Parents call for St. Paul's Schools to avoid promoting homosexuality Petition says gay lifestyle not an issue of diversity

May 16, 1998|By Mary Maushard | Mary Maushard,SUN STAFF

Parents at the St. Paul's Schools are petitioning their boards of trustees to discourage discussions and activities that would lead students to believe homosexuality is acceptable.

The petition also asks that parents be involved in writing policies that promote diversity among students and staff members and that sexual orientation not be considered a kind of diversity, as are race and religion.

The petition was first circulated at a forum Thursday night organized by parents still bristling over comments made in February by Evelyn Flory, headmistress of St. Paul's School for Girls.

What the headmistress called a statement of respect and acceptance has been construed by some parents as the beginning of an agenda that will encourage homosexual behavior and change the character of the schools.

In an all-school meeting in February, Flory told students that sexual orientation is a kind of diversity that must be respected.

"I believe that we must respect, welcome and love every individual, not only persons of different religions or different races, but also those whose sexual orientation may be different from our own," Flory said at the meeting.

The parents' response was initially aimed at Flory and the girls' school. It has been broadened to address leaders of the adjacent boys' middle and high school and the lower school, which enrolls boys and girls in kindergarten through fourth grade. All are affiliated with the Episcopal Church.

Though situated on adjoining campuses in Brooklandville and sharing some facilities, St. Paul's and St. Paul's School for Girls are separate institutions with distinct leaderships.

The petition says, "We do not regard sexual lifestyle as an identity issue at all equivalent to race, nationality or culture. Sexuality is a complex personality trait which is inextricably linked to fundamental values, moral issues and religious teachings."

Addressed to the boards of trustees of both schools, it seeks: Suspension of activities and materials that seek to "institutionalize homosexuality as diversity." That includes the pink triangle, which Flory and others have displayed around the girls' school as a symbol of acceptance and respect for homosexuals.

Consultation with experts such as pediatricians on the appropriateness of sexual orientation as a diversity issue, especially for middle school students.

The initiation of "significant public discussion" and inviting parents' opinions before formulating policies that address sexual orientation.

Flory told her students in February that the trustees were writing a diversity policy that would be finished next month. The parents who were opposed to her comments say they have not been consulted on its content or direction.

"The parents who have been active come from all schools, because the lower school feeds into both schools," said Vigen Guroian, the parent of a 10th-grader at the girls' school and one of the organizers of the recent forum.

About 45 people, many of them lower school parents, attended the forum, which was advertised on a hot-pink triangle and included two speakers who said they had lived "the gay lifestyle" but were able to change their orientations.

"If I had been told in junior high that homosexuality was OK, I probably would not be alive today," said Jeff Johnston, who spoke of his experimentation with a gay lifestyle that had its risks. He is now Baltimore director of Regeneration, a ministry for men and women who don't wish to follow homosexual tendencies.

Other speakers contended that by equating homosexuality with factors such as race, it becomes increasingly viewed as normal and thus more widely accepted.

"Homosexuality is not identity, but a set of behaviors. How could anyone be identified as a gay person if he did not make it known," said Steve Schwalm, a senior writer for the Family Research Council in Washington.

Flory and other officials of the girls' school said they were not invited. Only a few parents of girls' school students appeared to be among those at the Sheppard Pratt Conference Center. Robert Hallett, headmaster at St. Paul's, was not available for comment yesterday.

"Our intention was not to have a mob out. We needed to identify people who would have staying power," said Guroian, who was not part of the original group of parents that spoke out against Flory's comments.

"I have waited for her [Flory] to make some gesture for the beginning of compromise," he said.

Flory says she is baffled by the strong, continuing response from some parents.

"It was a very simple statement made within the context of Black History Month. We need to be always mindful that it's very easy to exclude people or to disparage someone. You have to keep restating your philosophy -- every child is a child of God," she said yesterday.

"It's very clear that we are not trying to take our girls and make them lesbians. But if a girl is self-identified or a teacher is gay, that person is just fine."

Flory said that since her statement and the publicizing of the parents' concerns, she has received 300 letters from parents, students, alumnae and trustees, running 9 to 1 in support of her point of view.

"What has happened has been an overwhelming outpouring of support. We have lost no students. It did not affect admissions at all. There has been no spillover whatsoever," she said.

Pub Date: 5/16/98

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