Following an evening
marked by touching pleas, the Petaluma School Board endorsed the teaching of Sonoma County Project 10 in its schools.
Sonoma County Project 10 wants to provide teachers in the Petaluma School District with the educational tools necessary to handle the sexual identity questions of high school students in a safe environment. It also calls for a staff member -- not necessarily gay -- to be available for such consultations.
After the November 14 presentation, Superintendent Charles Cadman recommended the panel make its presentation to a December 11 meeting of all school district principals.
56 members of the audience offered their opinions, with 18 opposed
of Sonoma County Project 10, P-FLAG, Positive Images, and the mothers of two boys who had committed suicide because of their sexual identity, spoke before the board and to a standing-room-only auditorium.
Mary Griffith, whose story is told in the Leroy Aarons' book Prayers for Bobby, set the tone for the presentation.
"The moment my son Bobby took his first breath in June 24, 1963, his good name and character and reputation had already been destroyed -- destroyed by those he loved and trusted -- his church, consequently his family, and his country," she said. "Why? Because he was homosexual."
She told the board that "factual information concerning our children can help to make a safe environment for all of our children within the church, society, and public schools."
Cotati residents Tim and Stephanie Reed, whose son Robin jumped from the Golden Gate Bridge last January, had been unaware of the high suicide rate among gay teens until they were told by a school principal shortly after their son's death.
"Since that time, I have increasingly immersed myself in understanding what it means to grow up gay, and what Robin's world was like," Stephanie Reed told a rapt audience. "I've read, I've listened, I've reflected and I've learned. I've learned why a loving home and a distinguished school can fall short of meeting the needs of gay and lesbian children."
Following the presentation, 56 members of the audience offered their opinions. 18 people spoke in opposition to Project 10, offering widely-repeated arguments. Some, while coming out against any form of harassment, said that existing policies and laws against student harassment were enough and should be more rigidly enforced. Others said allowing Project 10 in as a support group for gay and lesbian harassment victims would open the door to support groups for each form of harassment, from being overweight to wearing glasses.
Mel Grams, pastor of Adobe Christian Center in Petaluma, submitted a letter signed by the pastors of 12 fundamentalist Christian churches that teach homosexual activity is a sin. They intend to offer the board an alternative program to "help end the harassment against our children," said Rev. Grams.
Curtis Kearl, a bishop of the Mormon Church in Petaluma, challenged the legality of the school board institutionalizing "a pro-homosexual ideology in the public schools."
"I respectfully caution the board that the institutionalization of Project 10's agenda and ideology in this district would be in my opinion a violation of the law," said Kearl. "It will certainly be a violation of the trust of thousands of parents like me who entrusted their children to this district with the expectation that they will not be subjected to propaganda which undermines their strongly-held religious beliefs. I for one will not sit by and allow that to happen."
Another Petaluma man, telling the board to stick with teaching reading, writing and arithmetic, warned, "If we drive one child into homosexuality because of this information, then we are guilty of a terrible, terrible crime."
Project 10 supports people trying their individual path, whatever that path is
candidate and Project 10 spokeswoman Maddy Hirshfield cautioned the board to separate Sonoma County Project 10 from other Project 10 programs. "I want to make that distinction because we're not all the same. We are an educational organization, not a counseling organization. We don't counsel, we don't do anything like that."
She challenged the statements of the Project 10 Research Committee, which is a group working against the Sonoma County organization. On a recent radio talk show a spokeswoman said Project 10 offers no other options for students. Hirshfield challenged the statement.
"I want it to be clear that Project 10 is an organization that supports people trying their individual path, whatever that path is," said Hirshfield. "If that path happens to be heterosexual, we support that. If that path happens to be homosexual, then we support that. If it happens to be bisexual, we support that. They don't. They only support the path to heterosexuality. Who's offering options?"
She noted that the national organization Concerned Women of America, in a recent anti-gay newspaper ad campaign, stated gays "historically prey on the innocence of minors," and that gays "recruit."
"I want to remind you that this organization -- this Project 10 Research Committee -- if they find a kid that feels that he or she is gay or lesbian, they will offer them a course -- a two-year live-in program designed to change them into happy heterosexuals. We have no such program. Who's recruiting?" asked Hirshfield.
Joe Manthey, the founder of Men and Women for Gender Justice who has failed in his attempts to establish a county Commission on the Status of Men, warned about Project 10's "political agendas." He wondered why Hirshfield had not mentioned her run for Fifth District supervisor, and said the statistics about teen gay suicide were wrong.
"Three out of four teen suicides are committed by children from families with one parent," said Manthey. "We know that 80 percent of child custody is given to the mother. So doing a little math, 80 percent of single parents are without a father. If you do that, two-thirds of teen suicides are from fatherless families. This blows this theory that there's this epidemic of suicide because of gay bashing."
Hirshfield later thanked Manthey for mentioning her candidacy.
[Editor's note: In our next issue, we will profile Stephanie Reed and Mary Griffith.]
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