- The Washington Times - Friday, August 30, 2002

Family advocacy groups object to University of Maryland freshmen being asked to read a play about a homosexual college student, and are monitoring a Texas library's decision to remove from its shelves a book they say promotes homosexuality and abortion.

"It seems like homosexuals feel bolder than ever to promote their views by using tax-funded institutions," said Robert Knight, director of the Culture and Family Institute, an affiliate of the Washington-based conservative group, Concerned Women for America.

"Parents need to be more vigilant because their children are being targeted. Schools are not supposed to promote religion, but they promote the religion of pan-sexualism."

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Officials at the University of Maryland are distributing 10,000 copies of the "Laramie Project," a play based on the 1998 death of homosexual college student Matthew Shepard, to all incoming freshmen. The book's contents will be incorporated into the students' curriculum during the upcoming year, officials said.

"This book can be used to look at the issue of hate crimes and healing particularly after September 11," said Dave Ottalini, a university spokesman.

In the Texas case, a judge ordered the Montgomery County library system to take off its shelves a book called "It's Perfectly Normal: Changing Bodies, Growing Up, Sex and Sexual Health." The judge is reviewing the book's content.

The judge's decision came after several Christian residents complained that the book discusses homosexuality, bisexuality and abortion and asked that it be removed permanently. The book is written for children ages 10 and older.

Homosexual-rights groups said the critics are doing the same thing they are accusing the homosexual movement of doing: Pushing their own agenda.

"It's very dangerous what these groups are doing," said David Smith, communications director and senior strategist for the Human Rights Campaign. "They are making sure that readers will read material that conforms only to their beliefs. And that's frightening."

Peter Sprigg, senior director of Culture Studies at the Family Research Council, said sex education should be taught by parents. "For this book to be out there on the bookshelves is really an offense to parents' rights and the parental role," he said.

The advocacy groups do not want the book banned only inaccessible to children.

At the University of Maryland, a committee of faculty, staff and students chose to pass out copies of the "Laramie Project," to "encourage the exploration of ideas." Each year, the school picks at least one book new students should read.

"Some faculty assign readings in those books," school officials said in a written statement. "For the rest, we hope that the common experience of reading the books will generate discussion, leading to understanding."

Critics argue the play is a smear campaign against those who don't support homosexuality, and several groups, such as the American Family Association, are considering suing the university for promoting a homosexual agenda using tax dollars.

"It portrays those who adhere to traditional values as irrational or bigoted," said Steve Crampton, chief counsel of AFA's Center for Law and Policy.

But Mr. Smith disagreed. "The message of this play is that hate violence is wrong. It's not about promoting homosexuality. If we can find some common ground, I think all groups believe that hate violence is a horrible thing."

In the Texas case, parents said the book, "It's Perfectly Normal," written by Robie H. Harris, tells children homosexuality is a normal healthy lifestyle.

"Some people disapprove of gay men and lesbian women. Some even hate homosexuals only because they are homosexual. People may feel this way toward homosexuals because they think homosexuals are different from them or that gay relationships are wrong," the author writes.

"Usually these people know little or nothing about homosexuals, and their views are often based on fears or misinformation, not on facts."

As for abortion, the author informs readers that "there are pills that contain drugs that can end a pregnancy and are used as another method of abortion in some countries."

Bronwyn Mayden, executive director of the Campaign For Our Children (CFOC), a liberal advocacy group, said parents should use the book as a tool in teaching their children about sex. Miss Mayden's group lists the book on its "recommended" reading list.

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