I testified at a Washington State Senate Committee on Education hearing on 2/11/97. Here is the bill it was about, and then my testimony. After that there is an article by Lucy Craig from the Cooper Point Journal, the newspaper from The Evergreen State College, here in Olympia.

Oh, and by the way, SB5167 died in committee on 3/5/97. The article in the CPJ went to press just before that...



SENATE BILL 5167

State of Washington / 55th Legislature / 1997 Regular Session

By Senators Stevens, Zarelli, Hochstatter and Schow

Read first time 01/17/97. Referred to Committee on Education.

AN ACT Relating to prohibiting schools from presenting homosexuality as positive, normal behavior; adding a new section to chapter 28A.150 RCW; creating a new section; and declaring an emergency.

BE IT ENACTED BY THE LEGISLATURE OF THE STATE OF WASHINGTON:

{+ NEW SECTION. +} Sec. 1. A new section is added to chapter 28A.150 RCW to read as follows:

The legislature finds that the duty of all teachers to endeavor to impress on the minds of their pupils the principles of morality and truth and to teach them to avoid profanity and falsehood, as required in RCW 28A.405.030, is an indispensable prerequisite for providing a sound education and for maintaining a virtuous and ethical society.

The legislature further finds that there is a legitimate and compelling state interest in ensuring the sincerely held values and beliefs of most parents regarding homosexuality, bisexuality, transsexuality, or transvestism are not denigrated or denied by the public schools and that homosexuality, bisexuality, transsexuality, or transvestism are not presented, promoted, or approved as positive, normal behavior.

A school, through an employee, volunteer, guest, or other instrumentality, may not present, promote, or approve homosexuality, bisexuality, transsexuality, or transvestism, and any such conduct, act, practice, or relationship, as positive, normal behavior, as acceptable, legitimate conduct, or as a natural, alternative lifestyle.

As used in this section, "school" means a common school of the state of Washington.

{+ NEW SECTION. +} Sec. 2. The provisions of this act are to be liberally construed to effectuate the policies and purposes of this act. In the event of conflict between this act and any other provision of law, the provisions of this act shall govern.

{+ NEW SECTION. +} Sec. 3. If any provision of this act or its application to any person or circumstance is held invalid, the remainder of the act or the application of the provision to other persons or circumstances is not affected.

{+ NEW SECTION. +} Sec. 4. This act is necessary for the immediate preservation of the public peace, health, morals, or safety, or the support of the state government and its existing public institutions, and shall take effect immediately.

--- END ---


I was shaky and emotional, but otherwise I think I did pretty well. I expected to have 3-5 minutes to speak, and spent much of yesterday working on what I wanted to say. Catherine was a HUGE help with this -- I want her to get credit for that somewhere, because some of the best words here are from her. And Alec proofread at least two drafts.

When it started, we found out that we would only be given 2 minutes each, because they were running late, and because there were a lot of people there who wanted to speak on both sides. The paragraphs that start with * are the ones I had to cut for my spoken testimony to fit the time limitations.

My name is Gabi Clayton. I live here in Olympia, and I am a certified mental health counselor. I am also involved with the Safe Schools Coalition, and I'm a member of PFLAG - Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays. Today I am mostly here to speak as a parent. I am the mother of two sons.

In 1992 my younger son Bill came out to us, his family, as bisexual. He was 14 years old. We all assured him that we loved him and supported him. His sexual orientation was one part of a whole and quite wonderful person. It was no less a part of him than his wacky, impish sense of humor.

On April 6, 1995, when he was 17, Bill and his best friend Sam (who is straight) were viciously assaulted by four teenaged boys on the grounds of Olympia High School during Spring Break. It was a hate crime - the attackers yelled "Hey, are you gay? Do you want to fight?" My son and his friend did not want to fight, and they tried to walk away. Those boys told them "We don't tolerate fags here", and then surrounded them and beat them both until they lost consciousness.

Just over a month later, on May 8, 1995, Bill committed suicide.

* After his death, we found a page in one of Bill's notebooks where he had drawn the gay symbol, a pink triangle. Across it he had written, "This is not my choice. This is not forced upon me. This just is."

We have many gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered kids in our schools, and they are afraid. Every day, they face verbal and physical harassment as it has been documented in the Safe Schools Coalition's Anti-Violence Documentation Project report. The results of living with that fear are also documented there. Kids who are not "straight" miss more school, and sometimes drop out, because of fear. They are more likely to engage in heavy or high risk drug use. And they are three times more likely to have attempted suicide.

* Bill Clayton came from a family that loved him and supported him, but our love and support was not enough. He was at the age when it was coming time for him to leave home and make own his way in the world. After that assault the only place he felt safe was at home. He saw a world filled with hate. He lost hope, and he chose to end his life.

* This bill, which we are here about today, talks about the importance of maintaining a society that is virtuous and ethical. I do not understand what is virtuous or ethical about silencing the positive about gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people. I don't believe that we, as a society can afford that - because silence is where the hate grows that killed my son.

