Gays want anti-harassment policy reinstated in Wayne-Westland
By Craig Garrett / The Detroit News
Business at today's Wayne-Westland school board meeting will be the same as it has been for the last eight months: pay bills, recognize student achievements, listen to comments from the superintendent -- and hear from gay activists.
Gays and lesbians, some from as far away as Washington, D.C., have been speaking out at Wayne-Westland school board meetings since September, when board members dropped a "sexual orientation" policy protecting gay staff and students from harassment on the job and in class.
Today's meeting will be no different. Activists will plead with the board to reinstate the policy, and they'll likely get the same response from the board: no way.
"This is an issue with the state -- not a local school board," board President Debra Fowlkes said. "We're just not going to change our minds. In fact, it has just the opposite effect."
The school board approved specific language last May protecting the rights of gay staff and students. Three months later, it reversed itself, citing the threat of lawsuits from a religious group that insisted the policy infringed on free speech.
Since then, public comment during meetings has been occasionally raucous; board members and gay activists have traded verbal jabs. At one meeting, a crying teen-ager who told of harassment against a lesbian high school friend was instructed to use the administrative chain of command to file her complaints, rather than addressing the school board.
At another, a board member told a gay activist that a sexual orientation policy is a human rights matter -- not a school board issue.
"I'm sure they're tired of us," said Jeff Montgomery, a spokesman for the Triangle Foundation, a Metro Detroit gay rights group, "but they made the commitment and then backed out."
Carol Sharp, the mother of a Wayne Memorial High School gay graduate, attends board meetings, hoping to get the district to reverse itself.
"My feeling is that somebody is behind this," said Sharp, who is on the Detroit board of Parents and Friends of Gays and Lesbians (PFLAG). "What the school board is doing is not natural ... it's fear."
The Wayne-Westland school board meets at 7 p.m. today at 36745 Marquette, next to John Glenn High School.
Return to P.E.R.S.O.N. Project Home Page
Last updated 3/10/98 by Jean Richter, richter@eecs.Berkeley.EDU