Q: You've lived with this for years now with your family and also as a community member and a council member. I'd like to know your perspective on that.
A: Well, I was not on the community council when the application for the Gay Straight Alliance Club came to East. That was after I had been the chair and my term had expired and I was off. But I've kept track of what was going on. The community council had adopted a policy that just said, okay, if parents will sign an approval slip for a student's participation in any club, then that'll be fine; under that basis, with appropriate faculty sponsorship for any club, the Gay Straight Club would be allowed. And I thought that was a very reasonable and appropriate response, because ultimately if a parent would allow their student to be exposed to those issues and involved in that type of discussion, then that's fine. By the same token, I would want to be able to know that my student wanted or was interested in doing that. I would want to be able to say yes or no and have the school respect that.
When the school district took charge of the issue and ultimately banned all clubs in response to the issue, I was disappointed because (a) I thought that East had handled it just fine, and (b) I was unhappy and have since been unhappy that there has been the continued rancor, which has diverted attention and wasted resources as well as the lose by all students of any opportunity to get involved in any club that was not directly school related.
Since coming back to the community council a couple years ago, we've been informed from time to time of the continued antagonism and harassment that gay students are expressing that they've received in the halls and in classrooms and in other school activities. And similarly, we've received reports of harassment and antagonism from the gay students directed at the non-gay students. It's been a point of concern for us, and we've tried to encourage the administration of the school to enforce non-harassment policies and to try to educate the student body that this kind of behavior in any direction is just not the way that society is suppose to function. It was against this backdrop of general awareness and concern that the East High Assembly came into being.
Q: I would like for you to talk about how you see this whole thing as a microcosm. I mean, do you feel that this issue has come up in other areas in our community? You said that you feel that this a microcosm, so in what way is it?
A: I believe that East High School is a microcosm of the entire community, because of what I call the "longitudinal boundaries" of the Salt Lake City high schools. Instead of being neighborhood high schools they run longitudinally from East to West and go from the east to west boundaries of the city. As a result, we have students from every conceivable economic, social, and religious, background, and similarly we have parents from every conceivable social, economic, religious, and cultural background.
So I look at East as a slice and a microcosm of the community at large and certainly with the reaction of the members of the community council to the multi-cultural assembly and the gay-straight issues, we find many people on the council that are very upset and opposed to what was done for a variety of reasons. We also find others on the council who were very supportive and appreciative of what was done. So again, a microcosm and a diversity and an indication that this issue has a very definite split in the community.
Q: How do you feel about the issue of homosexuality within the schools, and then let's talk about the assembly.
A: I believe that homosexuality is a sexual preference and is a sexual behavior and is not a culture. And as a result, I think it should be something that is private to the person who engages in it or chooses to engage in it. I shouldn't have any reason to intrude in that's persons choice anymore than that person should intrude in my heterosexual choice. But I don't think that it belongs in schools, but let's look at high schools in particular.
We have students ranging in age from fourteen to eighteen; many of them are still immature going through puberty, are having hormonal changes, and are having problems understanding what's happening with their own bodies and their interactions with other people.
It's a time of life when insecurity is rampant and the belief that you're not accepted is pervasive, which begs a number of questions: Where am I accepted? What are my beliefs? and What should I be saying and how should I be acting? This is all coming at a time when you're learning in many respects the role of sexuality in your daily dealings with people of the same sex and other sexes. And I think that the kids should be allowed to ease into that without being confronted and approached by organized groups that are advocated a particular sexual orientation.
Q: By organized, what do you mean?
A: I don't think that's there really any misunderstanding that the Gay-Straight people are organized. They're organized on a national level, they are organized on a state level, and they are organized locally. And the effort to get whatever has been sought at East High School, whether the original club or the inclusion of these materials in the cultural assembly, was all done with the organized, coaching support of adults and an organization that's committed to gaining public support and gaining public acceptance of the homosexual lifestyle.
Frankly, I find that just absolutely amazing that what is obviously an aberrant sexual behavior in a natural sense, but nevertheless a sexual behavior, can somehow capture the national attention is the same way that important issues of race and gender and political issues can be captured. It's as if you were to see a parade of pedophiles marching down Salt Lake City, seeking to have acceptance of their particular sexual preference accepted; that's absurd, and we wouldn't expect that. Well, I don't think we would expect a parade down main street advocating heterosexual behaviors, so why do we have homosexual behavior elevated to a level of public debate? I just don't understand it.
