An Inclusive Litany

7/10/00

Two parents in the suburban Boston area, Brian Camenker and Scott Whiteman, repeatedly complained to local and state authorities that explicit sexual material had been foisted on students as part of the $1.5 million effort by the Governor's Commission for Gay and Lesbian Youth to promote sexual tolerance, but their complaints were rebuffed. This material, they claimed, precluded parental involvement in the development of their children's sexual identity.

Frustrated, Whiteman secretly took a tape recorder to the 10th annual conference of the Boston chapter of the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN, pronounced "glisten"), a national organization whose purpose is to train teachers and students to develop programs such as "Gay/Straight Alliances," student clubs organized around gay issues. In the words of its Boston chapter leader, the purpose of these programs is to "challenge the anti-gay, hetero-centric culture that still prevails in our schools."

The meeting, held at Tufts University and backed by the state's largest teacher's union, was state-sanctioned and open to the public, but it was attended primarily by students, administrators, and teachers. The event included workshops such as "Ask the Transsexuals," "Early Childhood Educators: How to Decide Whether to Come Out at Work or Not," "The Struggles and Triumphs of Including Homosexuality in a Middle School Curriculum," "From Lesbos to Stonewall: Incorporating Sexuality into a World History Curriculum," and "Creating a Safe and Inclusive Community in Elementary Schools," in which the "Rationale for integrating glbt [gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender] issues in the early elementary years will be presented."

Whiteman sat in on a "youth-only, ages 14-21" workshop, led by two employees of the state Department of Education, called "What They Didn't Tell You About Queer Sex & Sexuality in Health Class." The session opened with a discussion of whether oral sex was real sex, and which orifices counted. One of the moderators demonstrated the proper hand position for "fisting," and another described this form of anal penetration as "an experience of letting somebody into your body that you want to be that close and intimate with," praising it for putting one "into an exploratory mode." The moderators advised how to come onto a potential sex partner, explained that lesbians could achieve orgasm by rubbing their clitorises together, and one said that male ejaculate was rumored to taste "sweeter if people eat celery."

After the two men published a transcript of the session and announced their intention to release the tape to state legislators and the local media, GLSEN threatened to sue them under the state's wiretap laws. Another group sued the pair on behalf of the workshop students, and also threated criminal charges. The tapes went out anyway and were prominently featured on talk radio stations. Editorials in the Boston Globe railed against the pair. The state employees who ran the session were sacked.

Astonishingly, a state superior court judge issued a gag order, prohibiting the two men, the news media, and the entire state legislature from disseminating or even discussing the contents of the tapes. When the judge held another hearing the next day to reconsider the order, only members of the Fox News Channel showed up to assert their First Amendment right to air the material. The judge relented somewhat, extending the order only to Whiteman and Camenker, whose legal costs are mounting.

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