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Published: Tuesday, 5/11/2004

Students get up-close look at gay debate

For the last five years, Anthony Wayne High social studies teachers sponsored a symposium for honors students.

Yesterday, 100-plus kids gathered to learn more about this year's topic: gay rights. Teacher Randy Musgrove called it an "issue that just wasn't going away."

Gay rights is a political issue. It's a legal issue. It's a religious issue, causing painful divisions in many denominations. Heck, Mr. Musgrove noted, there's even a growing number of gay TV characters.

But the fact that the teacher felt obliged to thank the administration for "the courage to allow us to talk about this topic" speaks volumes about homosexuality's inability to duck from society's cross-hairs.

So they came, 10 individuals or representatives of organizations on either side of the issue.

As you might expect from people who say "homosexual agenda" without irony, there was the requisite lobbing of Leviticus. And, as you might expect from gay-friendly or gay advocates, Scripture was sometimes tossed back like a live grenade.

Bruce Snyder, assistant pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church, "cannot condone what God condemns." But University of Toledo law instructor Rob Salem pointed out how the Bible also "condemns growing beards, growing two crops in the same field, and wearing garments with two different fabrics."

Greg Quinlan, who describes himself as "ex-gay" and calls homosexuality a personality disorder, would urge gays to seek life-changing counseling.

But GOP congressional candidate and Lucas County auditor Larry Kaczala doesn't buy the "family values" argument against gay rights.

"If that's true," he said, "they ought to turn off the Internet, because that's destroyed more marriages than the gay couple down the street."

Not until the sixth speaker did anyone ask the audience about itself, as in: How many of you personally know someone who's gay, bi, or transgendered? I thought about a third of the kids raised their hands; other school staffers estimated 50 percent.

Either way, it's testimony to how gays and lesbians live more openly - although not without discrimination.

Sophomore Amanda Hoehn: "There's so much stereotyping, and so many misconceptions out there. There are negative views that may be there because [people] are uneducated."

She was flanked by fellow sophomores Austen Tanner and Katie Archer, who nodded agreement. All say they know someone who's gay, and each calls high school a tough environment for anyone not straight.

Perhaps remarkably, the students didn't engage in a group titter until the last speaker.

When a Baptist preacher heartily endorsed married heterosexuality, it was the first time all morning you could hear the kids, as a group, begin to giggle nervously.

"I want to say this to you young people," boomed Pastor Russ Merrin of the Monclova Road Baptist Church. "I like sex. I love it! It is one of the most exciting things in my marriage!"

A part of me thought, "Well, how nice to hear a conservative Christian cheerlead for sex."

But then another part of me thought, "Euew. Careful! Can't you see you're scaring the kids?"



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