Q: Often times when I've talked to members of the community about this, they will point their finger at religion and since the LDS religion here is the predominant religion, they tend to point their finger at the LDS church and say, well, this to them is a religious mission, they're making this a religious issue. Do you think that this a moral or religious values-type of question?
A: Homosexuality is a religious and moral question to me. As a educated human being, I am probably inclined to think that homosexuality is a genetically-inclined behavior. I'm also probably inclined to think that a lot of the things that we do are genetically inclined. As a religious person, I believe that one of our, if not our prime responsibility, is to bridal our genetic inclinations to within appropriate bounds. I may have a genetically inclination to lie or to steal, but my religion teaches me that those are inappropriate behaviors and I should control those.
I might have an genetic inclination to pornography or heterosexual activity, but my religion tells me that I need to control those within appropriate bounds. Well similarly, my religion tells me that homosexual activity is inappropriate and contrary to what God would want human beings to do. And I would hope that those who are genetically inclined to that kind of behavior would, through the same religious values that I share and that are taught by other churches as well, would find the kind of support that would allow them to control and bridle those genetic inclinations.
Q: So, should that point of view come into play with regard to the decisions that are made by the Council?
A: No, in the sense that no church or no religious view should govern per say institutional governmental decisions, and schools are governmental institutions. Naturally, those of us who are making the decisions are personally inculcated with religious beliefs of various kinds. And it's going to be impossible for us to completely separate our approach to a particular issue from the religious background that we hold.
I was very happy to have a club at East High School that would be a place for gay students to congregate and speak with one and another in an attempt to strengthen themselves and act appropriately in the school.
And if parents and those in positions of responsiblity extend respect to those students, allowing them to do that, I'd be happy with that. And I'm not going to impose my religious belief that says you shouldn't do that to students or other human beings that choose to do that; as long as they don't interfere with my choices I shouldn't interfere with theirs.
Q: Let's talk about the assembly. It caused such an uproar, will you give me your perspective on why?
A: The multi-cultural organization at East along with the Gay Straight Presentation caused a huge uproar I think for several reasons and probably raised person's hackles for different reasons. I was most upset about it, because I thought that it was inappropriate to have that presentation in what has been historically a fun, multi-cultural assembly, where the Polynesians, Black Americans, Spanish Americans, and everybody else who has a cultural background could come and share their culture in a way that both entertains and teaches everyone that we're all one big community, and that we can enjoy the diversity that we have. To introduce a very serious and hard subject like homosexuality into that cultural assembly, I think was wrong and offensive.
I was also offended that the decision to do that, to include the homosexual presentation in the assembly was made secretly by the administration of the school without sharing that issue with the community council to get their input without sharing that issue with the faculty to get their input. I think that if a faculty to get their input. I think that if a faculty meeting had been used to discuss the request to have that in the cultural assembly. And I certainly think that if a community council meeting could have been used to discuss whether that was appropriate; we would have come up with a number of recommendations to perhaps create a diversity or a tolerance assembly that was geared to those kinds of issue. Ah, and that would have been an appropriate place and an appropriate way to deal with them.
Now as it turns out there was a terribly unfortunate coincidence. For years, the Community Council had been urging the administration of the school to make attendance at assemblies mandatory. The small size of the auditorium at East High School and the growing student population has made it so that not all students can fit in the auditorium at the same time. So the school has simply allowed students who couldn't get in or didn't want to attend to find something else to do. Unfortunately, that has been mischief in the neighborhoods.
So, we have been advocating to the administration that they have two sessions of each assembly so that all the students can attend, and that this idea that you can leave and otherwise not attend should be stopped, that is, it should be made mandatory. Unfortunately, the administration asked the faculty for permission to institute this mandatory assembly attendance policy for this multi-cultural assembly without disclosing to the faculty that it would contain the homosexual presentation.
The faculty believed that the multi-cultural assembly, which was historically the best assembly of the entire year, would be a wonderful time to implement this mandatory attendance and would not cause the least of problems. The other fall-out from that is that because we haven't ever had a forced assembly attendance policy before, nobody really knew how to handle it. Some students and some teachers felt like that meant that you lock the doors and hold the kids in.
