Senate Kills Bill Decried as Anti-Gay

By Rosalind S. Helderman
Friday, March 3, 2006

The Senate's Education and Health Committee killed a bill that sought to clarify that school boards can ban extracurricular groups from using school facilities if the groups encourage or promote "sexual activity by unmarried minor students."

The bill, which had advanced from the House, also would have told local school boards that the attorney general could intervene if school systems were sued for banning a group.

Gay rights groups had charged that the measure was a thinly veiled attempt to encourage school boards to keep chapters of the Gay-Straight Alliance Network out of high schools.

They added that boards already can ban groups that promote risky behavior.

The bill's sponsor, Del. Matthew J. Lohr (R-Harrisonburg), insisted that he did not intend to target the groups.

But he said some school boards were fearful of lawsuits and did not know they could prohibit groups that promote sex from using school facilities. He cited the example of a Gay-Straight Alliance at a Chesterfield County high school that prompted public furor after inviting as a speaker an author who had written explicit books about sex. In that case last year, the speech was canceled by school authorities.

"If any club violated this, whether it's homosexual sex or heterosexual sex, they would fall under the same jurisdiction," he said. "It just so happens that, currently, the Gay-Straight Alliance is the only organization within our schools that I can think of that has been in the news."

When pressed, Lohr told the committee he could not think of any other kind of school group that might run afoul of his proposal, House Bill 1308.

Push for Abstinence Education Fails

A proposal to emphasize abstinence education in the state's family life curriculum was effectively ended for the year by the Senate's Education and Health Committee.

Del. L. Scott Lingamfelter (R-Prince William) acknowledged that the state curriculum, which school districts can choose to use or ignore, already encourages abstinence.

But he said his bill, which would have directed the state Department of Education to write a curriculum that emphasized that abstinence was the "accepted norm" and "the only guarantee against unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases" would provide helpful additional guidance.

"This bill does not take one iota from what we are currently doing," he said. "It simply expands the discussion of abstinence."

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