Parents Say Gays' Talk Tried To Recruit Their Children

Teen-age Confusion, Aids Were Topics

November 17, 1991|By Donna E. Boller | Donna E. Boller,Staff writer

More than 200 parents and students jammed the school board meeting room Thursday night to hear speakers denounce a program on homosexuality at Wilde Lake High School last month as an effort to "recruit" teen-agers and an endorsement of sodomy.

Standing ovations greeted four speakers who criticized the way school officials handled advance notices to parents about the program and urged the board to bar the Sexual Minority Youth Assistance League, a Washington-based support group for young gays, from any future programs in county schools.

But several board members said Friday that they would not object to future presentations by SMYAL.

"The issue of our health supersedes many other concerns," said board member Karen B. Campbell.

During an afternoon segment of the board meeting, Wilde Lake U.S. Studies teacher Gerry Conlon defended the SMYAL talk and criticized an openletter circulated last month by Wilde Lake parents James and Ann Sullivan as "inaccurate, biased and without merit."

At the evening session, James Sullivan criticized the SMYAL presentation. The two gay males and one lesbian who spoke to 11th-graders "took the opportunityto promote and encourage homosexual lifestyles," he said.

"We never did anything of the sort," Amy A. Vitro, executive director of SMYAL and one of the speakers, said after the board meeting. She said the group's only, advocacy was for support of teen-agers who are gay orstruggling with sexual identity.

Kelly Shipp, a 15-year-old junior at Wilde Lake who attended the SMYAL presentation, said she thoughtthe students were very open to what the speakers said, asked good questions, and neither she nor any of her friends felt that they were being recruited.

"If it changed one person's opinion and made them stop bashing (gays) or if it saved one person from committing suicide, it was worth it," Kelly said.

Robert Warfel, SMYAL training and education director, said gay teen-agers are believed to be two to three times as likely to commit suicide as their heterosexual peers.

The presentation included the viewpoint that homosexuality is an alternative lifestyle and that homosexual feelings are normal and should be expressed rather than suppressed. The representatives encouraged young people who believe they have gay or bisexual tendencies to talk with their guidance counselors or contact SMYAL.

The Sullivans circulated the open letter after learning about the program from their son, who attended it. In the letter, they claimed the school had failed to notify parents.

But Conlon said that notices, including a tear-off form for parents to sign if they did not want their children toattend the program, were distributed to all 11th-grade students by aguidance counselor.

The counselor explained to students that the first day of the program would concern AIDS and the second day homosexuality, said Conlon. But parents of two students said they did not get the notices.

Opponents urged advance notice through PTA newsletters, which are mailed rather than sent home with students and to require signed permission slips for attendance rather than allow students to attend unless their parents have withdrawn them.

Board Chairwoman Deborah D. Kendig said the board and school officials would takethe parents' comments under consideration and advise the speakers ofdecisions.

James Sullivan told the board that gays engage in sodomy, an illegal practice under Maryland law. A program that encourageshomosexuality "could be construed as the school contributing to the delinquency of a minor," he said.

Ann Sullivan objected to the SMYAL representatives' T-shirts, which she said depicted gays coming outof the closet, and to a poster she said they hung at the back of theroom during the presentation.

The poster, captioned "History has set the record a little too straight" depicted famous historical characters who were openly gay or who are believed to have been gay.

"That was not our poster," Vitro said. She said the SMYAL representatives gave literature to the guidance counselor, but did not distributeany materials to the students.

Vitro said she believed the Wilde Lake presentation was the first time SMYAL representatives have been invited to a Howard County school.

Asked if the organization has received similar backlashes in other school districts, she replied, "We believe this response was orchestrated and that it doesn't represent everyone's viewpoint or a majority viewpoint, for that matter."

Board Vice Chairman Dana F. Hanna said he supports letting each school community, as Wilde Lake did, decide whether to invite representatives of the group.

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