What it really should mean is that students either are going to be in an assembly or they're going to have some other supervised activity. It was the confluence of the mandatory attendance, the inexperience with handling mandatory attendance, and the inclusion of the homosexual presentation that made the powder keg that blew. In all fairness, there were plenty of members of the community who were simply upset based on its subject matter and a belief that that this topic, in any form, should not be presented to the students.
Q: As a council member, you heard from many parents. Will you elaborate just a little bit about what some of their concerns and fears were concerning that presentation?
A: I think that the fears that I heard were the same that I had talked about earlier. That we, at least those that I talked with and that expressed their views to me and I concur, agree that high school is not the place for an institutional discussion or presentation of homosexuality. I think that a lot of the parents that talked to me, particularly those who were parents of freshmen who were just fourteen years old, were very upset that their students, without the parents' permission, were exposed to this explicit discussion of homosexuality. They were just furious about it, and many predominant members of my particular area of the city, we anxiously involved in wanting the principal to resign over this and to see heads roll as a result of this presentation to their children.
Q: What did you feel should be done?
A: I was of course most disturbed, because the principal didn't share the decision with the community council and basically made the decision in secret. I thought that was a violation of trust. I thought it was a violation of the shared governance policy that we have had at East High School and throughout the Salt Lake schools; that was what I was most concerned about. I was also concerned and believe that the inclusion of that presentation in the multi-cultural assembly violates district policy that requires any presentation of a sexual nature to be cleared with the sexual education committee at the district. This was not. I also firmly believe that the presentation violated state policy, which says that you will not display or promote, or talk about homosexuality in any way that suggests that it is an accepted, positive lifestyle.
I felt that the principal should be reprimanded. I don't think he needed to be resigning, I don't' think he needed to be fired, but I did feel that the school district should reprimand the principal as a message to other administrators that these rules and these policies are there for a reason. And we don't want some principal being a cowboy and going off and doing this and exposing students to problems that we have policies and procedures in place to stop.
Q: I talked to some of the GSA kids and asked them what they felt. Basically, I wanted to know why they were doing this, and they said, as you've said, that there's harassment at the school, and they felt if they could educate the kids, they would be more understanding and the level of tolerance would be increased. Based on what you've seen, and I'm talking more specifically students, was that a result?
A: No. Unfortunately it was not. The inclusion of the homosexual presentation in the multi-cultural assembly was intended by the Gay-Straight Alliance as a way to educate the students, particularly to break down biases and hatreds and the use of the unfortunate names that were being used. And I guess in their minds, this would then result in a more cohesive and united school community with less bigotry and less deviousness. The result, I believe, was just the opposite.
The students who were are at the assembly were so surprised and offended by the inclusion of this information in that multi-cultural assembly that they saw it as a continuation of what they had seen the Gay-Straight Alliance do before, that is, to wear their homosexuality on their sleeve, have a chip on their shoulder, and be in your face all the time. Of course, that's a red flag in the face of these young kids who are just anxious for a fight and to take a side about anything.
This is why I thought that it would be much more appropriate to have an assembly talking about diversity and tolerance and the way we behave in society, and that that would have been much more accepted than the perception that here's the Gay-Straight Alliance again forcing us to see and hear what we don't want to see and hear. I truly think that this is a broader issue, one that I just don't understand.
If I'm a student, and I am worried about being accepted in the mainstream of school, I am going to want to act and dress and speak in ways that appear to be part of the mainstream. Yet, instead of wanting to be part of the mainstream and wanting to just be like everyone else so the issue of whether or not I'm a homosexual doesn't ever come and is not an issue of deviousness, the Gay-Straight Kids seem to want to confront it. They want to look different and want to be recognized as different, and if they get a negative reaction to that, then they complain about it.
No one should harass anyone else; no one should call anyone else names, and I don't want to be misunderstood. But on the other hand, I just don't understand why the Gay- Straight People can't try to fit in and participate just like everybody else instead of setting themselves apart. I think if the Mormon kids came with nametags on and started walking down the hall and acting like Mormon missionaries, there would be a huge outcry and people would wonder why they would be doing this. If the Catholic kids came and wanted to do something out of the ordinary and had a chip on their shoulder, everyone would want to know why they would be doing this? If the Asian kids or the Tongan kids, or anybody else wants to overtly separate themselves and take on the rest of the school with a chip on their shoulder, you'd scratch your head and wonder why they were doing this.
