Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Dressing-Room Tantrums

Some of the most important things that gay rights organizations can do, in my opinion, are educational presentations. In several cases, that isn't easy, especially when presenting to or in schools, where several groups have been turned away involuntarily, as happened in Williston, Vermont.

However, what blows my mind is when groups are voluntarily choosing not to come.

A Vermont LGBT civil rights group that was turned away from a Williston school moments before it was to give a speech on bullying has been invited to return, but new conditions may result in the group rejecting the offer.......

The issue of whether to extend a new invitation for Outright Vermont to address students divided the community. Earlier this week more than 200 people attended a special meeting called by the School Board.

Most people supported having the group speak but a handful of residents engaged in a heated debate.

In the end the board decided to invite the group back but allow parents to pull their students out of the assembly if they objected.

Outright Vermont spokesperson Kate Jerman said she wasn't sure her organization would participate if it was subject to different conditions than other presenters.


It was to have been a speech on diversity but the head of the national Gay Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN) cancelled after a group of parents claimed it was nothing more than "propaganda for the gay agenda" and the principal attempted to make what GLSEN calls "unnecessary and serious modifications" to the speech.

Members of Somers High School's Human Rights Club invited Kevin Jennings, GLSEN's executive director to speak after several students heard him deliver an address at a school in Westchester......

As the pressure mounted, GLSEN and Principal Linda Horisk met numerous times with Horisk to discuss the speech.

GLSEN says that Horisk wanted to make attendance at the assembly optional, something the organization says would have sent a wrong message to students.

Horisk also wanted to make changes to the speech, which Jennings said would have "gutted" the speech and he was not prepared to do. He said she also refused to administer GLSEN's standard school climate survey, "which seeks to understand levels of homophobic, racist, and other biased name-calling that occurs at schools".

Jennings then decided to cancel his engagement at the school, saying the changes would have made the speech ineffective.

I suppose you can call each of these an example of a principled stance.

But that then begs the question; what is the most important principle?

If it's that all presenters should be treated equally, then this makes sense. But if it's that people need to hear this sort of thing, it seems silly for these groups to reject the opportunity to speak to them, even under less-than-perfect conditions.

In my opinion, it should be the latter; gays don't have enough opportunity or demand at this point for us to play prima donna. Jerman and Jennings were invited; the fact that things aren't exactly the way they want should be immaterial.

In short, suck it up and get on the field.

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