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Schools Official Assails 'Gay Lifestyle'

Fairfax Letter Urges Revisions to Teaching

By Maria Glod
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 3, 2005; Page B01

A Fairfax County School Board member has sent letters to the district's 24 high school principals urging them to ensure that students hear the views of people who believe that homosexuality is a choice and a "very destructive lifestyle."

In a Jan. 30 letter, Stephen M. Hunt (At Large) asked the principals to host speakers with an "ex-gay perspective" and offer students, teachers and counselors literature provided by the conservative group Concerned Women for America and other organizations.

Stephen Hunt wants students to hear that sexuality is a choice. (Courtesy of Stephen Hunt)

"Children are being taught that homosexuality is normal and natural. It is neither," Hunt wrote. "To state that it is normal or natural is to promote the myth that accompanies the homosexual activist rhetoric."

Hunt's letter, which was not reviewed by other members of the 12-person board before it was sent, sparked sharp rebukes from some other board members and Superintendent Jack D. Dale.

Several board members said that although the letter was on private stationery, it was inappropriate because principals may have believed it was endorsed by the board. "By signing his name as a School Board member, it calls into question whether he is speaking on behalf of the board, and he is not," board member Jane K. Strauss (Dranesville) said.

Dale said he has written the principals to let them know Hunt's view is not sanctioned by the board or administration. "I very much regret that our principals received this letter, which is not representative of the School Board's views," Dale said in a prepared statement. "We want our schools to be seen as welcoming places for all individuals."

The role of schools in teaching about sexual orientation is among the most contentious topics that come before school boards. In 2002, a Fairfax couple who asked for removal of several books in school libraries and reading lists cited references to gay sex among their objections. And in 2001, the School Board heard from conservative groups and gay rights activists as it considered giving anti-discrimination protection to homosexuals.

Hunt said yesterday that he is concerned that students who do not support homosexuality may be afraid to speak up in school or labeled as intolerant. Hunt said he is not seeking to ban material or programs in place but believes that other information should be included.

Hunt said his letter specifically notes that students should respect the rights of gay peers. "If a person does choose a gay lifestyle, we should respect their freedom, their safety and their choice," he said.

But in the letter Hunt said students often are exposed to the "Will and Grace version of homosexuality." He contended in the letter that gays often suffer drug and alcohol abuse or physical abuse and that gay men don't live as long as heterosexual counterparts. "There are huge ramifications for people who may make a choice to go into that lifestyle, and we should make sure they are fully aware of the entire issue," Hunt said in an interview.

Kelly Schlageter, a founding member of Equality Fairfax, an advocacy group for gays and others, rebutted Hunt's contention that sexual orientation is a choice and disagreed that problems, including drug and alcohol abuse, are often part of a gay lifestyle. She said she worries that Hunt's views may send a message to students that it is wrong to be gay.

Tamara Ballou, the school district's former family life education coordinator, said students in two classes -- ninth-grade biology and 10th-grade personal and community health -- hear lessons about sexual orientation. She said letters describing the topics, including homosexuality, are sent to parents, who can have their child removed from that class. The materials taught are available for parents to review.

As part of the Fairfax policy, teachers are to tell students that "the reason for same sex attraction is unknown," according to the lesson plan. "Although individuals choose their sexual behavior, people do not choose their sexual orientation," the document states.

Lynn Terhar, president of the Fairfax County Council of PTAs, said that she's satisfied with the way sexual orientation is handled in the schools and that she hasn't heard concerns from parents. "In my personal opinion, his comments strike me as those coming from a religious point of view," Terhar said. "I don't believe there is any place for that in the Fairfax County school system."

© 2005 The Washington Post Company


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