Md. votes for rights of its gay students

State board of education OKs adding homosexuals to harassment
protection; 'No hidden agenda here'; Vote has no correlation to
curriculum demands, superintendent says

By Mike Bowler
Sun Staff

June 25, 2003

Ending years of dispute, the Maryland Board of Education voted
yesterday for the first time to explicitly protect gay and lesbian
students from harassment in the state's public schools.

The board voted 8-3 to include "sexual orientation" as one of the
categories in which students "have the right to educational
environments that are safe."

Approval came after a half-hour of polite discussion but nearly four
years of debate.

Among those voting for the regulation were board President Marilyn D.
Maultsby of Columbia, 94-year-old Walter Sondheim Jr. of Baltimore,
who was attending his last meeting, and student member Caroline
Gifford of Wilde Lake High School in Howard County.

Opposing the regulation were the Rev. Clarence A. Hawkins of Rock
Hall, John L. Wisthoff of Pasadena and Edward L. Root of Cumberland.

Several other categories, including race, age and religion, were
protected in the regulation, which covers school safety standards
under the new federal No Child Left Behind Act.

"There's no hidden agenda here" to infuse teaching about
homosexuality in the state's public school curriculum, said Philip S.
Benzil of Westminster, who participated in the meeting and voted by

Maryland becomes the ninth state to adopt language protecting
students regardless of sexual orientation, according to the National
Association of State Boards of Education.

The Maryland board had backed away from the explicit language four
times in as many years, responding to legislative and community fears
that the policy's wording would require the teaching of homosexuality
in classrooms statewide - or at least would allow homosexuality to be
viewed as an acceptable lifestyle.

Speakers at state board meetings said that the inclusion of sexual
orientation in state regulation would open the door to acceptance of
bestiality, incest or pedophilia.

But state education officials, gay rights activists and students
insisted that language was needed to protect gay and lesbian youths
from harassment. Homosexual students, said proponents of the
regulation, are often targeted because of their sexual orientation
and need to be sheltered explicitly in the language of state

At first, the sexual-orientation provision was tacked onto a policy
called "Education that is Multicultural," which is designed to bring
issues of cultural diversity into classroom teaching. That put sexual
orientation in the same category as race and gender in schoolroom

The resolution approved yesterday treats sexual orientation as a
student safety issue and one that "doesn't involve curriculum or
teacher training," according to state schools Superintendent Nancy S.

Proponents argued that the regulation currently on the books, which
protects "all" students without listing specific groups, hasn't
adequately protected homosexual students.

The matter has sparked more controversy, and generated more mail to
state board members, than any policy issue in years. PTAs, students,
gay advocacy and community groups and local school boards have
weighed in, dominating the state board's monthly public comment

Last month, the Carroll County school board formally opposed the
regulation, saying that compiling a list of the various
classifications of students who should be protected from
discrimination or harassment would be redundant. "I understand what
the goal is," said Carroll school board President Susan G. Holt, "but
sexual orientation is a very broad statement. Gays and lesbians,
heterosexual children, whatever, they're covered under our policy and
should always be covered."

Sun staff writer Jennifer McMenamin contributed to this article.,0,5269552.story?coll=ºl-home-headlines

Copyright © 2003, The Baltimore Sun


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