993.
Some 1,000 marchers participated, and thousands of spectators attended.
First Grade Culture Wars: The Children of the Rainbow Curriculum Controversy of 1992
provides insight into the conflict through oral history, video, and photography.
Firsthand participants, including educators, journalists, activists, students, parents, and politicians, reflect about educational curriculum,
LGBTQ families, multiculturalism, challenged books, gay rights, the conservative opposition, and more.
Documentary filmmaker and photographer Richard Shpuntoff conducted some of the oral history interviews with LaGuardia Community College Sociologist Michelle Payne and her students.
In this essay, he reflects about his experience.
LaGuardia Community College student Billy Cannon wrote an essay
based on his research in the Daniel Dromm Collection at LaGuardia and Wagner Archives under the supervision of Associate Professor of Communication Studies Poppy Slocum.