Washington, DC -- By the day's end, the "Parents, Schools and Values," Congressional hearing revealed itself to be precisely what youth advocates had feared: a taxpayer funded platform for anti-gay extremists. The two day hearing came to a close today before the House Economic and Employment Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations.
The hearings became the focus of a national outcry when Lou Sheldon, an anti-gay extremist and Chairman of the Traditional Values Coalition, claimed the hearings were scheduled at his request to discuss the "promotion of homosexuality in the public schools."
Opening the hearings, Chairman Peter Hoekstra (D-MI) said the ten witnesses would explore the role of parents in schools and values in the "big picture." Nevertheless, by the second day as witness after witness lashed out against sex education, HIV prevention and youth support programs in schools, the true nature of the hearings became apparent. Perhaps due to the national outcry, the subcommittee called on four of the ten witnesses to address the impact of violence and harassment against youth grappling with issues of sexual orientation. No gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender youth were called upon to testify at the hearing.
"Lou Sheldon's extreme views came across loud and clear," said Helen Gonzales, Public Policy Director for the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. "Even though the committee did not completely stack the deck against us: intolerance of differing views and an anti-democratic approach to education were the themes of the day."
During the first day of hearings, witnesses William Bennett and Patricia Ann Baltz spoke in general terms about the need to infuse values into public schools. The word "homosexual" came up only once when Rep. Chaka Fattah (D-PA) asked Bennett how he might address the issues of racism and homophobia and the harassment and violence they can inspire in schools. A question Bennett failed to directly address.
During the second day, as expected, witnesses discussed school services and programs which address prevention of HIV, hate-violence in schools and the high incidence of suicide among gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender youth. Several witnesses misrepresented these community efforts as attempts to "recruit and promote homosexuality." At least one witness complained about schools "promoting homosexual lifestyles as normal," while another witness claimed that "homosexuality is sinful." A Totalitarian Approach
What several witnesses proved with their testimony was that they supported a totalitarian approach to education. Despite the subcommittee's emphasis, it was clear that at least some of the witnesses were present to complain that schools and school boards had not adopted their views, calling on the federal government to enforce a narrow agenda in local curriculum. The minority status of their viewpoints seemed unimportant.
Warren Grantham, a parent from St. Paul, MN, complained that a state-prepared pamphlet used in the schools pushed gays and lesbians as role models. According to Grantham, providing gays and lesbians as positive role models was the equivalent of providing drug dealers or alcoholics as role models. According to Grantham, "if we want kids to not use drugs we don't show them drug dealers as role models. Similarly, if we want kids not to use alcohol, we don't provide them with alcoholics as role models."
Grantham and a second witness, Nancy Maclone from East Falmouth, MA, both complained about school programs adopted by their local school boards. In both cases, the voters in their communities had publicly approved the youth support and sex education programs in question. Both received criticism from some members.
"As Rep. Martinez (D-CA) pointed out," said Gonzales, " it is important to take your case to the public and try and convince other parents and voters of your position. But when you lose, it means that the majority of the public does not agree with those positions put forth in the campaign - that is how democracy works."
Another witness claiming to be an "expert" in the federal funding of homosexuality failed to produce adequate documentation for her outrageous claims.
Two witnesses, Mary Griffith who's gay son committed suicide and Anne Simon, a Massachusetts teacher, proved to be the voices of reason in the midst of homophobic barbs. Both witnesses spoke to the critical need for supporting gay, lesbian and bisexual youth. Their descriptions of violence and harassment towards gay youth underscored the need for school systems to develop programs that help students, teachers and administrators address this critical issue.
In a letter sent Tuesday to Rep. Hoekstra, NGLTF Executive Director, Melinda Paras wrote, "the Radical Right will not rest until they have forced their narrow-minded ideas onto every facet of our society. Right wing extremists hope to promote only their narrow definition of the 'acceptable' family." Referencing the hearing's connection to Lou Sheldon, Paras enclosed a pants pocket as a protest against the appearance that Congress is perched "in the back pocket of the Radical Right."
According to NGLTF research, the hearings come at the close of a year that has seen an unending attack gay issues in schools. Of the 39 anti-gay state measures tracked by NGLTF this year, 17, roughly 44% focused on gay-related educational policies -- mandating only negative references to gay-related issues and individuals through the education system.
"These Congressional hearings are only the tip of the iceberg," said Beth Barrett, NGLTF spokesperson. "The Radical Right's quest is to dismantle sex education and safe school programs by keeping quality, honest and factual information out of the hands of young people."
Rea Carey, Coordinator of the National Advocacy Coalition on Youth and Sexual Orientation, was part of a coalition of national organizations that came together in response to the hearings. Carey stated that, "this hearing was clearly a victory for gay youth and a defeat for the extreme right's agenda. Although Representative Hoekstra had stated that the hearing's focus would not be to attack programs serving gay and lesbian youth, he clearly forgot to tell this to the witnesses."