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Gay Activists Downplay Senate School Bill

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Gay rights lobbyists are downplaying the impact of this week’s U.S. Senate vote threatening programs for gay public school students, saying they are confident the proposal will die before final approval.

In an amendment to an education funding bill, the Senate voted 63 to 36 Monday to cut off federal money to any school district that teaches that homosexuality is “a positive lifestyle alternative” through classwork, textbooks or counseling.

Given its many gay-friendly projects--including Project 10, a nationally known counseling program for gay high school students--the Los Angeles Unified School District would be a key target of the ban.

But representatives of gay rights groups said they were heartened by Senate votes on a rival amendment and expected the anti-gay language, proposed by Republican Sens. Jesse Helms of North Carolina and Robert C. Smith of New Hampshire, to be eliminated in a Senate-House conference committee that will study the legislation after the August recess.

“We’re in a very strong position for it to be taken out in conference and we are confident that will happen,” said Doug Hattaway of the Human Rights Campaign Fund, a national gay rights group.

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Even if the Helms ban is enacted, Los Angeles school board member Jeff Horton predicted it would not be enforced.

“I can’t imagine the federal government just cutting off money to Los Angeles--no matter what we did,” said Horton, who is openly gay. “My position would be, screw ‘em. We’re going to continue to meet the needs of all students and take what comes.”

School board President Mark Slavkin said he would recommend that the board aggressively oppose the ban, and if it does become law, fight it legally and politically.

“I feel, and I think most of the board--if not all--feel we have an obligation to provide a supportive atmosphere for all students,” Slavkin said.

The Senate’s approval of the Helms proposal stirred considerable concern in gay circles. “Our phones are going crazy,” said David Smith of the Washington-based National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. “People across the country are outraged.”

He characterized the measure as one of a series of anti-gay proposals that Helms has recently attempted to attach to various appropriations bills. In this case, it took the form of an amendment to a $12.5-billion reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which provides funding to virtually all of the nation’s public schools.

California’s two Democratic senators, Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, voted against the amendment.

A few hours after passing the Helms amendment, the Senate went on to unanimously approve another--offered by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.)--that prohibits direct use of federal school funds to promote or encourage sexual activity of any kind.

In view of the overwhelming support for the Kennedy amendment, Hattaway predicted that it will probably replace the Helms language in the final legislation.


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