Well, that's what I do with respect to the Gay-Straight kids: I love them, I want them to succeed in high school and I want them to have as good of an experience as my children will. But, I don't understand why they want to have a chip on their shoulder, dress differently, set themselves apart, and then wonder why they aren't accepted.
Q: Can you talk about your kids a little bit, not specifically, but tell me how your kids have reacted to this and how, in your home, you've dealt with this. Other parents with older kids (like me) haven't had to deal with this and you have.
A: Yeah, we've now had to deal with this issue in our home. You don't deal with the issue I believe at this point. Our home has been a one of diversity, in which one accepts a variety of people and behaviors; these are tolerated and respected for the good that they do, but understood for the bad that they do, and avoided. But, nevertheless, respected and not attacked.
We have taught our children appropriate behavior choices in sexual matters as well as in other matters. And I believe that our children are very self-assured, with respect to their appropriate behaviors. As a result, my children -- I had two at East High School at the time of this multi-cultural assembly -- didn't like it in the sense that they thought that it could have been handled better and were not happy that they had to have that thrown at them. But it was not the first time that they heard the issue; it was not a new philosophy of tolerance that they hadn't heard before. Basically, they were more puzzled as to why it was being done the way it was being done than being hurt or offended by anything.
Q: Can you talk about that?
A: The Community Council spent three months solid this last spring on this issue of both the homosexual presentation at the Cultural Assembly and how to resolve these issues of harassment that are serious and troublesome. What I think the Gay-Straight Alliance supporters misunderstand is that in the disagreements that we have over the presentation of the issues at the Cultural Assembly, they have very strong allies on this community council, even in those who don't approve of what was done in the Cultural Assembly with respect to harassment.
Among the things that the Community Council did to set policy and set a tone in respect not only to the assembly issue but also to the overall issue of harassment, is to institute a two fold policy: First, we made a statement in writing which is going to be published when school starts in the fall, addressed to all the parents and families in the school. It states that we have a zero tolerance policy at East High School with respect to abuse or harassment of one student by another, for any reason and that we want to have serious citizenship consequences for any student who does that.
The first instance is going to be an automatic AU, an administrative unsatisfactory, which can not be removed from the record and must be resolved by hours of community service. The second instance is going to be another AU and a parent conference. And if there's another instance, we're going to have a suspension.
Frankly, I would like to err on the side of enforcement. I would be happy to move on hearsay, I would be happy to move on very little evidence at first if I need to in order to send a message to the students that we are not going to tolerate harassment.
The second step that we took was to create an assembly policy that will require the administration to post the contexts of every assembly ahead of time, in the school and to disclose that to the Community Council. Any student, for whatever reasons, who chooses not to participate in any assembly for any subject-matter-reason will be given another supervised study activity during the assembly.
So, never again are we going to have studenst who are either not informed ahead of time, or forced to hear a presentation on anything that, ais a matter of their conscience, they would just as soon not participate in.
Now, hopefully these two policies will deal with these two problems. The harassment issue and the problem of parents feeling that they they're not involved or lack an understanding of what their kids are being exposed to. But I guess, overall, I want to say to the parents of gay students and to the gay students themselves that I and every other member of the Community Council are seriously concerned with what is happening to them. And that we are seriously sympathetic to the problems that they're facing and want to do whatever we can for them to ensure that any student at East High School will have a safe and enjoyable educational experience, free from unnecessary personal harassment.
Q: Sounds like it should work.
A: Well, we hope so. We hope it will work.
Q: I'd like to touch on the issue concerning those who do not agree with the homosexual lifestyle, who do not agree with the issue's being raised time and time again. When they object they feel like they are painted as being intolerant, prejudice, hateful, etc. Have you heard and/or experienced that?
A: It is an unfortunate reality that at least some members of the Gay-Straight Alliance and the gay community choose to go on a very rabid and fire rapid attacks against anyone who objects to any aspect of their agenda, charging that they are bigoted, biased, and improperly motivated. I heard those statements made at a large meeting of parents and students that we had at East High School in the auditorium immediately following the assembly.
