National Public Radio interview:

The homosexual marriage agenda in Massachusetts public schools becomes aggressive and militant

. . . since the Supreme Judicial Court's same-sex marriage ruling.

"If somebody wants to challenge me, I'll say,
`Give me a break. It's legal now."
- Openly lesbian 8th grade teacher in Brookline, MA

How bad is it?  Read for yourself . . .

National Public Radio ("All Things Considered")
Interviews Brian Camenker of Article 8 Alliance / Parents Rights Coalition
 & various public school teachers
(Originally broadcast 9/13/04)


Title: Debate in Massachusetts over how to address the issue of discussing gay relationships and sex in public school classrooms.



MELISSA BLOCK, host: This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

Sex education has long been a controversial subject. In Massachusetts this school year, there's a new element to the debate. Now that the state Supreme Court has legalized same- sex marriage, some advocates say teachers have an obligation to talk more in class about gay and lesbian relationships. From Boston, NPR's Tovia Smith reports.

TOVIA SMITH reporting:

Seventeen-year-old high school senior Sam Zegas says his teachers in the quiet suburb of Winchester barely ever mention the words `gay' and `lesbian.' Whether in grade school discussions of family or high school discussions of English lit or even in sex ed, Zegas says the subject was never really on the radar screen.

SAM ZEGAS (High School Senior): It makes me feel bad because it invalidates the person I am.

TOVIA SMITH: Zegas says the conspicuous silence made it a lot harder for him to accept himself as gay and to come out of the closet.

SAM ZEGAS: There were times when I got very depressed about it. I couldn't picture my life further down the road because I didn't know. I didn't what that looked like; I couldn't even imagine it. And that's what changed, that's what changed on May 17th. This is a message from the government of Massachusetts saying, `This is now part of the social norm.'

TOVIA SMITH: Zegas is one of many hoping that the day gay marriage became legal in Massachusetts will also mark the beginning of a new openness in schools. Already, some gay and lesbian advocates are working on a new gay-friendly curriculum for kindergarten and up.

LUCIA GATES (Counselor, Lexington Elementary School): I think in this case, we need definitions. That's one of the key things teachers want.

TOVIA SMITH: Lexington Elementary School counselor Lucia Gates sits around a table with other teachers, administrators and activists brainstorming on to construct a new teacher's guide to deal with topics many had long been told to stay away from.

LUCIA GATES: But there's a whole host of words here your average elementary teacher is afraid to use because they just don't know what to say.

Unidentified Woman: Right.

LUCIA GATES: No one has told them how to answer the question: `What does "gay" mean?'

TOVIA SMITH: But many teachers say they're less afraid now since the high court decision legalizing gay marriage. Deb Allen teaches eighth-grade sex ed in Brookline. She keeps a picture of her lesbian partner and their kids on her desk and gay equality signs on the wall. Allen says she's already been teaching a gay-friendly curriculum for nearly a decade, but she says she does begin this year feeling a bit more emboldened.

DEB ALLEN (Eighth-Grade Teacher): In my mind, I know that, `OK, this is legal now.' If somebody wants to challenge me, I'll say, `Give me a break. It's legal now.'

TOVIA SMITH: And, Allen says, teaching about homosexuality is also more important now. She says the debate around gay marriage is prompting kids to ask a lot more questions, like what is gay sex, which Allen answers thoroughly and explicitly with a chart.

DEB ALLEN: And on the side, I'm going to draw some different activities, like kissing and hugging, and different kinds of intercourse. All right?

TOVIA SMITH: Allen asks her students to fill in the chart with yeses and nos.

DEB ALLEN: All right. So can a woman and a woman kiss and hug? Yes. Can a woman and a woman have vaginal intercourse, and they will all say no. And I'll say, `Hold it. Of course, they can. They can use a sex toy. They could use'--and we talk--and we discuss that. So the answer there is yes.

TOVIA SMITH: In Massachusetts, local districts have broad discretion when it comes to sex ed, and schools range from this one in Brookline to many others that teach abstinence only or offer no sex ed at all. But teachers say gay and lesbian issues come up all day; not just in sex ed, but everywhere from gym class to social studies or biology. And many teachers say they don't want to go there.

"BARBARA" (Elementary Teacher): The average teacher doesn't really want to touch the subject. You know, they're rolling their eyes at this point and biting their tongues and just hoping and praying that they're not going to have to deal with this.

TOVIA SMITH: Barbara, an elementary teacher northwest of Boston, did not want to use her real name. She says she feels growing pressure from her school to be, as she puts it, `politically correct.' But she says she'd quit if she ever had to assign books like "Heather Has Two Mommies," or to answer questions about what gay means.

"BARBARA": Not everything that a child asks has to be answered by a public school teacher. We have to set boundaries and look at a child and say, `You know, that's a very good question. You should go home and ask your parents. Now to get on with the rest of the lesson.'

TOVIA SMITH: Brian Camenker, with the conservative Parents Rights Coalition, agrees. He's threatened legal action against schools that teach what he calls `the homosexual agenda,' but he says since gay marriage became legal, even his own lawyers are telling him he's got less legal ground to stand on.

BRIAN CAMENKER (Parents Rights Coalition): This has opened the floodgates for the homosexual movement to go into the public schools and very openly and brazenly say that homosexual relationships are completely healthy, they're completely like everything else and if you don't believe this, you're a bigot. And that's what they're doing.

TOVIA SMITH: Years ago, Camenker helped pass a state law requiring schools to get parents' permission before talking to kids about sex, but now Camenker says schools are getting around that by saying their gay and lesbian programs are not about human sexuality but human rights. Camenker flips through a file folder he's labeled `Horror stuff.' It's full of handouts he says his daughter received at her Newton public school.

BRIAN CAMENKER: And here, "The Resource Guide To Coming Out," telling kids--a very slick, colorful book--that homosexuality is not a choice, it chooses you; gay people are mentally healthy; being lesbian or gay is natural; how, if you feel homosexual, that you can come out. I mean, what is going on here?

TOVIA SMITH: As Camenker sees it, homosexuality should be treated like divorce. Yes, it's legal and, yes, it happens, but when his own parents divorced, Camenker says, none of his teachers celebrated it. But gay rights advocates say that would violate the spirit of the gay marriage law, as well as long-standing anti-discrimination laws. Pam Geramo is with PFLAG, or Parents and Friends of Lesbians and and Gays. She says teachers have to acknowledge reality.

PAM GERAMO (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays): A child could say, `My parents are gay. Where's my family in this picture?' I mean, you can't teach as if black people don't exist. You can't teach as if, you know, any other group doesn't exist.

TOVIA SMITH: With school just now beginning, it's hard to say exactly how much the new gay marriage law will really change what schools teach. Conservatives tend to overstate the point, just as gay rights advocates prefer to downplay it. Both sides know the stakes are high. States around the country are watching Massachusetts as they debate their own marriage laws. And even here, the issue is far from settled. The final word may come in a few years, when voters decide whether to amend the Massachusetts Constitution to ban gay marriage. Tovia Smith, NPR News, Boston.

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