I do not want to believe that this bill was written by people who condone or would promote what happened to my son. But if you mandate silence in the schools by passing this, then you are giving ammunition to those who harass and take violent action. At the same time you will be taking away the best defense - that of being able to say that many gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered persons lead positive, healthy and productive lives that benefit not only themselves, but our society as a whole. You will be doing a great disservice to us all.

* If this bill passes, then the next time a kid is beaten or harassed, who will they be able to turn to at their school? You will be leaving kids who are (or are perceived to be) gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered with no safety, no protection. No support.

If you mandate silence with this bill, I believe we will have more kids left defenseless against the onslaught of prejudice. More kids skipping school or dropping out, more heavy or high risk drug use, and more dead kids.

Please reject Senate Bill 5167.


Cooper Point Journal - The Evergreen State College
Olympia, Washington
March 6, 1997

A mom finds words to fight anti-gay bill
by Lucy Craig --- Staff Writer

Fag.
Queer.
Homo.

They are powerful words, they are knives, and they are thrown around in our schools like basketballs and paper airplanes.

For gay, lesbian, and bisexual students, these words can make school a very uninviting place, and a poor atmosphere for learning.

One in five gay, lesbian, and bisexual students feel unsafe or afraid at school, reported a survey of Seattle public school students in the Safe Schools Anti-Violence Project. The Safe Schools Coalition is a state-wide partnership of organizations and individuals. Their common goal is to make Washington state schools safe and supportive places for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender youth, parents, and teachers.

Their report also found that one-third of gay and lesbian youth were the targets of name calling, slurs, and verbal harassment. And for every gay student, four straight students were targets.

However, gay students were five times as likely as their straight peers to be victims of anti-gay violence. Students like Bill Clayton, who was a junior when he and a friend were beaten unconscious on the grounds of Olympia High School. With the kicks and punches, came the shouts of "fag."

"The term faggot is one of the most often leveled charges hurled about in our schools," said Anna Schlecht, a member of the Thurston County Chapter of the Safe Schools Coalition.

But a supportive school environment for kids like Bill may be harder for Safe Schools to achieve now.

A bill (Senate Bill 5167) was introduced in the legislature this session that would prohibit school teachers, volunteers, or visiting speakers from presenting homosexuality as normal or positive behavior. Senator Val Stevens, the bill's prime sponsor, said that parents should teach their children about homosexuality according to their own beliefs and principles, not Washington's schools.

Bill's mom doesn't think so. Gabi Clayton is a member of Safe Schools and is a strong opponent of the bill.

"It scares the hell out of me. Just because I know that's one more thing that kids would have to deal with, and the staff would have to deal with, that makes it feel like [school's] not a safe place to be."

She disagrees with Sen. Stevens, and many of the bill's supporters, who say that positive discussion of homosexuality does not belong in the schools.

"School is a huge part of kids' lives," said Gabi. "All kids need to feel like they're accepted and belong in their school."

The bill tells gay and lesbian kids that they don't belong there, said Gabi. "At that age, in particular, it's really important to feel like you can fit in."

Gabi was recently asked if she would testify against Senate Bill 5167 by Hands Off Washington, an organization that works to secure and protect rights being denied to individuals because of their actual or perceived sexual orientation.

Although Gabi was active politically, her work had not required her to be under a spotlight, speaking to senators and a room full of some hostile people. It was an intimidating thought. But in this case, Gabi saw how she could make a special difference.

Although Gabi would testify on behalf of Safe Schools and Parents, Family, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, her message would come from a different place. She would speak not just as a citizen or representative, but as Bill's mom.

"I brought Bill's picture," said Gabi, from her home in Olympia. "The one on the wall over there."

From the dining room wall, Bill, in his junior year picture, almost manages a smile.

For Gabi, and for many others, testifying on a bill can be an intimidating experience. At the state Capitol's hearing rooms, well-groomed lobbyists bustle about in proper suits and shiny shoes. A cell phone will ring and somewhere a pager will buzz. Some of the lobbyists gather in numbers, and the individual can feel quite small and out-of-place. Still, with their own hopes, citizens will come.

On Feb. 11, people gathered outside of Senate Hearing Room 1 and signed their name to the official attendance roster. On these sheets, they indicated whether they were for or against Senate Bill 5167. Next to their name is a box to indicate what organization they are representing. While many people who come on their own behalf write "self," today, many people have chosen to write "mom," "grandmother," and "parent."

All of these relatives came to support the bill.

As the bill's prime sponsor, Sen. Stevens spoke first. A guest column that she wrote for the Seattle Times mirrored her testimony. Educators do not have enough resources to teach subjects like math and history and should not have to take on the responsibility of teaching about sexual attitudes, wrote Stevens.

She also prepared herself for attacks.

"Opponents to this measure call it discriminatory and restrictive. Nothing in this bill condones the harassment of homosexual students, teachers, or employees. Nor does it restrict these people from engaging in their chosen lifestyle.

