Context Matters
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Context Matters
by Cindy Beal
[about the author]

Uploaded on May 2, 2000.  Last updated May 4, 2000.
Media links page last updated May 17, 2000.

An investigation into the allegations contained in the article

"Kids Get Graphic Instruction In Homosexual Sex 
State sponsored conference featured detailed sexual material"
posted on
An earlier email  version of the article was widely circulated on the Internet among  conservative Christians. It was titled:
"Massachusetts Gov. Cellucci's destructive deception of parents
Funded by Legislature and covered up by local school officials
The gay community 'having its way' with schoolchildren"
Available at


This report is an investigation of the charges made by Brian Camenker and Scott Whiteman about the content of a workshop that was given at GLSEN conference on March 25, 2000 at Tufts University.  Mr. Whiteman, Executive Director of the Parents’ Rights Coalition, subsequently wrote a letter/affidavit to the District Attorney of  Middlesex County demanding that the three workshop leaders be investigated for the "corruption of minors" and alleging that the Department of Education had liability for said "corruption of children." (available at

This report will address the following: 

My information here is a based on a number of sources, primarily Margot Ables, one of the presenters of the workshops in question.  It is also based on my own research and knowledge of the political right in Massachusetts, HIV/AIDS education, effective prevention programs, and Gay Straight Alliances. Although I ordered the tape of this workshop, as offered in the email version of this article,  it has not yet arrived.  Because of this I am as of yet unable to provide a transcript of the workshop (and until legal questions about the copyright, distribution and confidentiality questions are answered, I will not personally provide that transcript.)  I stand by the facts as presented here insofar as I have been able to discover them. 

Although I have no way of knowing who is reading this webpage, the people originally intended as my audience are a number of conservative Christians with whom I am in dialogue.  My request to you is that you read here carefully.  You have all had more than a week to sit with the original article as distributed on the internet and be shocked and appalled with the picture drawn for you.    The authors of the original article had defined the playing field for this discussion.  In order to maintain clear and contextual accuracy, and to be sure that the reader gets a clear picture, (especially where my understanding of the playing field is that it’s nearly as different as an ice rink…) I need to be very detailed in my account of what I have discovered.  Although this piece may seem long to the reader, I actually believe there may be sections that I have not devoted enough attention to.  I am also uploading this document prior to getting every single question answered, so I recommend people return often for updates, clarifications, and more in depth information. 

We currently live in a world where politics is done by making things seem simple when they are actually quite complicated. 
We live in a political world where all sides of many issues cast wide nets to sway public opinion to their perspective.  We discuss this issue in the midst of a political world that is also complicated by questions of science and faith.  I am going to attempt to be clear in my understanding of the complexity of these subjects. 

The article, "Kids Get Graphic Instruction In Homosexual Sex" is written with an exceptionally high level of inflammatory rhetoric that I am attempting to avoid in this response.  However, I need to point out that without utilizing provoking rhetoric, it is relatively simple to miss the forest for the trees.  I request that people closely examine the material presented here. 

I fully expect that most conservative Christians reading this material will still find much to disagree with – I don’t think that correcting factual errors will lead conservative Christians suddenly say, "Oh, alright then, I didn’t understand…"  I do however believe that it will enable us all to separate ourselves from the visceral reaction created by such things as 25 usages of the word "child" in reference to post-pubertal youth, and by statements such as that at the closing of the email version of the article. 

"For the reporter and the music teacher, this "conference" was a shock that can barely describe. One wonders if it was like American GIs who first approached the concentration camps. People had heard stories and rumors.  But no one could imagine it was like this. It was a mind-numbing experience.
But most shocking of all was that none of the adults attending seemed to be bothered by any of it. In fact, there was an eerie sense of solidarity in the air, against "those bigots, those homophobes who would stop our progress."
Parents has been told deadly lies and deceptions."
It is not my intention to address differences in values and understandings of sexuality education, but simply to provide as much factual information as possible for the context in which we can then discuss these value differences. 

The Massachusetts News article states "On March 25, the Massachusetts Department of Education, the Governor’s Commission, and GLSEN co-sponsored a statewide conference at Tufts University called "Teach-Out." 

This is inaccurate.  It was not.  It was sponsored by GLSEN and Project 10/East. 

It was not sponsored by or funded by the Massachusetts Department of Education or the Governor’s Commission for Gay and Lesbian Youth. The conference was funded in total by registration fees and private donations and contributions.  The mere fact of availability of professional development credits is not sponsorship.  In addition, two of the presenters who are employed at the Office of HIV/AIDS Program at the Massachusetts Department of Education work there in a program wholly funded by the Centers for Disease Control. 

1. What happened: A more complete description of the workshop "What They Didn't Tell You About Queer Sex & Sexuality In Health Class: A Workshop For Youth Only Ages 14-21"

I asked Margot Ables to recall for me what was involved in the workshop. The quotes are of her recollection. 

The three presenters were invited by GLSEN to lead a workshop in which students would be able to ask questions they could not ask in their local schools.  Given that for the most part sexuality education in schools is driven by a heterosexual definition of sex, and it is not safe for gay students to come out or even appear to be gay by asking questions specific to their own lives, this was intended to be that opportunity. A great part of "safer sex" education is providing youth with full information about sex and sexuality. 

The overarching model of the workshop was a typical one recognizable by any of us who do any workshops for youth on any subject -- to have the youth bring up issues, let them answer the questions for one another as much as possible, and then correct misinformation or add crucial information. 

A brief comment on how the workshop was "infiltrated."

The authors of the article state in the unedited email version of this article that they "infiltrated" the workshop.  That’s not technically correct.  The workshop had been listed as a closed workshop for youth only, but the youth present agreed to let the adults present remain.  The adults who were present were present with permission, but the workshop was explicitly stated to be confidential, and the taping of it was neither requested nor permitted.  GLSEN has subsequently sent Whiteman a letter demanding he "desist from any further distribution of the unlawfully obtained audio tape." The Washington Times article on the April 28 press conference held by Peter LaBarbera of Americans for Truth reports that Whiteman declined to desist, and warned, "These are dangerous times for your children in the public schools."  The offer of the tape is not included in the Massachusetts News article

The workshop leaders opened the workshop with some context of why such a workshop was necessary.  A "small political piece about working with youth about getting their voices heard" to speak for themselves what they want to be taught in sex education. 

