National Public Radio interview:
The homosexual marriage agenda in Massachusetts public schools becomes
aggressive and militant
"If somebody wants to challenge me,
. . . since the Supreme Judicial Court's same-sex marriage ruling.
`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
& various public school teachers
(Originally broadcast 9/13/04)
HERE'S THE TRANSCRIPT OF THE SHOW:
Title: Debate in Massachusetts over how to address the issue of discussing gay
relationships and sex in public school classrooms.
Host: MELISSA BLOCK
Reporter: TOVIA SMITH
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
Copyright (c) 2004 National Public Radio