News: CJ Exclusives

Group Says Gay Seminar Illegal

Alliance Defense Fund says seminar violated state and federal law

The seminar “The New Gay Teenager” — conducted at the exclusive, taxpayer-funded Governor’s School last summer — was illegal, a national Christian legal organization says.

The Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Alliance Defense Fund, in a letter (pdf format) addressed to State Board of Education Chairman Howard Lee and Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson, said the controversial seminar “not only jeopardized the safety and well-being of its students, but has violated both state and federal law.” J. Michael Johnson, senior legal counsel for ADF, warned in the letter “it is imperative that this situation be corrected immediately to avoid unnecessary litigation.”

“The seminar in question violated North Carolina statutes,” Johnson said in a press release. “Teaching sexually-oriented material without parental knowledge is not only morally wrong, it is illegal.”

The seminar was heavily criticized by James and Beverly Burrows, whose son attended the school last year and who said that their son returned home from the school “confused” about homosexuality because of the seminar, and that they have had to seek family counseling. The Burrowses contacted ADF about legality of the seminar.

A spokeswoman of the Department of Public Instruction, which was faxed the letter from ADF on Friday, did not respond to inquiries seeking comment.

“The New Gay Teenager” seminar was based on a book with the same name, written by homosexual Cornell University Professor Ritch Savin-Williams. The book and the Governor’s School seminar discussed whether homosexual teenagers benefit, or are harmed, by embracing labels based on their sexual orientation. The co-leaders of the seminar — 19-year-old Wesley Nemenz, a University of North Carolina at Greensboro student, and Susan Wiseman, a teacher at East Forsyth High School — identified themselves as gay. Wiseman was investigated for allegations of sexual activity with a 17-year-old student, but last week a county district attorney decided not to press charges against her.

In his letter, Johnson cited North Carolina statutes that stipulate that the State Board of Education “has the sole authority to develop and approve courses and programs that concern human sexuality education.” Another state law requires an “emphasis on the importance of parental involvement” and “abstinence from sex until marriage” in any such curriculum.

The Burrowses, who complained directly last summer to Atkinson, say they were not warned beforehand about the “Gay Teenager” seminar before sending their son to the Governor’s School in Winston-Salem.

“Hopefully this will cause much more supervision of this program so that no more families will have to endure detrimental effects to their family due to their students’ attendance at this program,” Beverly Burrows said. “I also believe some staff changes will have to be made in order for this to happen.”

The Governor’s School was led by onsite director Lucy Milner, who approved holding the “Gay Teenager” seminar during the last week of the six-week program. Milner has defended the inclusion of the seminar, saying it was optional for students.

In a written response to the Burrowses’ allegations, she explained that the seminar discussed “an approach to the issue of homosexuality that was based on research and reasoned extrapolation,” which through presenters gave “an opportunity to refract that knowledge through personal lens and then, in reverse, to refract the personal through the objective.”

She said faculty who attended the seminar were “encouraged” about the session, and “were emphatic that no one attending could have thought the seminar was attempting to proselytize or to brainwash students or to promote a gay rights agenda on impressionable young people….”

“It responded to a need for additional factual, neutral information about this highly sensitive issue,” Milner wrote.

In his letter, Johnson said state law requires “that parents be given the opportunity to review sex education programs, materials and objectives before any student may participate….” He also said the law requires public hearings before sex education programs are adopted.

Johnson also said another concerned parent approached DPI officials in August 2004, “concerning past examples of pro-homosexual advocacy in Governor’s School programming….” He said the parent was assured by officials “that future programs would not include such topics.”

ADF also accused the Governor’s School of an anti-religion bias, in violation of federal law, which the Burrowses had alleged also.

Johnson said DPI should prohibit “any similar seminars or unapproved sexuality education curricula…in the future,” and requested “written assurance that religious viewpoints will no longer be maligned…at all future Governor’s programs.”

Paul Chesser ([email protected]) is associate editor of Carolina Journal.