The students were asked what was the climate and politics around sex education, and who did they think made the decisions about what went into sex education.  It is rarely the youth themselves who are able to say what they want to learn.  It’s adults who decide for them.  The students were asked, "where’s your voice in this?"  They discussed funding for programs, and the tremendous availability of funding for abstinence education, which is largely ineffective for promoting behavior change; and the few schools that will participate in inexpensive and effective condom availability programs. 

The introduction told the students that because of politics of sex education, and who controls the information, that they got "very few opportunities, because of politics, to get your questions answered, and we want to give you a chance to learn what you want to know." 

Context – Gay Relationships and Dating
They then went into an exercise in which the students were asked to outline the typical components of a date.  The students came up with things like: you might see someone you’re attracted to; you might ask a friend to find out if that person likes you; you might call them up; ask them out; talk to your friends and family about your excitement; go out, do something; maybe at end of the date kiss or be sexual. 

They were asked what of these things might be different for gay youth? The students responded that certainly finding out if someone liked you was harder, ‘cause you had to find out if they were gay without coming out or embarrassing them or anything. You might be really excited about it, but not able to talk to your family about your excitement or that you’ve met someone you’re interested in… 

It was in the context of this conversation, when students were talking about kissing or being sexual at the end of a date that the students brought up the questions about, "How do you know if you've had sex? How do you know if you’re a virgin? (I pause here to mention to the participants of the Bridges-Across webforums that we engaged in just this discussion for one of our gay members who started a thread "What is  sex?" since he wished to remain chaste until he established a lifelong committed relationship.  It is a natural thing to ponder given the traditional definition of sex as penile-vaginal intercourse.) 

The educational method utilized in this workshop was to put the question back to the students, and they responded, with support and prompting from Mr. Gaucher, who responded with drama and humor in helping them say out loud what they were thinking. 

Role Plays -
They then did two role plays for the purpose of seeing what the youth knew already; to help them to identify who in their lives they could talk to about questions; to give them honest answers and support; and to help the students look at their own comfort level for discussing the concerns they had.  This kind of activity also helps the youth, for by acting out what they think good adult qualities are, they can identify what characteristics would make an approachable and trustworthy adult be someone to whom they could go for information.  So, Ms. Ables told me, kids can then say to themselves, "Oh, I do have someone in my life that exhibits these qualities and I would like to talk to them." 

Ms. Ables told me that they found the role-plays to be less successful than they had hoped.  They asked for volunteers to play two characters - 1) a lesbian who wanted to become sexual and went to talk to 2) her GSA advisor.  The young lesbian was played by a young man who didn’t know what language to use, or what "lesbians do."  While he was trying to act the role of this young woman, he used the slang term "carpet munching."  That term was later replaced with the proper technical and more respectful terms. 

Ms. Ables reflection on the role-play was that it got "silly" and the students began to focus on silliness and theatricality rather than on the content.  "The kids came to talk about questions they have that haven't yet been answered." 

Anonymous Question Cards
They then decided to do anonymous question cards, a back-up exercise they had come prepared with.  These cards provide youth the opportunity to ask questions they have without risking judgement from their peers or adults for the content of the questions. Anonymous question cards also help guarantee that the material being asked is the students' agenda rather than the adults. 

Ms. Ables provided me with a list of the questions they asked, which she had typed up because the teachers who were present at the next workshop felt it important to know what gay youth wanted to know. 

"These are typed as written originally by the students. 

  •  Is oral sex better with tongue rings? P.S. I hope so.
  • Cum? Calories? Spit versus swallow?  Health concerns?
  • What age do most GLB first have sex? Is it different from the age of straight kids?
  • What is an anal ball?
  •  Should some kind of protection be used in lesbian sex?
  •  Women’s vaginal wall can expand to any dick size… Can anal walls do the same?
  •  Are girls who primarily like guys and are only attracted to other girls sexually (not in the love-y) way considered bisexual?
  •  How is protection used in lesbian sex since it’s mostly oral, where does the protection go?
  •  My ex said she enjoys pain, what the hell is that about?
  •  What is fisting?
  •  Define fetish.
  •  What is lesbian sex anyway?
  •  How do I find out if someone is bi?  Homo?
  •  What are the technicalities of transsexual and hermaphrodite sex?
  •  How long do you have to wait to get tested for HIV or any STD after the "act" is committed?
  •  A question on the ethics of oral sex: would it be considered rude not to swallow?
  •  Can you answer the fish question?
  •  Do lesbians rub their clits together?  Is that even sex?
  • How do GLB kids determine loss of virginity?"
The procedure for this exercise was to read the questions in the order they arrived in on the pile of question cards, to turn the question back to the group so peers could do some of the education, and then to add, clarify, or correct any misinformation. 

Ms. Ables described Michael as an actor, very dramatic and entertaining.  She said that youth love him because he presents information in a lively and humorous manner. He did most of the education on about where and how to you get tested for HIV, the different kinds of tests there are for HIV, on HIV/AIDS treatment, and responded to questions about transmission risk for different people, sexual practices and lesbian sex.  At one point he was writing on the board demonstrating the differences between the Western Blot and ELISA tests. 

The youth seemed to have a good understanding of the importance of safety in sexual activity.  One of the questions was, -- "Is it rude to spit after oral sex?" One of the students answered "whether or not it's rude, it's good HIV prevention to not swallow." 

There was a long talk about how to make decisions around sex activity and how to decide when to begin sexual activity.  They didn’t talk about abstinence in this context, but "postponement." They talked about not making a decision to enter any sexual activity until you're ready, and discussed how someone might know that they are ready.  They discussed that for some people sexual activity has feelings attached to it, and for others, it’s just physical. They discussed the context of making decisions about sex, with knowledge about what those choices were about sexual activity and emotional maturity and other things.  Ms. Ables reports that they asked the youths,  "How do you make those decisions? As you think about it, you might find it’s not the right time for you." 

