By Don Hinkle
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)--Concerned parents and homosexual activists are squaring off in Oregon in what appears to be the next major battle over the teaching of homosexuality in public schools.
Pro-family advocates in the state have collected 83,281 signatures on a petition in an effort to get a citizens' referendum on the November ballot that could prevent homosexuality from being taught in schools, with taxpayer money being withheld from any school found in violation.
The Oregon Citizens' Alliance, a coalition of parent volunteers that cuts across conservative and liberal political boundaries, secured the signatures for the petition that declares, "the instruction of behaviors relating to homosexuality and bisexuality shall not be presented in a public school in a manner which encourages, promotes or sanctions such behaviors."
The ballot initiative calls sexual orientation as it relates to homosexuality and bisexuality a "divisive subject" that is "not necessary to the instruction of students in public schools." The petition has been sent to Oregon's secretary of state office, which has 30 days to determine if it contains the 66,786 valid signatures needed to get on the November ballot.
"Obviously we are opposed to homosexuality as a viable lifestyle," said Gary Floyd, mission ministries strategist for the 435 member churches of the Northwest Baptist Convention, based in Vancouver, Wash., and encompassing the states of Oregon and Washington. Floyd also is a member of the convention's ethics and religious liberty committee.
Noting that only a small percentage of Oregonians have voted in recent elections, Floyd said the committee is "encouraging our churches in the Northwest -- at the very basic -- to get their members registered to vote because when they do vote, they -- as well as the greater evangelical community at large -- vote with a conservative viewpoint."
Oregonians rejected OCA ballot initiatives in 1992 and 1994 that attempted to prohibit government from sanctioning homosexuality.
"If they [Southern Baptists and other evangelicals] will vote, we could see ballot initiatives like this take a decided turn," Floyd said.
The Oregon initiative could be a sign of things to come nationwide, said Peter LaBarbera, president of a pro-family group, Americans for Truth, that focuses on homosexual activism.
"The gay school issue is hot everywhere," he told The Oregonian newspaper in mid-July. "If it's successful, it'll energize people who believe things have gotten out of control."
Supporters of the Oregon initiative and homosexual activists opposing it are expected to spend more than $1 million each to try to convince voters that the measure is either a common-sense way of protecting children or is unneeded and a veiled threat to tolerance and diversity.
The measure has been endorsed by the Oregon Republican Party and by the GOP candidate for state attorney general, Kevin Mannix.
"I have read it very carefully," Mannix told The Oregonian. "And its actual words say that we shouldn't be validating homosexual conduct in schools. I agree with that simple message."
Meanwhile, homosexual activists have hired a professional political consultant to direct their efforts, with support coming from groups that traditionally vote Democrat -- educators and labor unions.
Some educators say the initiative is not needed because Oregon schools have no homosexuality curriculum, only curriculum in sex education and avoidance of sexually transmitted disease. They note that parents or students can opt out of such classes without penalty. Other educators contend that the initiative could jeopardize academic freedom.
Conversely, a growing number of Oregon parents believe the homosexual-rights movement has gone too far, often pressuring schools to present a one-sided view of homosexuality to students. They say groups like the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), which says its mission is to combat homosexual-bashing, actually uses isolated acts of mistreatment to homosexual students as cover to promote the lifestyle to children -- often without the knowledge of parents.
GLSEN triggered an uproar in Massachusetts in March when it sponsored -- with state Department of Education funds -- a workshop titled, "What They Don't Tell You About Queer Sex and Sexuality in Health Classes." A concerned parent secretly taped the event at Tufts University that shows state-employed educators giving children -- some as young as 12 -- explicit descriptions of homosexual acts, complete with diagrams and demonstrations. The incident triggered a state investigation, threats of lawsuits, the firing of two state employees who took part in the workshops at Tufts, a raging debate over the coverage of the incident between the conservative and liberal news media in Boston, and closer scrutiny of Democratic Gov. Paul Cellucci's relationship with homosexual activists.
Not all Oregon educators oppose the initiative. Some teachers in Portland believe their schools' policy favors the idea that it's OK to be gay -- and does not provide alternative viewpoints. Six Portland schoolteachers complained last year that the district does not make available to students books that teach homosexuality is wrong or that homosexual behavior can be changed.
Observers say if the Oregon initiative makes the November ballot, it will mark the first time that a state will vote on the issue.
"It is depressing and saddening that the people of Oregon have to rely on a citizens' referendum in order to keep homosexuality from being taught as a viable lifestyle in their public schools," said Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.
"However, I'm encouraged that the people of Oregon are willing to take up the ballot initiative. It should be obvious to any normal, rational, healthy adult that our public schools should not be teaching to anyone under the age of 18 that homosexuality is a normal lifestyle."
The Oregon ballot initiative comes at a time when homosexual activists are becoming increasingly aggressive in their efforts for schools to be more tolerant of homosexuality.
Many school systems, in response to recent court decisions, are allowing homosexual groups like the Gay/Straight Alliance (GSA) to meet on school property after school hours, akin to other extracurricular activities. There are more than 700 GSA clubs in schools around the country, many of them partially federally funded. One of the missions of GLSEN is promote the establishment of more GSA chapters.
While cautioning Christians not to verbally or physically abuse homosexuals, Land said he opposes letting groups like GSA meet at schools even after students have left for the day.
"Homosexuals describe their relationships as loving and caring," Land said. "But what about a brother and sister who wants to get married? Do we allow the 'Incest Club' to meet at school just because they say they have a loving, caring relationship? No. The 'Incest Club' would not be normal and neither are homosexual relationships."Posted with permission of Baptist Press (BP). Copyright 2000.