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Saturday, November 4, 2000

School board struck
a blow for tolerance

Bullet The issue: The Board of Education voted to prohibit harassment of students on the basis of "sexual orientation."

Bullet Our view: The decision is welcome because homosexual students are being harassed.

THE Board of Education sent the proper message by adopting a rule forbidding harassment of homosexuals. The decision came by the narrowest of margins -- 7-6 -- rejecting a proposal to delete references to "sexual orientation" as well as other categories, such as race and religion, from a proposed rule prohibiting harassment.

The author of the defeated proposal, Denise Matsumoto, argued that the result would be a stronger statement protecting all students. But that was a subterfuge. Her real objective was to block explicit protection of homosexuals.

In another context, a simple prohibition of harassment of any students might have made sense. But this fiercely fought battle was about gays and lesbians. And it went beyond the narrow question of including the term "sexual orientation" in the rule against harassment. It had to do with a place for homosexuals in the public schools.

Opponents of including the term "sexual orientation" are people who consider homosexuality immoral. They claim implausibly that the rule would open the way to teaching in the public schools that homosexuality is acceptable.

Their lobbying against the prohibition suggests that they condone harassment of gays and lesbians. Otherwise they would not find it so difficult to accept the simple statement that harassment of homosexuals is prohibited.

The reason to include "sexual orientation" in the rule is that gay and lesbian students are being harassed. It seems simple enough. It isn't, because the opponents can't tolerate homosexuals and refuse to acknowledge that they should be protected. By eliminating references to gays and lesbians in the rules, they hoped to pretend that they and their problems don't exist.

Schools Superintendent Paul LeMahieu, in commenting on the vote, lamented the fact that "there are some who don't even appreciate that the harassing treatment of these folks constitutes any wrongdoing." LeMahieu noted reports that teachers and school administrators have condoned or even been involved in harassment and said they show that adults also must be made aware that homosexuals should be protected.

Gays and lesbians have a right to attend school without being harassed because they are different. The Board of Education has struck a blow for enlightenment and tolerance -- not for homosexuality. The seven-member majority on the key vote should be congratulated for standing up in the face of paranoia and hate.

Last-minute attempt
to smear George Bush

Bullet The issue: George W. Bush was arrested 24 years ago for drunken driving.

Bullet Our view: Disclosure of that incident should not be allowed to affect the outcome of the presidential election.

IT happens all too often: In the closing days of a political campaign, charges are dredged up with the intention of damaging a candidate's character.

Sometimes the charges are factual, sometimes not. Even when the charges are factual, the incident is usually blown out of proportion. In either case, the result is a smear.

That is what has just happened to George W. Bush. Twenty-four years ago, when he was 30, he was arrested in Maine for drunken driving. He pleaded guilty. He paid a $150 fine and lost his driving privileges in Maine for a short period. Bush has said he quit drinking when he turned 40.

Disclosure of this incident has inevitably made headlines, thereby diverting attention at least momentarily from the real issues of this campaign. This is regrettable.

An arrest for driving under the influence of alcohol is not a trivial matter, but this incident occurred so long ago that it cannot reasonably be considered a reflection of Governor Bush's character today. It should not be an issue.

Aides to Vice President Gore insist they had nothing to do with the arrest report, and that may be correct, but their professions of innocence cannot be taken at face value. The most effective smears are also the ones in which the origins are well hidden.

Bush said he regretted the incident. He noted that he had previously said he made some mistakes years ago and occasionally drank too much, but added that he had learned his lesson.

Both Bush and Gore are men of good character and high purpose. Neither of them is Bill Clinton.

The issues of this campaign have to do with their proposals for addressing the nation's problems and their previous experience as preparation for the presidency.

As the campaign winds down, voters should focus on those questions, not on a mistake from the distant past. Let's not let the campaign degenerate into a soap opera. Let's not let the smear work.

Published by Liberty Newspapers Limited Partnership

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John M. Flanagan, Editor & Publisher

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