There were a couple of subjects in which they purposely avoided making or implying value judgements.  The questions when to become sexually active, what is fisting, and a question about sadomasochism were answered as factually as possible to avoid stigmatizing anyone in the room who participated in those behaviors, and to maintain the educational atmosphere that there is no shame in asking questions or talking about anything.  Therefore, both Mr. Gaucher and Ms. Ables described the practice of "fisting" in an accurate way. 

As with all the questions, they turned it first back to the students.One student said that fisting was "slamming your fist up into somebody." That is a factually inaccurate statement, and they didn't want that kind of judgement and image left in the minds of these youth, so they both answered it – "not to encourage it -- we gave them clear messages that some people like it and most don’t."  That "it's not painful and we didn’t want people there or their friends to be judged" on the basis of inaccurate information. 

They responded the same way when there was a question about sadomasochism.  "We made it clear that for some people that's what they're interested in, and for many people it's not what they want to be doing.  We didn't want people who engage in non-traditional activities to feel judged, but in no way did we say ‘go out and try this' because we wanted to make people who weren't interested in it to feel just as good and not judged [for their decision not to participate in these activities.]" 

One question asked by the youth was "Is oral sex better with tongue rings?"  Another youth answered, "I have one.  My girlfriend has one.  It is." 

One young woman stated at one point that people don’t even know what vaginas look like, and jumped to the board to draw one. It was "anatomically inaccurate."  The presenters made a joke about the size of the clitoris so as not to embarrass the student, and then corrected the misinformation. 

They talked about at what age most gay kids have sex.  They talked about the statistics  from the Youth Risk Behavior Survey – ( ) and asked the students why they though gay kids had sex at a younger age than their heterosexual peers.  The students primarily hypothesized that it might be because of the isolation, or ignorance, or acting out, only one student said that she became aware of her desire, thought it was a good thing and wanted to try it. 

"One kid asked about resources – he said he was sexually active at 14 and now at 15, he was thinking that he was disconnected from people as people" and was thinking that he needed to not be sexual.  He asked after about dating, how to find a community, how to find a boyfriend.  He was supported in choosing to not be sexual, and "after the workshop Mr. Gaucher went with him to the table and connected him with peer support groups for gay youth." 


2. Facts about who put on the conference, who sponsored it, and what was left out of the article 

Ms. Ables responds to charges that this is gay activists infiltrating our schools by telling me that in 7 years working for the Department of Education this is the 3rd time they’ve done a workshop with youth.  This kind of workshop would not be done in a Massachusetts classroom with any sex education curriculum – in fact that is why this workshop was done. 

The most glaring overall error in Camenker and Whiteman’s article is the combining of programs, government departments, and private advocacy organizations in misleading ways. 

 Although the article says, "the Massachusetts Department of Education, the Governor's Commission, and GLSEN co-sponsored a state-wide conference called "Teach-Out,"" "state-sponsored conference,"  and "taxpayer-funded conference for educators" (internet version) in fact, this conference was NOT co-sponsored by the Department of Education.  Continuing education credits were provided, and three presenters worked for government agencies, but no funding money or sponsorship was provided. 

Who were these presenters, and what is their intention and why

Two of the presenters of the two workshops mentioned in the article are employees of the Massachusetts Department of Education AIDS/HIV Program, which is not funded by Massachusetts taxpayers, but by the CDC. 

This is what they do : 

"The HIV/AIDS Program is funded by the Centers for Disease Control to support local school districts in providing effective K-12 HIV, STD and pregnancy prevention in the of comprehensive sexuality education. The HIV/AIDS Program provides training and technical assistance to health coordinators, teachers, nurses, counselors and administrators on a wide range of HIV- sexuality-related topics. Some of these include: HIV education policies; confidentiality; parental notification; condom availability; how to support HIV-infected students and staff; HIV treatment and prevention updates; targeting students at high risk; program planning, implementation and evaluation; curriculum development; classroom strategies; and building support for HIV and sexuality education . 

                The Program oversees a number of contracts aimed at developing strategies for reaching students at high risk for HIV and to bring HIV-infected speakers into classrooms to share their personal experiences. The AIDS Advisory Panel and AIDS Program Advisory Panel (made up of school personnel, youth experts in the field of HIV prevention) give input into the Program's planning and activities." 

"We focus on giving messages to meet the unique needs of youth who are at greater risk"

Ms. Ables informed me that in her 7 years with the Program, this is probably the third training she has done directly with youth.  Her work is primarily comprised of working with educators and administrators around policy and implementation of educational material.  She informed me that "the work we do is targeted HIV prevention with groups of youth that the CDC tells us to [target], based on Surveillance Data and the populations the CDC determines to be at greater risk.  We focus on giving messages to meet the unique needs of youth who are at greater risk.  Gay youth is only one population we work with."  She discussed the importance of doing education that was age appropriate, "we would never do a workshop like this with elementary children." 

The targeted youth groups currently assessed to be at greater risk of contracting HIV, according to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health are currently ranked FIRST in risk level by the Massachusetts HIV Prevention Planning Group (MPPG), a CDC mandated advisory body, which annually prioritizes populations most at risk for HIV infection. 

Adolescents at Risk (age 13-24)
African American adolescents 
Latino/a adolescents 
Adolescent injection drug users (IDUs) 
Young women who have sex with men 
Adolescents with a history of sexual abuse/assault 
Adolescents with IDU sexual partners 
Adolescents with a history of early sexual experience 
Young men who have sex with men (YMSM) 
Transgender adolescents 
Young heterosexual men in high incidence areas 
Children of HIV infected parents

Michael Gaucher, as a consultant for the Department of Public Health HIV/AIDS Bureau, has a responsibility to act in accordance with the following mission statement. "The HIV/AIDS Bureau assists in preventing the spread of the AIDS epidemic and the development of appropriate, cost - effective health and support services which will maintain patients in the least restrictive setting. In order to accomplish these goals, the Bureau is comprised of four programmatic units: 
Prevention and Education 
HIV Counseling, Testing, and Client Services 
HIV Health and Residential Services 
And Policy and Planning" 

 The Prevention and Education Unit’s "purpose is to develop supportive relationships with a network of community based providers in order to deliver targeted, effective, sustained, and theory-based AIDS prevention interventions to individuals at high risk of HIV infection.  The overall goal is to reduce the levels of HIV risk behavior among these individuals, to reduce the incidence of new HIV infections, and to address the factors that contribute to risk in those communities."

