Oregon voters rejected a proposal on their statewide ballot last week that would have prevented teachers in public schools from offering lessons construed as condoning homosexual behavior.
With 96 percent of the ballots in Oregon’s mail-in election counted, the measure had received “yes” votes from 47 percent of voters, with 53 percent opposed. Gay-rights activists called the relatively slim win a big victory against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and in support of efforts “to create an environment where every student is safe and welcome.”
“This idea went way beyond discrimination to something that would have been an unprecedented interference for educators,” said Kevin Jennings, the executive director of the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network, or GLSEN, a national advocacy group based in New York City. “This is a victory against deception and confusion,” he added. “If this measure had passed, it would have been on the backs of people who didn’t understand would it would mean.”
The backers of the ballot question, the Oregon Citizens Alliance, said they were disappointed, but would reword the measure and attempt to have it placed on the 2002 ballot.
Lon Mabon, the chairman of the Oregon Citizens Alliance, based in Brooks, Ore., blamed the defeat on having been outspent by the opposition. He also suggested that opponents had misled voters into thinking the measure would cause students to contract AIDS by hamstringing sexual education in schools.
“Our opponents had two themes: It would have wiped out sex education, and kids will die,” Mr. Mabon said. “It wouldn’t wipe it out. It would have only stopped promotion of homosexuality to our children.”
Known as Measure 9 and “The Student Protection Act,” the initiative prompted highly publicized protests by both camps before the election.
Homeowners in the Portland area displayed “No on 9" signs on their lawns. Some teachers wore stickers bearing that message, and one day, 500 students in Eugene walked out of school in protest.
Supporters operated a Web site with promotional material for “Yes on 9,” but their campaign was less visible.
Mr. Jennings of GLSEN said calling the measure the Student Protection Act misled some voters about its intent.
The measure would have required the state board of education to define what exactly what constituted instruction that “encourages, sanctions, or promotes” homosexual or bisexual behavior. If a school violated the restriction, it would have lost some or all of its state funding.
Mr. Mabon said the measure aimed to end instruction that “promoted homosexuality as normal and acceptable,” such as lessons on various family types that include families headed by homosexual couples. “I think that schools have overstepped the bounds,” he said. “It is wrong that as the caretakers of the students, they are telling the kids wrong behavior is OK.”
Gay Issue in Hawaii
Meanwhile, the issue of schools’ approach to homosexuality stirred controversy in Hawaii last week as voters went to the polls to fill nine seats on the 13-member state board of education.
On Nov. 2, just days before the nonpartisan board election on Nov. 7, the board had voted to amend the statewide school district’s discipline code to forbid harassment of students based on sexual orientation, as well as such other factors as gender, race, ethnicity, or religion.
Carol Gabbard, a challenger seeking an at-large seat, issued a news release saying the policy would mean “homosexual activists ... would come into our schools and teach homosexuality as a normal and natural lifestyle.”
Ms. Gabbard won a seat on the board by coming in third among six candidates vying for three at-large seats representing the island of Oahu. Some incumbents accused her of waging a single-issue campaign against the board’s anti-harassment policy.
But Ms. Gabbard said it was her opponents who had raised the issue. “There’s been a smear campaign against me for holding values that a majority of people share,” she said in an interview.
Board Chairman Mitsugi Nakashima, who lost his seat on the board last week, defended the new policy
“It was the right thing to do for kids,” he said. “They need the protection.”
Staff Writer Julie Blair contributed to this report.
A version of this article appeared in the November 15, 2000 edition of Education Week as Ore. Rejects Proposal To Restrict What Schools Teach About Gays