Federal File

Open Letter

Rep. Frank Criticizes the Education Secretary Over ‘Buster’ Controversy

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It’s been more than a month since controversy erupted over the “Postcards from Buster” TV show’s episode featuring two Vermont families headed by lesbian couples. But Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings, who objected to the “lifestyles” that children would be exposed to in the episode, continues to hear from Buster’s supporters.

In one of the highest-profile responses, Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., one of only a few openly gay members of Congress, wrote to Ms. Spellings and accused her of “meanness.”

“I am sorry that young people all over this country who happen to be gay or lesbian have now learned that the person who has been picked by the president of the United States to help with their education has such a fundamentally negative view of their very existence,” Mr. Frank wrote in the Feb. 11 letter.

In January, Ms. Spellings wrote to the Public Broadcasting Service to express her concerns about the episode of “Postcards from Buster,” a children’s show that receives federal money under the Department of Education’s Ready to Learn program. ("Federal Grant Boosts Educational Television, Faces Fresh Scrutiny," Feb. 9, 2005.)

She requested, in strong terms, that if PBS aired the episode, it should remove the Education Department’s seal and return the federal funds used to produce it.

PBS decided not to distribute the episode to its member stations and said it would use the money to make another episode. WGBH, the Boston public-television station that produces the show, aired the episode, as did several other public-TV stations.

Rep. Frank said the “strong implication” of Ms. Spellings’ objection to the episode was that the existence of same-sex couples “is something from which young children should be shielded.”

He went on to note that he has shared his own personal relationships with his three “loving siblings” and their children and grandchildren.

“My nieces, nephew, and great-nephews at early ages have in no way been harmed by knowing that I have shared my life with another man,” Mr. Frank wrote. The secretary’s attitude, he argued, endorses the idea that gays and lesbians “ought to be shunned in various ways.”

“For the secretary of education of my country to hold such an attitude is of course profoundly disturbing not just to me, but to many, many others,” Mr. Frank wrote.

An Education Department spokewoman declined to comment on whether Ms. Spellings had read the letter or intends to respond.

Vol. 24, Issue 25, Page 24

Published in Print: March 2, 2005, as Open Letter

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