According to the National Center for Disease Control and Prevention, half of all new HIV infections are occurring in people under the age of twenty-five. While great progress has been made since the beginning of the AIDS epidemic, every half-hour another young person contracts HIV. Also, about 3 million teens contract an STD each year.

The CDC also reports that 7.2% of American youth initiated sexual intercourse before age 13.

Ms. Ables describes her job as to "encourage schools to use effective up to date curricula - based on behavior change data" – curricula that actually results in youth engaging in fewer risky sexual behaviors. 

Adults are often uncomfortable with the kinds of information youth already have, and therefore with the kinds of information they seek – as well as our discomfort with how young youths are beginning to be sexually active. I recall being appalled three or four weeks ago as I flipped channels at 3 p.m. to see NYPD Blue in re-run with a heterosexual sadomasochist accidentally strangled while doing auto-erotic self stimulation in restraints hanging from the ceiling.  I recall being appalled when a friend who is a counselor at a school in Massachusetts told me of the discovery that 7th grade girls were regularly attending parties with 8th, 9th and 10th grade boys, getting drunk and having group sex. 

The level of sexually explicit material, sexist portrayals of women, and violent material that is available to children and youths in prime time and on MTV is unacceptable to me.  I join some of my conservative friends in boycotting advertisers on The Howard Stern Show. 

It is not gays who are sexualizing our culture.  It is not gays who are creating media messages that avoid mention of safe sex, and it is not gays who choose to advertise Viagra on television but not condoms. 

The Media Research Center released a study of sex and violence on television, and only one of their markers was about sexual orientation.  Others included "On a per-hour basis, sexual material was, overall, more than three times as frequent in '99 as it was in '89." "References to genitalia were more than seven times as frequent in '99.   The rate of foul language in '99 was more than five and a half times higher than that of '89." "In '99, UPN aired more offensive content on a per-hour basis than any other network. One UPN show alone, WWF Smackdown!, was responsible for more than 11 percent of the combined sex, cursing, and violence in the '99 study period."

3. What is appropriate and effective Sex Education and HIV/AIDS education for youth?

Adults are often comfortable assuming our youth remain child-like innocents well into adolescence.   We don’t want to know that by 12th grade ½ of all our youth will have become sexually active.  We want to provide them with sex education curricula that we are comfortable with.  This tends to be either not much information, or using curricula that gives information as scientific facts in a detached, scientific manner.  The reality is that more than scientific information is needed in order to lead to behavior change. 

An example of the facts not influencing behavior would be police DARE programs.  They have been proven to not effect the drug use that youth choose, yet as a society we continue to fund these ineffective programs.  I believe it is because they are non-controversial programs.  They don’t make us uncomfortable, and therefore, we are happy supporting them. 

Effective HIV/AIDS Education

"Most adolescents in this country know a considerable amount about the risks of unprotected sexual intercourse and the methods of preventing those risks.  For example, nearly all youth know that unprotected sexual intercourse can lead to pregnancy or STD, and most know that condoms can be obtained at stores and provide protection against pregnancy and STD.  They learn that and other information through a variety of sources, such as their school sex and HIV education programs, the media, their parents and other adults, their peers, and others.  Indeed, innumerable studies have demonstrated that sex and HIV/AIDS education programs do increase knowledge. 
Presumably, this information does reduce the amount of unprotected sex among teenagers.  There remain, however, the following important questions:  Given this body of knowledge among adolescents, does additional instruction about different aspects of sexuality affect their sexual behaviors in positive or negative ways?  What are the characteristics of programs that have positive effects?" (School-based Programs to Reduce Sexual Risk-taking Behavior, Douglas Kirby, Karin Coyle, Children and Youth Services Review 19, no. 5/6 (1997): 415-36) 

There is an easy to reference summary of what kinds of HIV/AIDS education leads to actual behavior change titled, "What Are the Characteristics of HIV Education and Prevention Programs that "Work" and "Do Not Work"" 
It is taken from the report "HIV Prevention in California", prepared for the Office of 
AIDS, California Department of Health Services, by the Institute for Health Policy 
Studies, University of California, San Francisco. 
It is available at

Early AIDS education was primarily clinical facts presented in a scientific context, but not a sexual one.  In 1989, "a random survey of 860 Massachusetts adolescents 16 to 19 years of age, Strunin and Hingson report that 70% of the respondents indicated they were sexually active, yet only 15% reported changing their sexual behavior because of concern about contracting HIV. Indeed, only 20% of those who changed their behaviors had used effective methods for risk reduction. (Strunin L, Hingson R: Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome and Adolescents: Knowledge, Beliefs, Attitudes, and Behaviors, Pediatrics, 79:5, 825-828.). 

Abstinence-based programs work for people who remain completely abstinent, but they do not work for people who choose not to take that advice, which we now know is nearly 50% of our youth by 12th grade.  Teaching abstinence-only does not prevent HIV/AIDS. 

It hsas been found that one common denominator of effective sex education is that "the behavioral goals, teaching methods, and materials were appropriate to the age, sexual experience, and culture of the students.  For example, programs for younger youth, few of whom had engaged in intercourse, focused on delaying the onset of intercourse.  Programs designed for high school students, some of whom had engaged in intercourse, emphasized that students should avoid unprotected intercourse, either by not having sex or by using contraception if they did have sex.  And programs for higher-risk youth, many of whom were already sexually active, emphasized the importance of using condoms and avoiding high-risk situations." (School-based Programs to Reduce Sexual Risk-taking Behavior, Douglas Kirby, Karin Coyle, Children and Youth Services Review 19, no. 5/6 (1997): 415-36) 

"Individual practice of risk reduction behavior is the primary avenue for prevention of HIV/STD."    ("Creating HIV/STD Education Messages for Adolescents," The Rural Center for AIDS/STD Prevention, #6, 1996) at

The Rural Center for AIDS/STD Prevention has a useful and brief 
FACT SHEET :  "Behavior Change Models For Reducing HIV/STD Risk"
(Number 3 – 1995)  This brief document addresses the various approaches to education for risk reduction. 

