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Maine: Middle School ‘Diversity Day’ Hijacked by Opponents of Marriage Equality
By Ilana Rosen, SIECUS Program Research Intern.

Two weeks before the 2012 election, Maine's Gorham Middle School found itself immersed in controversy related to the state's looming referendum on marriage equality. Some parents and community members charged that the school's annual autumn Diversity Day was being used to promote homosexuality after a lesson on gender diversity prompted a student to ask about safer sex practices for same-sex couples. Opponents of marriage equality claimed the school was indoctrinating students under the name of diversity and tolerance; opponents denounced advocates for same-sex marriage as undermining parental notification and encouraging homosexuality in public schools.1 Although Gorham's principal did apologize for the direction in which this particular discussion went, he has been a steadfast defender of Diversity Day.

Gorham Middle School's annual "Diversity Day" brings speakers and facilitators from outside organizations to speak to students. Controversy arose when Proud Rainbow Youth of Southern Maine made three presentations to eighth grade students about tolerance, gender diversity, and the effects of discrimination.2 The lesson included topics such as cliques, autism, and experiences of gay, lesbian, and transgender teens.3 After students asked questions about same-sex couples and sexual activities, at least one teacher immediately informed school administrators, and soon thereafter the principal issued an apology letter to parents. 4

Project Marriage Maine, an opposition group which has denounced marriage equality, led the attacks on Gorham Middle School, arguing that more Diversity Day disasters would result as the consequence of legalizing same-sex marriage. Bob Emrich, the group's co-chairman, argued "If there was any doubt that gay marriage would be taught to young children in Maine schools just as it is in Massachusetts and Canada, that doubt should be removed now. If they are willing to teach our kids how homosexuals engage in foreplay, do you really think they won't force gay marriage instruction of young children when it is the law of the land?"5

Despite pressure and opposition, the spokesperson for the Maine Department of Education, David Connerty-Martin, responded to Project Marriage Maine stating that content taught in Maine schools, including Diversity Day, has nothing to do with the state's ultimately victorious marriage equality referendum in the 2012 election (54 percent voted to approve marriage licenses for same-sex couples). David Farmer, communications director for Mainers United for Marriage, expressed support for marriage equality and criticized the opposition for using the Gorham Middle School's Diversity Day as a red herring: "They are pushing this story out at the last minute in desperation. [These are] more lies from the campaign that is trying to deny loving, committed couples in Maine".6

As for the school, the fallout has resulted in a new caution about broaching sexuality topics in the context of Diversity Day: the administration is now considering requiring permission slips for certain discussions and in the future will request more information about the details of presentations by guest speakers.7

1 Leslie Bridgers, "Gorham Incident Used against Maine Same-Sex Marriage Effort", Kennebec Journal online, 5 November 2012, accessed 5 December 2012, <http://www.kjonline.com/incident-used-against-same-sex-marriage_2012-11-06.html>.

2 Chris Rose, "Gorham School Officials Apologize for Diversity Day Discussion", WCSH6.com, 2 November 2012, accessed 5 December 2012, <http://www.wcsh6.com/news/article/220725/2/Gorham-school-officials-apologize-for-Diversity-Day-discussion>.

3 Ibid.

4 Bridgers, "Gorham Incident…"

5 Todd Starnes, "School Children Taught about Gay Foreplay, Saran Wrap", Fox News Radio, 8 November 2012, accessed 11 December 2012, <http://radio.foxnews.com/toddstarnes/top-stories/school-children-taught-about-gay-foreplay.html>.

6 Bridgers, "Gorham Incident…"

7 Bridgers, "Gorham Incident…"

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