Spurred by libelous attacks against Veronica Berrill, a 71 year-old Brookfield, Connecticut high school teacher who spoke out against anti-gay harassment and discrimination in her classroom, a group of concerned citizens have formed the Committee for the Defense of Classroom Tolerance (CDCT). The primary goal of CDCT is to provide financial and moral support to Mrs. Berrill in her defamation suit against those who attacked her.
The defamations began in 1995, when Mrs. Berrill, a veteran English teacher at Brookfield High School and mother of seven children, designated her classroom a "Safe Zone" where sexual minority youth are assured safety from physical and verbal abuse and where they may receive a teacher's referral to counseling without fear of condemnation or ridicule. At the beginning of the school year, Mrs. Berrill explained the purpose of Safe Zones to her students, and asked them to treat each other respectfully and to refrain from using anti-gay slurs.
Several weeks after Mrs. Berrill made these remarks, Neal and Kathleen Houde, the parents of one of her students, made false statements to Brookfield public school officials and the local media that she committee "illegal" and "criminal" acts of "homosexual recruitment" of her students, promoted a "homosexual agenda," and was a "homosexual teacher looking for fresh recruits." After Mrs. Berrill filed suit, documents submitted to the court by the Houdes' attorney linked her and the Safe Zones program to pornographers, child abusers, and sexual predators.
"The false accusations made by the Houdes against Mrs. Berrill were the ugliest, most vicious and damaging charges that can be made against a school teacher," said Cecilia Buck, counsel to Veronica Berrill. "The plain lesson here is that if you speak out for tolerance and compassion for young gay people, we will punish you by falsely vilifying your name and destroying your reputation."
"The Houdes' malicious charges against Veronica Berrill were an attack not only on her but also against sexual minority youth and their right to learn in a safe and respectful classroom." said Ted LaBonne, CDCT spokesman.
LaBonne noted with alarm that lawyers for the Houdes have obtained legal support and amassed thousands of dollars from right wing organizations, including Rev. Pat Robertson's Virginia-based American Center for Law and Justice and the Family Institute of Connecticut. "With the Far Right mobilizing to fund the Houdes' case, people who care about tolerance and civility cannot afford to remain on the sidelines," said LaBonne. "I urge concerned persons to take a stand by writing a check to CDCT, sponsoring a fundraising party, or volunteering their skills on behalf of the case."
Veronica Berrill is the mother of Kevin Berrill, who served as a campus and anti-violence organizer at the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force from 1982 to 1992. He is a graduate of Brookfield High School where his mother taught until her retirement in 1996.
It is the mission of CDCT to encourage fair and equal treatment of all students and educators, regardless of sexual orientation. CDCT supports educators who advocate for the right of gay, lesbian and bisexual youth to receive a safe and equal education, and worthy initiatives aimed at achieving this goal. Because any form of oppression and discrimination undermines human dignity, CDCT seeks an educational environment where all young people can learn without fear.
Contributions to CDCT may be sent to 36 Tamarack Avenue, P.O. Box 311, Danbury, CT 06811. For further information about CDCT, or to obtain information about sponsoring a fundraising house party, contact Ted LaBonne, (203) 743-5552.
(Information forwarded to Oasis by the NGLTF)