"AIDS Risk Reduction Model. Drawing from previously suggested behavior change theories and human sexuality studies, this model characterizes people's effort to change sexual behaviors related to HIV transmission. The model is comprised of three stages: (1) recognition and labeling of one's sexual behaviors as high risk for contracting HIV, (2) making a commitment to reduce high risk sexual contacts and increase low risk activities, and (3) seeking and enacting strategies to obtain these goals."
(other effective models are also listed at

Another model of HIV/AIDS education included these four components : 
1. Informational--designed to increase ones awareness and knowledge of the risks 
2. Skill development-- development of social and self regulatory skills needed to transform concerns into effective preventive action. 
3. Skill enhancement and building self-efficacy -- by providing opportunities for guided practice and corrective feedback in applying the skills in high risk situations. 
4. Social support -- enlisting social supports for desired personal changes 

In my analysis of the workshop, at least these three issues were addressed :
Recognition and labeling of one's sexual behaviors as high risk for contracting HIV 
Informational--designed to increase ones awareness and knowledge of the risks 
Social support -- enlisting social supports for desired personal changes 

Although this workshop applied valid HIV/AIDS prevention methods, it is vitally important to remember that this workshop was a workshop. It was not a comprehensive sex education or HIV/AIDS curriculum.  It was a supplement to the current sex education curriculums that don’t answer these types of questions for gay youth. 

In fact, Ms. Ables informed me that when working with teachers, she never expects them to teach this kind of material because they "never encourage teachers to go beyond their own comfort level or beyond the policy of the school they teach at."  This workshop was defined explicitly as information that students wanted that they were not going to get from their sex education and HIV/AIDS education classes at school.  It would naturally then, include more graphic and explicitly gay material. 

This is true for several reasons.  Firstly, gay youth rarely are safe to ask questions about gay sexuality in their schools.  For the most part, GSA’s aren’t doing sexuality/HIV/AIDS education.  In fact, of over 170 Gay Straight Alliances in Massachusetts, only 6 are currently testing a GSA specific HIV/AIDS prevention curriculum (funded by the CDC).  Even in schools that are supportive enough of lbgt students to support a GSA, there is rarely any formal opportunity to ask questions about gay sexuality/HIV/AIDS prevention and risk reduction in an explicit and factual way. 

Contrary to "The gay community 'having its way' with schoolchildren," the subheader on the email version of this article, these youths came to this workshops with an incredible lack of understanding of the facts of life for gay youth.  Even youth who expressed that they are currently sexually active asked questions that belied their actual experience. 

4. More conference facts: What was left out of the article?

In addition, the version of this article which circulated on the internet for a week before publication in the Massachusetts News listed some workshops; 

It read, "Some of the other workshops at this taxpayer-funded conference for educators are more unusual, and even frightening."  It then went on to make a partial listing of workshops. 

The article listed these workshops
  • Ask the Transsexuals
  • Early childhood educators: How to decide whether to come out or not
  • Getting Gay Issues Included in Elementary School Staff Development,Curriculum Development, and the PTA
  • Lesbian Avengers: How to Promote Queer Friendly Activism in Your Schools and in Your Lives
  • Strategies and Curriculum Ideas for Addressing GLBT Issues in a High SchoolEnglish Curriculum
  • The Struggles and Triumphs of Including Homosexuality in a Middle SchoolCurriculum
  • Teachers Coming Out
  • Youth Coming Out in High School
  • Diesel Dykes and Lipstick Lesbians: Defining and Exploring Butch/FemmeIdentity
  • The Religious Wrong: Dealing Effectively with Opposition in Your Community
  • A Strategy to Educate Faculty: Lexington HS's GSA Presentation to Faculty
  • From Lesbos to Stonewall: Incorporating Sexuality into a World HistoryCurriculum
  • Starting a Gay/Straight Alliance in Your School
  • And left out these workshops
  • BAGLY: 20 Years of Youth Serving Youth 
  • Choosing & Using Films and Television for Discussion of GLBT Issues 
  • Clinical Concerns: Including and Excluding GLBT Youth 
  • Community Building Through Storytelling
  • Creating a Safe & Inclusive Community in Elementary Schools: Supporting Gay and Lesbian Students, Families and Staff
  • Developing a School Civil Rights & Harassment Policy
  • Doing Anti-Homophobia Work as a Multicultural Organization: A Case Study of the Campaign to End Homophobian Experiential Cooperative Learning for Educators
  • Finding The Right Words. 
  • A Gallery of Artwork By Young GLBTQ Artists 
  • Getting Administrators on Board: Strategies for Overcoming Obstacles and Building Support for Work on GLBT Issues 
  • Getting Money for Your Organization Through Grantwriting Opportunities 
  • Homophobic Comments: How Can I Respond? 
  • How to Run Your GSA as a Successful Support Group
  • If You Are Harassed, What Can You Do?
  • Improv in the Ocean State
  • It's Elementary in Our Town: Getting Gay & Lesbian Issues Included in Elementary School Staff Development, Curriculum Development, and the PTA 
  • Making Athletics Safe for GLBT Players & Coaches (Panel) 
  • Not Your Average Family Outing (PFLAG) 
  • Reducing Racism in Ourselves 
  • Rights, Supports & Protections: Union Issues for GLBT Teachers (MTA) 
  • The SAFTI Program: Development of a GLBT Youth Service within a Latino Community Agency (Alianza Hispania) 
  • School's Out: Finding Support After School (GLASS)
  • A Strategy to Educate Faculty: Lexington High's GSA Presentation to Faculty
  • Tired of Knocking on the Administrators Door?
  • Understanding Transgender Issues (Speak Out)
  • Using the Web as a Resource & Outreach Tool For GLBTQ Youth (GLASS)
  • Workshop Techniques & Activities: Spicing Up the Ordinary Engagement
  • Youth Coming Out in High School
  • ‘Zine in a Day
  •  People of good will have very different opinions about sexuality, sexuality education and many other subjects.  It is vital that we discuss our different opinions in the context of complete information. 

    4. Who wrote the article, what is their agenda, and brief commentary on the inflammatory language that was used

    I wouldn’t be so concerned with this particular part of the CONTEXT THAT MATTERS except that the article was written as if the authors were surprised to find sexuality discussed.  I wouldn’t be so concerned if it weren’t for their apparent disregard for accuracy, in their spin being topsy turvy, and by the ways that the disparate organizations of GLSEN, the Department of Education, and Gay Straight Alliances were lumped together as an image of a gay conspiracy to manipulate the government in order to " "have its way" with school children.

