Spokane educators are closely tracking a measure that would stop public schoolteachers from presenting homosexuality as positive or normal.
Such a law would pave the way for harassment that clashes with Spokane School District 81’s new $200,000 equity program, administrators say.
Lawmakers dashed similar bills in past years but expect enthusiastic support for this version now that Republicans dominate both houses of the Legislature.
The Senate Education Committee chairman signed on as a co-sponsor and vowed Thursday to schedule a committee vote.
“I suspect I have the votes to move it out,” said Sen. Harold Hochstatter, R-Moses Lake. “We have to protect children from the concept that this is an acceptable alternative to monogamous marriage.”
The bill, SB 5167, makes it illegal for teachers to promote or approve homosexuality, transexuality, bisexuality or transvestism. Neither could teachers present them as “natural, alternative” lifestyles or “acceptable, legitimate conduct.”
Schools spend far too much time focusing on homosexuality, when only a small percentage of people are gay, said Sen. Val Stevens, R-Arlington, who sponsored the bill.
“Issues regarding a child’s personal life should be dealt with at home and with a child’s family,” she said. “It seems absurd to me that we are spending any time at all in school discussing it.”
Scott Stowell, who coordinates District 81’s sex education program, says the bill’s wording would make it impossible to address homosexuality at all - even in AIDS-prevention sessions.
“What do we mean by those terms? Is any information going to be construed as positive, normal behavior?” said Stowell.
“If a youngster was to bring up the subject of asking us to define what homosexuality is, the question is whether we could give a scientific definition without (breaking the law).”
The bill also clashes with the district’s new equity program, which aims to erase harassment and discrimination among minorities, said Ivan Bush, who heads the program.
The program has drawn both praise and scorn from parents and teachers since it began last fall.
“The thing that frightens me is once you have the law, the interpretation would expand,” said Bush. “My fear is it’d say it’s all right to bash folks.
“In our equity department, we make every attempt to affirm everybody’s sense of somebodiness” - including gay students, Bush said.
Joanne McCann, a Spokane woman who applauds the legislation, said school administrators are overreacting.
“I don’t see anything in the bill that says homosexuals are bad people and I don’t think most people think they are,” said McCann, a member of Washington Parents Coalition for Academic Excellence.
“As long as they don’t teach it as a normal behavior, I don’t think there’d be a clash.”
Republicans outnumber Democrats 4 to 3 on the Senate Education Committee.
Sen. Rosemary McAuliffe, D-Bothel, says she won’t vote for the bill because it leaves too many unanswered questions: “Does that mean a gay student couldn’t be student body president? Does that mean a volunteer couldn’t come in and talk about who they are if they’re gay?”
It also fuels a discrimination problem that already makes school tough for gay kids, she said.
“We need to do things that create an opportunity for those students to go to school and not be harassed,” McAuliffe said. “We don’t want to do anything to make it worse.”
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