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School Sends Away Gay Anti-Bullying Speaker When Parents Complain


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School Sends Away Gay Anti-Bullying Speaker When Parents Complain

by The Associated Press

March 24, 2006 - 1:00 pm ET

(Williston, Vermont) School officials are regrouping and may try again after parent complaints prompted them to cancel anti-harassment sessions in which a gay teenager was scheduled to speak to seventh- and eighth-graders.

"I think the school is doing absolutely the right thing by trying to build that issue into its educational program," Superintendent Brian O'Regan said Friday, a day after a meeting between school officials and parents ended with the sessions being canceled.

O'Regan, of the Chittenden South Supervisory Union school district, and Williston Central School Principal Walter Nardelli said a speaker sponsored by the gay advocacy group Outright Vermont was to speak to groups of students about his own experiences dealing with negative feedback from peers because of his sexual orientation.

But Nardelli said sponsorship of the talks by Outright Vermont put off some parents.

"I think that it raised questions," he said. "People had visited their Web site and were concerned. The parents are not opposed to the topic, but some were a little bit worried about what the message was going to be."

Outright Vermont's Web site carries the slogan "Creating a Queer Youth Community Since 1989," and contains a mission statement:

"The mission of Outright Vermont is to foster sensitivity and understanding of the issues facing gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and questioning youth. Through education and outreach, we seek to challenge stereotypes and prejudice and create an environment in which all young people can realize their full potential, free from the weight of hate and fear."

A link on the site for parents says, "It can be equally as stressful for parents as for youth in the coming out process. Outright has plenty of books, resources and information that we can provide you!"

Kate Jerman, co-executive director of Outright, said cancellation of Thursday's event meant that several hundred students missed out on the group's anti-bullying presentation.

"The message they (students) got was clearly this isn't an OK thing to talk about," Jerman said. "That's a lot of damage to the school climate from one very small action."

Connor McFadden, the Burlington teenager who was to speak to the Williston students, said he hoped to suggest ways students of all sexual orientations could stand up for gay, lesbian and bisexual young people.

"They (parents at the meeting) immediately took that to assume that I was going to convert their kids to being gay or something along the lines of that," he said.

Vermont lawmakers in 2004 passed a law calling on schools to institute anti-bullying programs. Gays and lesbians are among the groups given protection from harassment under Vermont law.

Nardelli said the school would continue to look for ways to get the anti-bullying message across.

"You probably realize there's a lot of fear out there on the issue," he said. "It isn't that they (parents) don't want their kids educated on this. They just wanted to know how far are you going to go?"

He said the school would investigate to see if there is "another group or another way to do it that would still get the same message across but might be less controversial in general."

Earlier this week a Wisconsin school cancelled Diversity Day after an "ex-gay" group complained about a gay speaker. (story)

©365Gay.com 2006


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