    Scott Whiteman is a law student, Executive Director of the Parents Rights Coalition and former Field Coordinator for Howard Phillips’ U.S Taxpayers Party.  He left that position to marry and move to Massachusetts with his wife.

    Whiteman has been quoted in the Massachusetts News. 

    "Whiteman says his group (Parent’s Right Coalition) may end up challenging the Governor’s Executive Order too. "The Governor’s Commission on Gay and Lesbian Youth", he argues, "has been given free reign to support homosexual youth."  Massachusetts News, Jan 27
    The Parents' Rights Coalition's Statement on Homosexuality 
    March 24, 2000 
    Our mission is to stop the usurpation of parental authority in all areas of society. Today, it is being stripped away from parents mostly in the public schools in relation to the teaching of homosexuality as an equally valid "life choice." Many parents have religious, medical, moral or personal objections to the teaching of homosexuality which are disregarded or "updated" by the influence the Governor's Commission on Gay and Lesbian Youth unjustly has on the schools. This is not merely a public school problem, as there are several private schools and at least one religious school with gay clubs meeting at the close of the school day. 

    Although we don't believe that gayness is genetic, neither do we believe that it is fully a "decision." Often, one's "homosexuality" is thrust upon him by childhood molestation, poor familial relations, or general peer harassment during the adolescent years, including the continual calling of that child "gay." As we do not seek to intervene in a family's affairs, we attempt to stop childhood molestation and "gay" affirmation during adolescence by keeping the homosexual agenda out of schools. 

    Children attend gay-straight alliances with the intent to learn about their sexuality. Once there, "gay" is presented as a valid choice for any questioning youth. From what we have learned from parents, it is the only choice presented at gay-straight clubs, leaving a questioning youth to make the conclusion that he must be gay. 

    As Massachusetts public school students now exercise the "authority" to deem children gay, we will resist the Department of Education, the Governor's Commission on Gay and Lesbian Youth, the Governor and the Legislators as long as they continue to empower a school, its students or staff with the ability to make determinations on who is and is not gay. Homosexuality is no light matter, and certainly it is not a lifestyle which should be pushed upon our children 

    Our concern is for the physical safety of gays, which requires that we advocate against the idea that "gay" is an equally valid "life choice." The dangers of being gay come from the behaviors associated with gayness rather than the supposed harassment from "homophobes." Anal intercourse, anal-oral stimulation, catamy, domestic violence, drug use, "fisting," fellatio, fecal ingestion, promiscuity, oral-sex, sadomasochism, and sodomy are all dangerous to the human body and ought never be practiced, let alone suggested in high school.

    Brian Camenker is from Newton Massachusetts, and has been actively anti-gay and anti-sex-education politicking for many year. It was he who broadcast the unedited email version over the internet. He has actively worked to remove all sex education from the Newton Public Schools.  It is important to recognize the political context from which he writes about this workshop, and for what purposes.  Although he writes the article as if shocked and surprised, in fact I believe Whiteman got what he was looking for.   I think it’s incredibly important to recognize that the tone and intention and selection of these excerpts is for a political purpose. 

    They wrote in the unedited email version, 

    "this "conference"  was a shock that can barely describe. One wonders if it was like American GIs who first approached the concentration camps. People had heard stories and rumors.  But no one could imagine it was like this. It was a mind-numbing experience."
    Prior to their shock and surprise at attending this conference, Mr. Camenker made several similarly inflammatory statements during his opposition to sexuality education in general, and homosexuality in particular. 
    "Over the years the homosexual activist community has invented a whole series of lies and half-truths to use in their propaganda campaign to force everyone else to accept this dangerous and (can I say it?) perverted behavior as a normal way of life."   [Internal link to extended quote and reference]
    It is my belief that the choice to write an inflammatory article was a conscious one, not one that arose naturally from sudden shock or horror.  I suggest that Mr. Camenker and Mr. Whiteman went to that day-long conference looking for something to appall them.  They found it in the carefully excerpted quotes. 

    Clearly Mr.Cameker opposes sex-education, LBGT awareness days and Gay Straight Alliances (GSAs).   However, in his zeal to encourage fear about what's happening in Massachusetts schools (using selected quotes from a workshop, the purpose of which was to provide answers to questions that remain unasked in a school setting),  he incorrectly cited a Boston Herald article, confusing GSAs with a Gay Awareness Day. 

    In the Massachusetts News article about the GLSEN workshop, Camenker and Whiteman write: 

    "School officials use several arguments to deflect criticism of GSAs. In a Boston Herald article last month, Newton assistant superintendent Jim Marini brushed aside a parent’s questioning of Newton’s GSA activities. "This is not about sex. This is about human rights," he said. The school counselor, Linda Shapiro, added that, "the purpose is to make gay students feel safe..."
    A review of the Boston Herald article, makes it appear that it was Camenker himself who was the (prospective) parent who felt brushed aside.  Although in his Massachusetts  News article Camenker writes of "a parent's questioning of Newton's GSA activites," in fact GSA's were not even mentioned in the Herald article he cites titled "School's gay awareness day ripped." 
    "It's basically homosexual activism . . . and I think it's psychologically reckless,'' said Brian Camenker, a parent whose daughter will attend Newton North next year. "They're trying to tell children that these kinds of behaviors are not only normal, but you should consider trying them.''
    This quote is followed in the Herald article by Mr. Marini's response and an explanation of the awareness day activities from the head of the highschool's counseling department. 
    This is not about sex. This is about human rights,'' said Jim Marini, assistant superintendent of high schools. "These students are going to talk about the discrimination they have felt as a person who has this orientation.'' 
    Linda Shapiro, head of Newton North's counseling department who started the event, said the purpose is to make gay students feel safe in an atmosphere susceptible to gay bashing. 
    Students, said Shapiro, aren't required to attend the workshops. Teachers can sign their class up, but a student can request to be excused."
    Using this quote in such a way to make it appear that Mr. Marini was speaking of GSAs in general, and then linking it to the GLSEN sexuality education workshop is one example of how Camenker's article misleads people into improperly blending the disparate events and organizations involved in this subject. 

