Bigotry as law

Four years ago the Republicans ran for governor a candidate, Ellen Craswell, who believed that homosexuals should be put to death. But times have changed in Washington state; the fanatics have moved on to other pet issues. This year's candidate of the far right, John Carlson—who did plenty of gay-hating on his KVI talk show—even acknowledged in a recent Seattle Weekly interview that homosexuality is "a nonissue when it comes to hiring or the way you treat people." Tolerance has won.

Not so to our south. In Oregon, the initiative process is unusually easy, and voters are being overwhelmed this election season with an amazing 26 statewide initiatives on the ballot—plus another dozen or more in some local jurisdictions. In this onslaught, by far the most pernicious is Initiative 9, the Student Protection Act. I-9 would protect students from hearing that being gay is OK. It's sponsored by the Oregon Citizens Alliance, a powerful Craswell-style grassroots conservative Christian outfit that has made a living over the past number of years by trying to legislate its antigay sentiments.

Their most recent attempt, a 1994 initiative that sought to overturn the sexual orientation plank of local antidiscrimination laws, carried all of the state's counties but four—the four "where the universities are," according to OCA spokesperson Philip Ramsdell—and narrowly failed, 49 percent to 51 percent. The OCA went to its pollsters and determined that discrimination was generally not popular, except in the schools. So, after an unsuccessful 1998 attempt to ban all abortions, it has come back this year with Initiative 9, which would, according to Ramsdell, mandate that schools "can't affirm [homosexuality]. They have to be neutral on the issue. There's a live-and-let-live philosophy in Oregon, but it doesn't apply when we're talking about their kids."

The problem, of course, is that schools don't have to affirm heterosexuality—it's celebrated in every facet of our culture, and even toddlers, gay Teletubbies notwithstanding, get the message. And the language of the initiative doesn't say "affirm"; it bars any state institution—schools, universities, prisons, hospitals, so on—from the "promotion, presentation, or sanctioning" of homosexuality. Lawyers have no idea what the prohibition on "sanctioning" means. It could mean pulling books out of libraries that mention gays. It could mean looking the other way when students bash gays.

But the measure has already had its desired effect of silencing gays. In a long interview, No on 9's campaign manager Kathleen Sullivan doesn't mention any of these impacts. Rather, she emphasizes the damage Initiative 9 would do to HIV prevention, which is true enough, and certainly dangerous in its own right. But never does she say the obvious: I-9 is a vicious, bigoted attempt to isolate and ostracize gays, by a group fixated on homosexuality. (This is the OCA's fourth antigay initiative in 12 years as well as the one with the best chance of passing since the group's only success in 1988). Never does she complain that, as the newspaper The Oregonian put it, I-9 would codify as law the OCA's view that homosexuality is immoral. Never does she stand up for the basic rights of gays and lesbians. She has to avoid offending conservative, undecided voters.

Ramsdell compares the matter to religion: "It's the same. . . . The school can discuss the religion, but it can't endorse it." But what if it's a broadly unpopular religion? Would the Holocaust have happened if a young Hitler and his generation had been taught that being Jewish was OK? Isn't one of the functions of a public school to promote citizenship in a democratic society, which includes promoting the idea that everyone should participate on equal footing?

Much as the OCA would like to paint I-9 as a way to prevent schools from abusing parental rights—state Superintendent of Education Stan Bunn called it "an answer looking for a problem"—the core of its appeal lies in people who are uncomfortable with homosexuality being portrayed as anything but an aberration, if not a sin.

I was taught plenty of things in school I didn't agree with—in South Carolina, my all-white school was taught that slavery was normal and the Civil War was righteous. (Judging from the Confederate flag controversy, things haven't changed that much.) Nobody ever suggested passing a law to protect me from such thoughts, and whether I swallowed them or not depended on my parents and a lot of other factors in my life.

Discrimination is often justified as "protecting children," just as "the kids" are the raison d'괲e of every bad liberal idea that comes down the pike. We didn't have any Negroes in our South Carolina school for our own protection, and so it goes. I-9 would not be possible were it not for the large segment of Oregonians—just like any other state—who hate gays. The kids are window dressing.

In Oregon, this initiative is big news. It may very well pass; "We're winning," the OCA's Ramsdell says flatly. But oddly, in Seattle, there's been virtually no word about it in our local media. When the Aryan "Christian" hate groups of Northern Idaho have a spasm of public display, it makes all the papers. But when a "Christian" hate group in our region achieves real political power and stands an excellent chance of having its bigotry become law, there's only silence. Makes you wonder.

What A Farce

Will the new civilian director of the Seattle Police Department's Office of Professional Accountability be any less of a cop apologist than the auditor position SPD has had for years? The short answer: no. The three finalists for the job chosen by new police chief Gil Kerlikowske all have law enforcement ties: a former King County deputy prosecutor, a lawyer for the Washington State Patrol, and a military attorney. Some independence. Add in city council oversight by a television reporter who seems infatuated by cops, and what you have is a slap in the face to the vast number of Seattleites demanding that SPD no longer be allowed to be a law unto itself.

 
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