NEW YORK -- The Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Teachers Network congratulated Merrimack, N.H. voters for their resounding rejection of the town's far right school board majority in Tuesday's election, when pro-education candidate Rosemarie Rung trounced her opponent by an over 2-1 majority in the largest-ever turn-out in a school board election in the town's history.
Merrimack was thrust into a national spotlight last year, when it was used as a testing ground by the California-based "Traditional Values Coalition," a religious-extremist organization that coached local school board members in passing a policy that prohibited any program that had the "intent or effect of encouraging homosexuality as a positive lifestyle alternative."
"Tuesday's election was a referendum on that policy, and Rung's overwhelming victory makes it clear that Merrimack voters have no intention of letting an intolerant minority set the agenda for their schools," said Kevin Jennings, GLSTN's Executive Director, who cited the headline in the May 15 Nashua Telegraph-- "Conservatives Clearly Crushed" -- as evidence for his interpretation. "Local people saw that this was all about intolerance, and they rejected that as something that was unfit for children," he added.
Jennings, who attended the school board meeting where the policy was passed last August and spoke at a rally organized by townspeople in the aftermath of that vote, spoke of the national implications of the Merrimack election.
"This election is a wake-up call to the right wing extremists," Jennings said. "They now know that they won't be able to pass such policies with impunity, and that their real agenda -- using the schools to instruct young people in the lesson of bigotry -- is being found out." Jennings added, "The controversy in Merrimack led directly to the founding of a GLSTN chapter by people in New Hampshire last fall, and there is a lesson to be learned here by the Right: the more you attack us, the more we will get organized and fight back -- and we will win."
Jennings cited local activists such as Merrimack citizen Randy Kottwitz as the key to the success of the Merrimack effort. "The fact that local people led this drive made it clear that this wasn't a 'special rights agenda' as the right would have you believe, " Jennings said. "We plan to organize community by community every time they launch their campaigns of bigotry, because we won't let that lesson be taught in our schools anymore."
With over thirty chapters, and a membership of over three thousand teachers, parents, and concerned citizens, The Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Teachers Network (GLSTN) is the largest national organization working to insure that schools are places where all people are respected and valued, regardless of sexual orientation.