Utah coach loses post for being a lesbian Parents group wants her out of schools

November 14, 1997|By KNIGHT-RIDDER NEWS SERVICE

SPANISH FORK, Utah -- The sign on Main Street here touts Spanish Fork as the "Home of Pride and Progress."

Wendy Weaver begs to differ.

Weaver, 40, a lesbian, lost her coaching post at Spanish Fork High School after her sexual orientation became public this summer. Her case is the most recent in a handful of incidents involving homosexuals in public schools in Utah, a conservative state where teachers are forbidden by law to discuss the subject in the classroom.

"I am infinitely more concerned about my children's moral values being intact during their education than I am about what they learn," said Matt Hilton, an attorney who heads a parents group ** that wants Weaver, who has 18 years of teaching experience, out of the school system altogether.

Teacher files suit

The local school board has ordered Weaver not to discuss her sexual orientation with students, parents or other teachers. She, in turn, filed a lawsuit against the board, contending the order violated her rights to privacy and free expression.

She was excommunicated from the Mormon Church after she refused to renounce her lesbianism. Now parents are demanding that the school board allow them to pull their children from classes whose teachers they view as unfit role models.

This week, Hilton, who has five children in the district, kicked off an emotional school board debate on the situation by handing over petitions signed by more than 2,600 parents, affirming "strong belief in traditional morality."

It was Hilton who helped draft the law barring discussion of homosexuality in the schools, adopted last year.

Although a handful of Utah teachers have since proclaimed their homosexuality without any repercussions, all teach at schools in and around Salt Lake City, the state's most tolerant area.

Spanish Fork is less than an hour south of Salt Lake, but philosophically, the distance is daunting. It is a small town, committed to its traditions.

Sheila Raboy, one of the few who spoke in support of Weaver at Wednesday's school board meeting, said the difference between Salt Lake City and Spanish Fork "is that these people haven't learned to be civilized about their prejudices. They haven't learned to work within the Constitution."

At the board meeting, most parents were there to urge the board to let parents pull their children from classes. Although their proposal did not mention Weaver by name, she was clearly its target.

Nothing 'to be ashamed of'

"I don't think we have anything to be ashamed of, simply because we may not be as open-minded as some people want us to be," said Ray Morley, whose 13th child is preparing to graduate from Spanish Fork High.

The school board won't act on any proposals until the state determines how to respond to Weaver's lawsuit, a decision it is likely to delay until next month. Spanish Fork High's new trimester begins in a week, but Weaver said that so far, only a couple of students have dropped her psychology class. Meanwhile, citing legal restrictions, board members won't discuss the case.

'Out of my business'

Before Wednesday's meeting, Weaver said: "A lot of people have told me they don't agree with my lifestyle but that they agree people should stay out of my business."

The publicity is daunting, she said. "The funny thing is, I've never been the kind of person to talk to people about it [her orientation]. And yet, all of a sudden, the whole nation knows."

Pub Date: 11/14/97

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