I heard it on a number of occasions in our meetings of the Community Council as parents and students would speak to us. They would misunderstand our concern for appropriate policy and procedure for an attack on them, when, in reality, we are strongly in support of their right to be and to live free of harassment. But, our willingness to support them to be free from harassment has not shielded those of us who were opposed to the assembly and opposed to this type of presentation from being attacked and charged with being bigoted, unreasonable, and irrational.
In fact, I have been in a meeting when an adult has said that we are acting, with respect to the homosexual issue and the presentation at the assembly, in the same way that people in the South acted with respect to desegregation and racial issues in the fifties and sixties.
In other words, labeling anyone who wants to oppose the introduction of homosexuality into East High in any particular way that the Gay-Straight Alliance wants as being racially bigoted in the same way that we had people racially bigoted in this country years ago and perhaps even now. Of course this is offensive because we like to think of ourselves, at least some of us like to think of ourselves, as open-minded, tolerant, and responsible citizens who stand opposed to any kind of racial, gender, and sexual harassment. Where we find injustice, we want to remedy it. But again, it gets to the issue concerning the fact that I don't believe that homosexuality, as a sexual behavior choice, rises to the level of a protected Constitutional issue as do race and gender.
Q: Isn't it ironic that they don't look at the entire issue, and that they vilify one side without taking into consideration that that side has the right to their own opinion and that a parent to protect their child?
A: Well, there's no question that we are entitled to our opinion. I'm entitled to my religious belief, my cultural belief, my personal belief with regard to homosexuality. I'm entitled, as a parent, to teach my children a particular religious, social, and cultural way of acting and believing. And we're all entitled to those beliefs just like the Gay-Straight Alliance is entitled to theirs.
I believe is that we have a very aggressive national organization that has adopted a very aggressive policy of promoting homosexuality as an accepted lifestyle, getting into such issues as same-sex marriages and benefits in health insurance and the like. They have co-opted the Left in this country to agree that we should treat homosexuality with the same kind of kid gloves and embracing, if you will, with which we embrace gender equity, racial equity, and equal pay for equal work type concepts. The Tribune has never been afraid of adopting and standing for those kinds of policies.
Unfortunately, they have adopted the national gay agenda of vilifying and attacking those who stand in the way of the Gay-Straight agenda for any reason and in any way as bigots. They have the hope, I'm sure, that we will cower and run away and feel like we've been hurt and that we don't want to get involved in that anymore. We'll then leave the way open for an advancement of the Gay-Straight agenda.
My hope is that if that's going to be the level of rhetoric that we, who feel more moderate about it, can continue to moderate and continue to be responsible, while continuing to stand for appropriate policies and procedures, particularly in the schools. And that we will not cower in the face of these kinds of attacks.
Q: Where do you things are going to go and ideally what would you like to see happen?
A: I am quite pessimistic about the future with respect to the level of antagonism and community deviousness. I'm upset over this issue. I believe that the national organization and the state organization in support of gay people's rights and interests are going to continue with their agenda of provocation in every way they can. I think that they've seen that East High School is a fertile ground for controversy, that Salt Lake City is a fertile ground for controversy. And I have no doubt that, not withstanding our efforts to promote tolerance and come down hard against harassment, we'll not be perceived as acceptable or positive, but we'll be ignored.
I think that there will be other efforts that will create additional publicity and additional controversy, which, I guess, the gay people see as advancing their agenda most as we certainly saw the controversy and confrontation of the sixties being seen to advance the racial agenda. Here I go comparing the two, but I think they are adopting a similar attitude and plan. This is unfortunate because as they attempt to polarize the issue they will send their supporters and those who are willing to support the principle of right and fairness away from the gay effort.
That's unfortunate if the ultimate goal is a tolerance and a rational understanding that would avoid killings and beatings and harassment's and mean-spirited attacks; however, we also don't have to have it in our faces. We can just co-exist and live together. They may not want that and if that's the case, and I'm afraid it is, we're in for more upset and more problems. I wish that the district would let us go back at East High School to our original program of parental permission for a student to participate in any club. Let the Gay-Straight Alliance have a club, let parents choose to let their students participate or not. Let it just go off into the corner where it can be comfortable and we move on and it doesn't have center stage, as it shouldn't have center stage. But again, I'm somewhat pessimistic.