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Attack on Gay Student Counseling Draws Fire : Education: A defeated school board member calls the proposal a 'project of depravity and filth' and 'a recruiting ground for homosexuals.' The board's president calls the comments 'ugly, negative, nasty approach to policy-making.'

May 20, 1990|ROXANA KOPETMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

LONG BEACH — School board member Jerry Shultz recently labeled a proposed high school counseling program for gay teen-agers a "project of depravity and filth," offending gay leaders and other board members who called his remarks "outrageous, inflammatory and irresponsible."

Despite the backlash, the outgoing school board member stood by his remarks and, in an interview last week, called the proposed program "a recruiting ground for homosexuals."

The Long Beach Lambda Democratic Club, a prominent gay-oriented political group, plans to ask the school board to create the counseling program for gay teen-agers in the high schools. Lambda leaders hope to complete the proposal by next fall.

"You know, I'm not a religious fanatic," Shultz said. "I'm just an average parent who thinks this is nonsense."

The controversy began earlier this month, when gay leaders learned of a newsletter Shultz had mailed to 1,200 homes of members of the North Long Beach Neighborhood Assn., De Forest chapter. Shultz is president of the chapter.

In the April 19 newsletter, Shultz chastised voters for the low turnout on April 10, when he lost his post to challenger Mary Stanton. She will take Shultz's seat on the

board July 16. Saying there is majority support on the board for the gay counseling, Shultz wrote: "We can thank those who chose to remain silent for this soon-to-come project of depravity and filth in our schools."

Shultz's criticism is the first public opposition to a concept proposed last fall by Lambda, which hopes to pattern its proposal after the controversial Project 10 at Fairfax High School in Los Angeles.

While details have not yet been ironed out for the local program, its goals are similar to those of Project 10: to reduce drug use, suicide and dropout rates among gay adolescents by offering support, counseling and gay-oriented literature.

David Newell, Lambda's immediate past president, who is heading local efforts for a Project 10 here, said: "To portray it as depravity and filth instead of as trying to help kids stay in school and deal with whatever problems they have . . . just makes me angry. It's irresponsible."

Reaction from Shultz's colleagues on the Long Beach Unified School District board was unanimous.

"The newsletter is inflammatory and outrageous and totally uncalled for," board President Jenny Oropeza said. "It's an ugly, negative, nasty approach to policy-making. It is the worst in politics."

Board member Bobbie Smith agreed, saying: "I'm appalled that he would do something like that."

"I'm terribly disappointed," board member Harriet Williams said.

Member Karin Polacheck noted that the program "hasn't even been discussed" and called Shultz's response "rather inflammatory."

Stanton, who will take Shultz's seat in July, said she is upset by the newsletter: "He's so wrong. It's just not right to say things like that."

Most board members declined to say whether they will support the program, expressing the same caution they showed last fall, when Lambda first announced its plan.

Polacheck, Smith and Williams emphasized that they have not seen any proposal and would not commit themselves to the project without first seeing a written plan. Oropeza and the future board member, Stanton, said they like the Lambda idea and would support a program similar to the one in Los Angeles.

At Fairfax High, a classroom has been set aside for students who want to talk with someone about their feelings, their sexuality, acquired immune deficiency syndrome and how to cope with the taunts of classmates, said Virginia Uribe, a teacher who started Project 10 about six years ago. Posters listing a phone number that gay students can call for counseling have been posted in high schools throughout the Los Angeles Unified School District.

The Fairfax High program started without much public attention. But two years ago, it became controversial when it was attacked by the Roman Catholic church, a group of Republican legislators and conservatives.

In the Long Beach district, Newell said, his group may propose a program that involves all five high schools. Instead of asking the school board to set up a counseling center at one site, proponents are considering forgoing the center itself and asking that teachers and counselors at all the schools be trained to deal with gay teen-agers, he said.

Eventually, that same training can be expanded to the middle schools, Newell said.

But Shultz said the program would attract youngsters who are unsure of their sexuality and convince them that they are gay.

"That's an absurd comment. It is not possible to influence sexual orientation," Uribe said.

Shultz also objects to some of the literature the students are given, some of which, he said, graphically describes gay acts and advises students to keep their homosexuality secret from their parents.

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