Press

School Hearings Expected To Further Right Wing Agenda

Date: 
December 04, 1995

Congress in the 'Back Pocket' of the Radical Right Says Paras

The on-again off-again Congressional hearings, which many believe will provide a tax-payer funded pulpit for anti-gay extremism, will be held today and tomorrow in Washington, D.C.. Now called "Parents, Schools and Values," the two day hearings will take place Tuesday and Wednesday before Rep. Peter Hoekstra's (R- MI) House Economic and Employment Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations.

The controversial hearings, which have twice been rescheduled under a different title, were the subject of national attention and outcry, when anti-gay extremist, Lou Sheldon, claimed the hearings were scheduled at his request. William Bennett, who served as Secretary of Education and Drug Czar during the Reagan Administration, has been named as the lead witness in the two-day hearings. At this writing, no other witness names have been released. Bennett is known for his conservative views and narrow definition of family. For these reasons, advocates expect a stacked panel of "experts" to present their narrow agenda.

"I wonder which parents, which young people, and which values the subcommittee's hearings will highlight?" said Melinda Paras, Executive Director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.

Attacking Youth

Expected to be raised in these hearings are school services or programs which address prevention of HIV, hate-violence in schools and the high incidence of suicide among gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender youth. Advocates fear that the hearings will attempt to misrepresent community efforts established to address these problems in schools under the guise that such counseling, training, and team-building efforts "recruit and promote homosexuality."

"The Radical Right will not rest until they have forced their narrow-minded ideas onto every facet of our society," Paras declared. "Right wing extremists hope to promote only their narrow definition of the 'acceptable' family."

Questioning the hearings' intent, Paras asked in a letter to Rep. Hoekstra:

Will the hearings fairly and fully reflect the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender youth who face harassment, hostility and violence in their schools every day, with no one to defend them? Will the hearings fairly and fully reflect the aspirations of the many lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender parents who are raising children? Will the hearings fairly and fully reflect values such as respect, tolerance, and compassion? Or will the hearings merely be a platform for the narrow-minded bigotry of those who share the view of extremists like Lou Sheldon and the Christian Coalition?

Perched in the 'Back Pocket of the Radical Right'

Lou Sheldon, Director of the Traditional Values Coalition, sparked a national outcry when he claimed in an August fundraising letter that the hearings were scheduled at his request. Sheldon continues to claim credit for the scheduling of these hearings. Outraged by the increasing evidence of Congressional pandering to the Radical Right the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF) called on gay and non- gay Americans to appeal to the common decency of their Congressional leaders.

Exclaiming that Congress appears to be perched in the "back pocket of the Radical Right," Paras today mailed her own back pant's pocket to Rep. Hoekstra as a reminder of the increasing control right wing extremists seem to exercise over Congress. NGLTF called on activists around the country to follow suit, sending pockets to their Representatives and calling on Congressional leadership to speak out against the "Parents, Schools and Values" hearings as yet another example of right wing control of Congress.

Said Paras, "Now is the time for decent Americans to stand up and say 'no' by demanding that Congress step out of the back pocket of the Radical Right. We cannot allow our nation's young people to be pawns in the agenda of the far right."

Sheldon has a long history of irrational, extremist proclamations related to lesbians and gays, even suggesting that people with AIDS should be segregated in "cities of refuge" for their own good and the good of society, according to reports in the Los Angeles Times.

Constructing a 'Barbed-Wire Fence of Law and Policy'

Today's Congressional hearings come at the close of a year that has seen an unending attack on families and perspectives that fall outside the narrowly defined right wing definitions of family and values. From school boards to state legislatures, communities have grappled with well-organized right wing attacks on family and education. In fact, of the at least 39 pieces of anti-gay legislation considered before state legislatures this year, 17, roughly 44%, focused on gay-related educational policies -- mandating only negative references to gay-related issues and individuals through the educational system.

"Today's hearings bring into the national spotlight, a battle that families and advocates have been fighting at the local and state level," said Dr. John D'Emilio, Director of the NGLTF Policy Institute, which is focusing on gays and family.

Advocates argue that the slanted hearings expected during the next two days will lead to future policies designed to prevent access to information on homosexuality and to the abolition of programs designed to support the safety, self-esteem, and health of young people grappling with issues of sexual orientation and gender-identity.

The future legislation activists speak of, might resemble State Senate Bill 1348, passed this year in Arizona, where the Radical Right has a working majority of the Republican party's governing body. The law bans each district in the state from including a course of study that "promotes a homosexual lifestyle;" "portrays homosexuality as a positive alternative lifestyle;" or "suggests that some methods of sex are safe methods of homosexual sex."

"In effect," D'Emilio said, "the Far Right is attempting to construct a barbed-wire fence of law and public policy. Its purpose: to keep quality, honest and factual education out of the hands of troubled gay youth and prevent non-gay youth from learning about tolerance and respect for diversity."

"What's frightening is that the totalitarian vision of the Far Right makes mincemeat of the American values of pluralism and respect," added D'Emilio.

The hearings are not expected to focus much attention on such values. Instead they will likely put forth a vision of education truly dangerous for America's youth. In a letter to Rep. Hoekstra, Paras criticized the agenda of the Congressional hearings.

"By holding these hearings," wrote Paras, "not only will your Subcommittee be endangering the lives of young people, but it will be assisting Lou Sheldon and other Radical Right extremists as they seek to create a new generation of bigoted, hateful and intolerant Americans."

--end--

For a detailed summary of state legislative attacks on educational programs see the accompanying press release, "Summary of State Anti-Gay Legislation Attacking Education."

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The mission of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force is to build the political power of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community from the ground up. We do this by training activists, organizing broad-based campaigns to defeat anti-LGBT referenda and advance pro-LGBT legislation, and by building the organizational capacity of our movement. Our Policy Institute, the movement’s premier think tank, provides research and policy analysis to support the struggle for complete equality and to counter right-wing lies. As part of a broader social justice movement, we work to create a nation that respects the diversity of human expression and identity and creates opportunity for all. Headquartered in Washington, D.C., we also have offices in New York City, Los Angeles, Miami, Minneapolis and Cambridge.