"This bill merely states that schools will not present this lifestyle as part of their regular public school curriculum. The idea is completely consistent with my core belief in an individual's right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."

The hearing was running late. Many people wanted to speak, so testimony would be limited to two minutes. They would have to make some changes to their testimony. Senate Education Committee Chairman Harold Hochstatter placed an egg timer in front of himself. Testimony would be limited to two trips of sand through the hourglass.

Ron Taber, who lost the election for Superintendent of Public Instruction in 1996, said, "The gay and lesbian agenda in Washington schools is to make children believe that the sodomite lifestyle is normal. This is being achieved under the guise of equal rights and fairness, better education and constitutional rights."

Testimony for controversial issues like gay rights and abortion rights often elicit a great deal of emotion. This was one of those hearings.

Theresa Joy, a citizen, also spoke in support of the bill. Joy said that she did not want schools to teach that homosexuality is acceptable or normal.

"This smacks of Adolf Hitler, who said, 'Forget the parents. We can't change them. Give me the school children and in thirty years, I'll control the world.' And he tried to," said Joy.

Anna Schlecht, who testified against the bill, offered testimony that contrasted with Joy's comments. Speaking as representative of Safe Schools' Thurston County chapter, Schlecht said, "This is not a matter of promoting homosexuality. It's a matter of recognizing and accepting diversity.

Schlecht had been called to speak before Gabi. However, she asked that Gabi Clayton be allowed to speak first. It was now Gabi's turn to leave the anonymity of the chairs and sit before the committee. It was time to tell her story.

"My name is Gabi Clayton. I live here in Olympia, and I am a certified mental health counselor. I am also involved with the Safe Schools Coalition, and I'm a member of PFLAG - Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays. Today, I am mostly here to speak as a parent. I am the mother of two sons.

"In 1992, my younger son, Bill, came out to us, his family, as a bisexual. He was 14 years old. We all assured him that we loved him and supported him. His sexual orientation was one part of a whole and quite wonderful person. It was no less a part of him than his wacky, impish sense of humor.

"This is Bill."

In her hands, the picture rises, and Bill looks at the six senators who will decide the fate of values, schools, and gay, lesbian, and bisexual teens. He looks at them, but cannot smile. Gabi's voice returns.

"On Apr. 6, 1995, when he was 17, Bill and his best friend, Sam - who is straight - were viciously assaulted by four teenage boys on the grounds of Olympia High School during spring break. It was a hate crime. The attackers yelled, 'Hey. are you gay? Do you want to fight?'

"My son and his friends did not want to fight, and they tried to walk away. Those boys told them, 'We don't tolerate fags here,' and they surrounded them and beat them both into unconsciousness.

"Just over a month later, On May 8, 1995, my son Bill committed suicide."

By now, the picture lay flat and Bill gazed upward.

Back at her home, in the computer room that has become a full-time workshop for her, Gabi reflects on her testimony.

She remembers the call from Hands Off Washington that began the development of her testimony, "I said. "yes" and then sort of panicked when I hung up the phone. I thought, 'Oh my God,' what have I gotten myself into? I spent a lot of time thinking and spent almost all of it on the computer."

Bill, she said, taught her a lot about computers and helped her get over her initial first-time user fear of them.

Her testimony was completed with the aid of her husband Alec and tremendous support from their house mate Catherine. With their help, Gabi was able to transform the story of mother and son into its best form.

Gabi concluded her testimony with these remarks:

"I do not want to believe that this bill was written by people who would condone or promote what happened to my son. But if you mandate silence in the schools by passing this, then you are giving ammunition to those who would harass and take violent action.

"At the same time you will be taking away the best defense - that of being able to say that many gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered persons lead positive, healthy, and productive lives that benefit not only themselves, but our society as a whole.

"You will be doing a great disservice to us all."

Now, Gabi is back to working on her website, which she started as a memorial to Bill. What began as a small page honoring her youngest son has grown into an award winning site that includes links to a variety of gay-friendly organizations and links to some of Gabi's own work, including the very first link, the one to Bill's story.

Bill's story continues to receive a lot of responses and Gabi tries to respond to all who write to her. Many of these letters can be viewed on the site, and many include stories of their own.

Many of these people have never told anyone about their own stories of fear, violence, and prejudice before, she said. But, like Gabi's public testimony, they are taking a first, new step into something greater.

Due to time constraints, Gabi could not read the following piece of testimony. But it speaks to many people, for many people, in many ways.

"This bill, which we are here about today, talks about the importance of maintaining a society, that is virtuous and ethical. I do not understand what is virtuous and ethical about silencing the positive about gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered people. I don't believe that we, as a society can afford that - because silence is where the hate grows that killed my son."

1997 by Gabi Clayton

 


Some March 1997 letters to the editor regarding Senate Bill 5167 in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer are posted here:  http://www.youth.org/loco/PERSONProject/Alerts/States/Washington/letters.html


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