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Pickets protest board's editing of tolerance film

Gay segment deleted by Grossmont Union

By Jill Spielvogel 
UNION-TRIBUNE STAFF WRITER

March 14, 2002

EL CAJON – Students last night protested a Grossmont Union district move to have a film promoting tolerance edited to exclude a segment on discrimination against homosexuals.

About 35 people, including activists from the gay community, carried signs outside the district's board meeting last night, criticizing the deletion. The signs included ones that read "Silence Kills" and "Our Voices Will Not Be Silenced."

The edited film was shown as part of an assembly at Granite Hills High School on Tuesday. The movie is part of an Anti-Defamation League program presented at schools.

"People need to be educated on it if we want the hate to stop," said sophomore Nickelle Ismert. She and other students said there is anti-gay name calling and harassment on campus.

"The school board has been getting in the way of our trying to stop that," said senior Merritt Linden.

Members of the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network and the Lesbian and Gay Men's Community Center in Hillcrest participated in the demonstration.

Three trustees, who felt the film cuts were appropriate, said yesterday they would not have supported the program without the changes. The topic was not on last night's agenda, but protesters told trustees their decision furthered intolerance of homosexuals at their school. A few parents, however, praised the trustees.

Some students said they will protest at the board's meeting tonight as well.

The district requested that the league cut the film after trustees Dan McGeorge, Priscilla Schreiber and Gary Cass expressed concerns last month, when the board voted on a contract for the organization to work with Valhalla High School in El Cajon.

"We were told that changes would have to be made if the program was going to go on," said Denise Frey, an associate director of the San Diego County Anti-Defamation League.

She and director Morris Casuto characterized the editing decision as difficult, but said they believe the program is needed in the Grossmont district and should continue. The group has received several angry messages condemning the decision.

The league presents the "Names Can Really Hurt Us" program at other districts in the county, but none requested film changes, Frey said.

The portion of the film that was removed dealt with a gay police officer talking with youths, an interview with the mother of a bisexual student who committed suicide and a mention of Matthew Shepherd, a gay college student beaten to death in Wyoming.

In addition to the film, the assembly features student panelists who discuss types of discrimination. One of the panelists at the Granite Hills assembly was a lesbian who discussed harassment and intolerance.

Cass and Schreiber complained about the film after it was shown last year at Steele Canyon High School in Spring Valley. Schreiber said the portrayal of a gay authority figure sends a message that homosexuality is normal and acceptable, which she said does not belong in the classroom.

She and the other trustees supporting the cuts said students should learn harassment is unacceptable, but they say there's no need to single out sexual orientation.

"We want to make sure everyone is respected, and not promote a sexual lifestyle," she said.

Trustee Ted Crooks said cutting the film was a missed opportunity to prevent discrimination based on someone's perceived sexual orientation. But he ultimately agreed the district should show the altered film when it was clear the majority of the board would not support the program otherwise.

"We were in a circumstance where three-quarters of a loaf is better than none," he said.

Excluding one type of discrimination from the film tells students that a type of harassment is OK and increases isolation and the possibility of violence said Sherry Wright, director of public policy at the Hillcrest center. Wright helped students organize the protest. But Brad Dacus, president of the nonprofit Pacific Justice Institute in Sacramento, said in a telephone interview the district's decision to have the film altered was a responsible way to teach about tolerance while respecting the beliefs of parents concerned about the controversial issue.

Last Updated: 11/16/2014
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