- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 9, 2005

Montgomery and Fairfax counties’ sometimes angry debates about homosexuality in public school curriculums are generating national attention and attracting advocates from both sides of the issue.

“You’ve got two very influential counties that are affluent and large and seen as education leaders grappling with this issue. It’s going to reverberate across the country,” said Robert Knight, director of the Culture and Family Institute, an affiliate of the national conservative women’s group Concerned Women for America.

The group Advocates for Youth (AFY), which promotes programs that help young people nationwide make decisions about their sexual health, says it sees an opportunity in Montgomery County to help end discrimination against homosexual students.

“The great majority of parents want their children to receive accurate and complete sex education,” said Barbara Huberman, AFY director of education and outreach. “My hope would be that a success example like Montgomery County would give confidence and support to other communities that this is the right thing to do for their children.”

Montgomery County’s school board has approved a sex-education curriculum in which students are told that homosexuality is not a choice and that same-sex couples are one form of a family. The new curriculum will be tested in six schools this spring.

The curriculum has angered some parents and local activists — mostly from the northern and more conservative sections of the county, such as Gaithersburg and Damascus. They have challenged and rallied against the curriculum for several weeks, saying it goes beyond an explanation of homosexuality, advocating the lifestyle.

Michelle Turner, a leader of the local group Citizens for Responsible Curriculum, said CRC does not have an “opposition to [homosexuality] being taught at all.”

“It’s just that it’s only being taught from one viewpoint. Why won’t the schools invite ex-gays to come and speak? Why won’t they include data about the overall health of gay men?” she said.

Warren Throckmorton specializes in the study of homosexuality as a psychology professor at Grove City College, a Christian school in Pennsylvania. He said he has received about two calls each week for several months from school officials and parents “concerned about how to teach the matter of homosexuality, without being an advocate for a particular perspective.”

“A lot of people who are not politically in this fight are trying to avoid being taken advantage of by what they consider to be a gay political-activist agenda,” Mr. Throckmorton said. “At the same time, they don’t want to put their heads in the sand and say, ‘We don’t want our kids to know nothing.’ They want a balanced view, and that’s where a lot of people I talk to are struggling, about where they can get that balanced view.”

Mr. Throckmorton wrote a 33-page critique of what he calls the “bias” of Montgomery County’s proposed curriculum.

David Fishback, chairman of the citizens advisory committee in Montgomery County that crafted the new curriculum, said Mr. Throckmorton thinks homosexuals are “sick and or … sinful.”

“That theology should not be dressed up as something other than what it is,” he said, adding that information about the rise of HIV and AIDS among homosexuals is used “to demonize people who are gay.”

Mr. Fishback’s panel drew additional scrutiny yesterday when the Associated Press reported that one of the four student members on the 27-member committee is an 11-year-old girl from Takoma Park Middle School who the school board appointed to the panel in June.

The school board has received hundreds of e-mails from Rockville, Bethesda and Takoma Park in support of the curriculum , and the group Teach the Facts has grown out of that support.

Meanwhile, Fairfax County School Board member Stephen M. Hunt last month piqued the ire of fellow board members and of homosexual groups when he sent a letter to principals asking them to invite “ex-gay” speakers into their schools, and not just homosexuals, as is the current practice.

He said his Jan. 30 letter was prompted in part by the debate in Montgomery County and remarks he read in student newspapers “that really portrayed the attitude that you could condone homosexual activity, or [else] you were a hate-mongering bigot, with no middle ground.”

“The kids are only getting one side of the issue,” Mr. Hunt said. “The reason they’re getting this attitude is that they’re not hearing from people who have a different attitude.”

After being reprimanded by his fellow board members, Mr. Hunt wrote a letter of apology, saying his recommendation of using a video featuring former homosexuals strayed into the area of directing school curriculum, he said.

• Cheryl Wetzstein contributed to this report.

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