A Monday morning session to teach some San Diego Unified School District staffers how to help students with the curiosity, depression and fear that can surround homosexuality drew a crowd outside of about 25 people--many of whom protested what was being talked about inside.
Much of the criticism was also leveled against the speaker at the daylong seminar, Virginia Uribe, a lesbian who founded Project 10, a precedent-setting counseling program for homosexual students at a Los Angeles high school.
School officials said they thought many of the protesters mistakenly believed that the meeting was about implementing Project 10.
"They're overreacting to a staff meeting," said Edward Fletcher, director of the schools' Health Services Department.
In fact, school officials say there are no plans to adopt Project 10, but that the school staff still needs to know how to deal with the issue of homosexuality. This included training in how to detect when gay students are being harassed by others and how to provide a classroom atmosphere in which these students could feel more comfortable.
Uribe, who travels around conducting workshops, said a school staff informed about homosexuality can help gay students deal with the harassment and other problems they might face.
"We're trying to educate and get rid of some of the myths and get to a little better comfort level," Uribe said. "We're trying to demystify the whole subject of homosexuality."
For example, one of the things Uribe said she talked about was setting up a code of behavior in which students are forbidden to use derogatory names for a homosexual in the classroom or tell AIDS-related jokes.
But many of the protesters who gathered outside the Health Services Department offices in the 2700 block of Marcy Avenue said that Uribe doesn't teach about homosexuality, she advocates it.
"This is a promotion of a lifestyle that is opposed to family and opposed to society," said Mike Voytek, a first-grader's father who took a vacation day from work to be there. "One of her goals is for the promotion of homosexuality within the schools."
Uribe was paid $200 to present the session, which ran from 8:30 a.m. until 3:30 p.m., officials said.
About 40 people, including teachers, counselors and school nurses, attended. It was one of the many different educational seminars they say they will be required to attend throughout the school year.
These intensive-training seminars are aimed at keeping teachers in the social concerns program up to date on the issues facing teen-agers today.
Social concerns' counselors teach classes to students from middle school through high school on everything from drug abuse to sex education, said Earle Krepelin, education coordinator for the program.
Some of the social concerns counselors said homosexuality is always a big topic of conversation when cards are passed around a class so that students can ask anonymous questions.
"It's always coming up, why people are homosexual," said Mike McCarthy, who works in the schools' social concerns program.
But one young mother, with her 4-year-old son, stood outside a chain-link fence holding a sign that read: "What's Going On in There?"
"I believe in young people who are very impressionable, and to be putting ideas into their head that they can't process is wrong, I don't care what it would be," said Michaelene Jenkins, whose son starts school next year.
The protesters were not allowed into the session but Fletcher met with them outside.
"We want to be able to work effectively with these kids," he said.
Supporters of Uribe and her program carried signs that read: "Help Keep Gay Youth in School" and "Parents Support Project 10."
One parent, a lesbian with a preschool-age child, said the school system has to learn to deal with gay students because then it can prevent many of them from dropping out.
"Research tells us people become aware of their sexual orientation early in life," said Rita Marinoble, who is also a part-time counselor. "The school system ignores that group of youngsters. We pretend that group isn't there."
But one of the protesters, who said she used to be a lesbian, wanted equal time with the school staff to tell them about what she called the dangers of encouraging students to deal with their homosexual feelings.
"I think it's destructive to tell an 11-year-old kid to act on her homosexual feelings because in a few years she could be an AIDS patient," said Larysa Shmorhay of San Diego.
Krepelin said some protesters have called the district about presenting their views at the next educational seminar, scheduled for sometime in February.