     [skip to "In Conclusion: Toward Reasoned Dialogue"

    I will end this section with a listing of some of the past opinions of Mr.Camenker.  His tendency to sweeping generalizations and inflammatory rhetoric seems typical of much of his political work. 

     "The plea was put out by local political gadfly Brian Camenker and his civic group Stand Up Newton. Camenker is known in the city as being an outspoken conservative. He formed Stand Up Newton to fight an ordinance that would allow the partners of gay city employees to share their employment benefits. Camenker also has been a critic of the school system's extensive sex education courses and what he calls its ''liberal'' teachings on homosexuality." Boston Globe, 7/16/99 

     "Sexuality is probably the most intimate part of a human being's makeup," said Brian Camenker, …. `"These programs are experiments. We don't know the psychological impact of telling them how homosexual sex works."" Boston Globe 7/19/96

    In the "Special Report" put out by Massachusetts News Editor Edward Pawlak, An Intelligent Discussion about Homosexuality : Will Massachusetts Listen, Camenker is quoted extensively -- In the section titled, What Is Being Taught In Massachusetts Schools?
    "On August 28, 1998, Acting Governor Paul Cellucci announced that he was quadrupling the amount of money going to provide "support" for homosexual students, from $250,000 per year to a record $1 million. ( Boston Herald, August 28, 1988.) 
    (We are spending more than any other state in the country, and we are the only state that earmarks money in the budget for such a program.) 
    What does he mean by "support" for homosexual students? Why are we spending this $1 million? These answers are revealed by Brian Camenker of Newton, President of the Parents' Rights Coalition of Massachusetts: 
    "[This million dollars is used for] a program for homosexual adults to go into high schools across the Commonwealth. They work directly with children to help them feel comfortable about homosexuality — and to persuade children that their parents' disdain for homosexual acts is wrongheaded.... 
    "This tax-funded bankroll is used very effectively as a tool of intimidation as they expand the programs to more schools. Gay activists are extremely adept at these methods, and I have witnessed it in district after district. They find one or two friendly teachers, and then approach the school administration and/or the local school committee. They announce that there is a terrible problem of ‘gay student safety' in their schools, and that they have state funding to stop it. If the school officials decline free money for a safety program, they surely must be bigoted people — that is made very clear. And if necessary, state officials and public relations people are ready to jump into the fray. The schools and parents don't know what hit them. 
    "Once they get a presence in a school, any and all criticism or questioning of homosexuality or the program's activity is met with an incredible amount of wrath. Students and even teachers have been screamed at, called bigots and haters, and even had it suggested they were mentally ill for even slight suggestions of disapproval. As a result, everyone from the highest officials on down, learns to keep quiet and just endure whatever happens."( Boston Mercury, April 1998.)"
    A Massachusetts News article on Homosexuality and Pedophilia reported this: 


    "it became apparent to our publisher, J. Edward Pawlick, that he had stumbled into the area of pedophilia. 
    There's now a growing awareness across the state that pedophiles are making inroads into our society, particularly in the professional associations, such as the psychologists and psychiatrists. 
    This "Special Report" continues Attorney Pawlick's observations about what he has discovered about the schools, the press, the churches and synagogues of Massachusetts. This exclusive "Special Report" is found only in Massachusetts News. It's important to every citizen, especially mothers and fathers. 
    Citizens Are Concerned About 'Gay/Straight Alliances' Wirthlin Worldwide Poll is not Surprising
    An overwhelming 92% of citizens believe the schools should not be encouraging sex among teenage heterosexuals – or homosexuals. 
    They also have concerns about the Gay/Straight Alliances that were started in the schools by Gov. William Weld back in 1993, according to the poll by Wirthlin Worldwide of six hundred Massachusetts citizens. 
    Not only do they believe we should not be encouraging homosexual sex; a majority, 74%, are concerned that pedophiles could be attracted to the children who belong to those clubs. 
    A large number, 49%, also believe these clubs might encourage children to "out" themselves and declare themselves to be homosexual at too young an age. A smaller number, 40%, did not believe this would be a problem and 11% did not have an opinion. 
    "These results are not a surprise," says Brian Camenker, President of the Parents’ Rights Coalition in Waltham. 
    "It’s also not a surprise that 54% agree with the statement that homosexuals ‘are born that way.’ This has been the standard mantra since 1993 when the ‘gay gene’ theory first surfaced and the Gay/Straight Alliances were started. Now that the ‘gay gene’ has been discredited even by the Boston Globe, the news of this change is a little slow getting out to the general public. 
    "If it were true that homosexuals ‘are born that way,’ everyone would agree with what the Alliances are doing. But no one knows why a person becomes a homosexual. If the many psychiatrists and psychologists are correct in their belief that most homosexuals were molested as children or had poor relations with their fathers, then the Alliances are doing great damage to children. 
    "The schools are adopting just one belief about homosexuality. What if they are wrong? There must be some discussion about this matter."" 
    [Begin extended quote referenced earlier.]
    Over the years the homosexual activist community has invented a whole series of lies and half-truths to use in their propaganda campaign to force everyone else to accept this dangerous and (can I say it?) perverted behavior as a normal way of life. In addition, they use the most cruel and outrageous methods of intimidation against anyone who dares to disagree with them. 
    "TL's [note: an email responder to the above quoted Intelligent Discussion] ranting and name-calling against Mr. Pawlick is just the merest example of what anyone can expect. I've known people who have received threatening phone calls and threats for simply being interviewed on the subject in the newspaper. It's interesting, though, that "TL" does not choose to identify himself, although he's happy to make nasty public personal comments about others. 
    Over the years, I have known many, many homosexuals, both as close friends and family members, as well as business associates. I can tell you that this is anything but normal. These are people who are in deep inner pain and turmoil. Homosexual behavior (as well as its connected behaviors of sado-machochism, pedophilia, etc.) is a symptom of much deeper things. For example, just about every homosexual I have known was raped or molested as a child. Their often serene veneer usually masks a very disjointed and obsessive personality. I am not a doctor; this is just observation. 
    As Mr. Pawlick's article points out, the most worrisome part of this movement is the focus on going into schools and "sensitizing" teenage children that having a sexual relationship with a homosexual is an experience that might somehow enrich them. This message is given along with the other messages that homosexuality is a normal, non-addictive behavior, is not the least bit medically dangerous, and that any information to the contrary is to be considered "hateful". 
    I have seen this going on in my local schools, and it is very disturbing. And I have talked to the people doing it, and believe me, they are very focused on what they are doing. 
    Finally, I could go point by point in refuting all of "TL's nonsense and circular reasoning. But I just see him as an angry person caught up in a soul-wrenching behavior and a bizarre movement. But it is necessary that all of us -- in a free society -- to stand up for the truth whenever we can.  Brian Camenker" Activists Engage in Propaganda
    [End extended quote -- return to section that points here]
    Of these two pieces of art, "These were Kurt. Infinity by San Francisco artist Frank Yamrus, a virtually abstract image of a couple curled up nude together on a beach, and Nan Goldin's Matt and Lewis in the Tub: Kissing. The Goldin piece comes from a tactfully posed suite of photos depicting novelist Lewis Gannett (The Living One and Magazine Beach) and his then lover."  "…anti-sex-education crusader Brian Camenker, who condemned the censored work as "homosexual propaganda" illustrating acts that "caused the AIDS virus."
    On Domestic Partner benefits : 
    ""This is only the beginning," says Brian Camenker, President of the Parents’ Rights Coalition. "If we allow this to happen, we will, in effect, have destabilized the basic institution of our society, which is marriage between a man and a woman — which has served us for thousands of years for the protection of women and children."

