The more I delve back into the stories I wrote 25 or 35 years ago, the more I find parallels to today’s issues. In this case, the very conservative Christian Civic League of Maine was up in arms about a gay awareness program that was being sponsored by a rural Maine high school. Much of this story from around 1990 seems to reflect the conservative positions and concerns that we see today. I must say that Civic League President Jasper Wyman and his predecessor, Rev. Benjamin Bubar, were in my office frequently about one issue or another, and they were always friendly and polite while fighting their battles, which were often very uphill to say the least.
By ARTHUR FREDERICK
READFIELD, Maine (UPI) – The conservative Christian Civic League of Maine wants equal time at a local high school’s “Teen Issues Week” because of fears that an appearance by a group of homosexuals might be seen by students as an endorsement of a gay lifestyle.
For the second year in a row, Maranacook Community High School has incorporated a visit by a group of young gays, who are slated to speak March 20 about homophobia, a hatred or fear of homosexuals, and about the problems faced by young gay people.
The gay teenagers are members of Outright, a support group for gay and lesbian adolescents in Portland, Maine’s largest city, situated about 75 miles south of the rural community of Readfield.
Jasper Wyman, head of the 93-year-old conservative organization, said students should have an opportunity to hear from people who believe that homosexuality is wrong. Wyman said he hoped a league representative would be allowed to take part in the program to explain the group’s belief that homosexuality is not an acceptable lifestyle.
But so far, Principal Ronald D. Jenkins has refused to invite Wyman to attend the event.
Wyman said the Christian Civic League had no objection to teaching students about homosexuality.
“We talked to Mr. Jenkins and we said we appreciated the idea of Teen Awareness Week, but we told him that it appeared to us that it could turn into a forum for the promotion of the social and political and ethical acceptance of the homosexual lifestyle,” said Wyman, whose group represents 440 Maine families and 230 churches in the state.
Wyman claims even the title of the workshop, “Homophobia and Sexual Bias,” implies that people who object to homosexuality might be labeled homophobes. Jenkins, he said, tried to assure him that the program did not endorse homosexuality.
“I said it seemed (central) to the whole argument that homosexuality should be accepted by society as morally neutral and simply a matter of personal preference, like one selects a preference for colors or flavors, and that there is no ethical or moral or cultural implications,” Wyman said. “It seems what they are saying is that it should be accepted, and that those who do not accept it are engaged in homophobia because they are bigoted. This, I think, promotes acceptance (of homosexuality).”
Jenkins, who said he generally holds conservative views, attended last year’s session and came to believe strongly that the program has value, especially for teens who may be questioning their own sexuality.
“Personally, my own neck is pretty red,” Jenkins said. “But I came out of that session last year feeling pretty sad. Not sad because the kids were gay. I just hope in the 17 years that I taught math that I never treated anyone the way some of those kids described how teachers had treated them.”
“We are not promoting anything,” said Jenkins. “We are not trying to enter into a debate on whether being homosexual is good or bad. We are simply having young people present what it is like to be a homosexual in a heterosexual world.”
Wyman criticizes the program for failing to treat homosexuality as a moral issue.
“We are concerned that this (homosexuality) will be discussed with a pro perspective, and we feel that is biased and unhealthy and plain old wrong,” Wyman said. “I know that is old-fashioned, but we still use (those words) and believe in them. If someone is going to come in and say there is nothing wrong with (homosexuality), then someone else ought to be invited in to say that it is wrong, and why we think it is wrong.”
Shelly Chasse, a Readfield resident and mother of four young children, was one of several Christian Civic League members to bring the Maranacook program to Wyman’s attention. Although she does not have children at the high school, she said she objected to the program, and felt that townspeople and parents had not been given a chance to comment on the plans.
“I think it is a bad example when we bring (homosexuals) in there,” Chasse said. “It is like having the parents say that we accept this lifestyle.”
But Diane Elze, an adult advisor to the Outright group, said the program is really only about helping children and adolescents get through a difficult time, and help them deal with their feelings about their own sexuality.
“People who work with young people are hungry for this information,” she said. “They are working with young people who have questions about their sexuality and their sexual orientation, and they want to do what is best for the kids. This is not an easy topic to talk about, but the bottom line is what do we need to do for kids to have them grow up healthy, happy and whole.”