A homosexual man's talk on living with AIDS will go on as scheduled at Glenwood Middle School Friday despite efforts by some parents and other community members to have him banned from a disability awareness program for students.
Opponents petitioned the school board Thursday to bar the appearance of Ross Milstead, 31, who is infected withthe AIDS virus, because they object to his lifestyle. Milstead will talk to eighth-graders while individuals with other disabilities speak to sixth- and seventh-graders.
"I do not believe it is appropriate for a person living what I consider to be an immoral lifestyle (to speak to the students)," Patty Geuder, the mother of an eighth-grader at Glenwood, told board members.
She said she plans to keep her son home from school Friday in protest rather than use the other option available to parents who object: to send the children to school but withdraw them from the talk. Students withdrawn are given other activities during the program.
Chairwoman Deborah D. Kendig said the board did not discuss the request because discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation would violate school system policy and county human relations law. She said the ban on discrimination had been explained by Associate Superintendent James R. McGowan at a meeting at Gethsemane Baptist Church.
"Is the board going to exercise administrative authority that it really doesn't have and come in and say, 'Well, discriminate against this kind of person but not against that kind of person'?" Kendig asked.
The Rev. Timothy L. Simpson, pastor of Gethsemane Baptist Church and organizer of the community meeting, said he intends to call another meeting after the program Friday to evaluate the protest and to allow parents to decide whether they want to drop the issue or plan a futureprotest.
Simpson said he was "highly frustrated by the response of the board Thursday night, which was in fact zero response."
Milstead said the protest is the first he has faced in the three
yearshe has been speaking in county elementary, middle and high schools, although he has not spoken previously at Glenwood Middle. Milstead, who has contracted muscular dystrophy since becoming HIV-positive, wasa speaker for two years in the AIDS prevention education program andjoined the disability education program last spring.
"Truthfully,I think it's that (opponents) have never heard the presentation and they think I'm there for a different reason. I don't promote homosexuality at all," he said.
Other speakers scheduled for the program, a blind woman and several wheelchair users, told Milstead they would pull out if he were barred.
"I figured if they were willing to go to bat for me, I'd do it," he said.
Milstead said he believes he contracted the AIDS virus at about the age of 19. "I was at an age where most teen-agers are, thinking I was invincible. I was from a good family, I went to a good school, this didn't happen to me. It was happening out on the West Coast."
The county school system sets guidelines for information that outside speakers are allowed to give students. The guidelines vary by age level, said Anne R. Wade, coordinatorof the disability education program.
Milstead said that if a student asks a question that is outside the limits of his topic -- livingwith AIDS and the disease's impact on his life -- he refers the question to the teacher or tells the student to seek information from theschool library or from his parents.