Featuring the intimate stories of five key participants, along with rare archival footage, the 70-minute documentary film TALES FROM THE RAINBOW WARS will trace the battle over The Children of the Rainbow Curriculum from its promising beginnings through its bitter defeat, and the unexpected signs of hope that emerged.
Developed for public schoolchildren at the height of the Nineties Culture Wars, the Children of the Rainbow Curriculum was supposed to be the antidote to a decade's long surge in hate crimes. Instead, it was immediately attacked as "gay" because 6 pages out of 443 mentioned resources like Heather has Two Mommies.
Gay-bashing not only united conservatives across sectarian lines, it was key to the Christian Right's "divide and conquer" techniques, raising the specter of a white, homosexual lobby demanding "special rights," to mobilize "true minorities" against their own interests, much as modest Americans struggling with jobs and healthcare voted for the unfettered capitalism, and social program-slashing Trump. In fact, the Rainbow Wars raises issues relevant to the election of 2016 and its aftermath, examining the seduction of resentment politics, bold-faced lies, and bigotry-spiked outrage.
We'll see people of all races ranting about the "Gay Curriculum" to newscasters and talk show hosts, even expressing satisfaction that gay people are dying of AIDS. As always, those under attack are split in how to respond. Accused of pedophilia, some gay people were horrified when the Lesbian Avengers took on the fight directly, giving out balloons to schoolchildren that read, "Ask about lesbian lives," and condemning not only the homophobia, but the racism of the campaign. Others leapt on board.
We'll return to some of these fight participants, interviewing them two decades later to describe what they felt at the time, and if their perspective has changed. Among others, we'll meet Elissa Weindling, a passionate educator and public schools curriculum developer who saw a security guard puncture a crowd's homophobia when he described the horror of a young gay student's suicide.
We'll also talk to Margarita Lopez, a curriculum supporter, who describes how painful it was to be attacked as a lesbian after years of serving as a housing advocate in the Latino community of New York's Lower East Side. But also how the fight forced the neighborhood to begin talking publicly for the first time about LGBT issues, leading to her election as the first openly gay Latina on New York's City council.
The backlash against multiculturalism and other progressive ideas wasn't unique to New York. Presidential candidate Pat Buchanan formalized the fight in his 1992 speech to the Republican National Convention declaring a culture war for "the soul of America," in which he attacked environmentalists, feminists, and LGBT people, as well as people of color.
Then as now, his defense of family values, American values, were code for white supremacy and Christian nationalist values. It was no coincidence that the New York leader against the Rainbow Curriculum, white-haired grandmother Mary Cummins, was the head of District 24's all-white school board. Or that a few years later, when Louisa M. Chan, became the first person of color elected to District 24's school board, Mary Cummins attacked her right to be there in public, bigoted rants.
Cummins was a pivotal figure in the fight. She was the first to put together an unholy alliance between the Catholic hierarchy and Protestant evangelicals of all races, working closely with heavy-hitters like the Cardinal John O'Connor as well as right-wing evangelical Pat Robertson. Cummins was the natural target for groups like the Lesbian Avengers, who calibrated their response to the battle, and to Cummins herself, with sardonic humor, creativity, and persistence. We not only see them giving out balloons on the first day of school, but serenading Mary Cummins in front of her home on a snowy Valentine's eve, as they search for ways to fight an irrational hate that, like racism, requires more than legislation, but profound social change.
While the multicultural curriculum was rapidly squashed, and Latino School Chancellor Joseph Fernandez ousted, making the battle against the Rainbow Curriculum a signature victory for the Christian Right, some good did come of it. Like the election of Margarita Lopez. Meanwhile, New York's Asian community recognized just how underrepresented they were and became much more active. Groups like the Lesbian Avengers emerged. Above all, individuals were forced to take stands not just on LGBT or racial issues, but fundamental questions about social justice, American values, and our collective fate.
Offering an urgent message about the seductions of resentment politics, bold-faced lies, and bigotry-spiked outrage, Tales from the Rainbow Wars is a timely contribution to conversations about current American politics, addressing underlying questions about why modest Americans struggling with jobs and healthcare voted for the unfettered capitalism, and social program-slashing Trump. And how we can reach them.
The film is also an important resource for activists today. Though the Rainbow Curriculum ended in a seeming defeat for progressive activists, Tales from the Rainbow Wars offers examples of how and why to resist movements motivated by hate and resentment, and the enduring effects of this important work.