    ""They know on Beacon Hill that there’s no difference between ‘domestic partners’ and ‘gay marriage.’ But they also know that homosexuals have a lot of money and a lot of power. If we are going to keep our families as the basic unit of society – with a mother and a father – we’re going to have to work to do so. 
    "We need to look at this in perspective. As depraved as some cultures have become over the last 5,000 years of human history, such as Rome at its fall and Weinmar Germany, no one has ever attempted this. This is a first. It’s something to think about." ""We’ve had a tremendous assault on marriage and the family within the last thirty years," said Camenker. "If we let it continue, our society is going to be in serious trouble.""

    On the doubling of the budget of upcoming state budget for the Governor's Commission on Gay and Lesbian Youth, Camenker wrote, 
    "What seems to irk parents most is that most of the legislators, both Republican and Democrat, privately told them that they were against the funding and appalled at how the money was being spent. But they were afraid of retribution by homosexual activist groups if they did not vote correctly, …"  He wrote in the same article in the Mass News, "[They] are among thousands of parents, grandparents, and citizens from across Massachusetts who have been pleading with legislators on Beacon Hill not to spend public money on homosexual programs in the public schools aimed at children." And "Moreover, each part [of the budget]  was labeled as a "gay teen suicide prevention" grant in order to further deflect criticism. Homosexual youth advocates have long used the "suicide prevention" argument as a vehicle to force their programs into the schools. This tactic, however, was based on a 1989 San Francisco study which has officially been discredited by the National Institute of Mental Health, the American Psychological Association, and many others. Nevertheless, homosexual activists continue to use "suicide prevention" and "safe schools" as an effective club for promoting legislation."

    In Conclusion: Toward Reasoned Dialogue

    Mr. Whiteman and Mr. Camenker oppose Gay Awareness Days, Gay Straight Alliances, and sexuality education in our public schools.  Such opposition is their right in a free society.  Mr. Whiteman and Mr. Camenker actively work, in our democratic society, to stop those activities and curriculums they believe are harmful, as is their right and responsibility.  However, it is also their responsibility to oppose these programs on a political playing field bounded by accuracy and truth. 

    Mr. Whiteman and Mr. Camenker taped a confidential workshop without permission, they improperly assigned sponsorship for this workshop to those government programs they personally oppose,  they took quotations out of context in order to inflame the passions of those who might be considered on their political "side," and they utilized a level of  persuasive rhetoric that appealed to the basest fears of their audience. 

    Sexuality education, HIV/AIDS education, our culture's sexualization of younger and younger children -- these are real issues that all adults grapple with.  However, we need to address these issues slowly, carefully, and with great attention to accuracy and truth.  This article portrayed a conspiracy between government and GLSEN to pave the way for the "gay community [to have] its way with children."  No such conspiracy exists. 

    What exists is that people of good will and concern for the physical well being of our youth work tirelessly to ensure that they have safety in their schools, and in their sexual lives. 

    What exists is that people of good will both in and out of government have worked for years to study and determine what kinds of sexuality education actually lead youths to change their behavior -- either postponing sexual involvement, or choosing sexual behaviors that hold less risk for pregnancy, STD's, and HIV/AIDS. 

    What exists -- for all of us -- on all sides of the issues involved -- is a concern that our youth deserve to live long and fruitful lives.  Where we differ is in how to help them achieve that long life, and how we engage in discussion about it. 

    I challenge Mr. Whiteman and Mr. Camenker to let go of the rhetoric and misrepresentations in their article and to speak directly to the concerns they have.  They are opposed to sex education.  They are opposed to Gay Straight Alliances.  When they resort to this kind of factual misrepresentation it appears that they are not seeking truth about those subjects, or the lives of those affected; but they are seeking to outrage in order to gain political allies in their fight. If they are opposed to sex education, if they are opposed to Gay Straight Alliances, then they would be better served to address those subjects directly.  We could then have a reasoned dialogue. 

    Go to the APPENDIX

    Massachusetts Department of Education AIDS/HIV Program
    Program Description and Goals

    According to the 1997 Massachusetts Youth Risk Behavior Survey, large numbers of Massachusetts’ students are engaged in behaviors that put them at high risk for HIV infection and other sexually transmitted diseases. The Massachusetts Department of Education’s AIDS/HIV Program has developed a strong network of collaborations with other state-level Departments and with a broad spectrum of community-based agencies to provide HIV/STD prevention education, policy and curriculum development, technical assistance and training to local school districts. 

    MORE ... 


    Media Links
    to news stories, web articles, letters, and fund raising letters concerning the Boston GLSEN controversy

    Appendix: Massachusetts Department of Education AIDS/HIV Program



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