Congress' Lesson on Values: There's No Middle Ground

TIMES STAFF WRITER

An Oregon mother, her voice filled with emotion, told a congressional panel Wednesday how her son was so anguished over society's intolerance toward gays like himself that he killed himself by leaping off a freeway overpass and into the path of an 18-wheel truck.

"Bobby needed an education free of the nagging fear that his difference would be discovered," Mary Griffith testified. "He needed to be respected and valued by his family and his community."

Seated next to her was a Minnesota father who spoke with equal passion about his fear that schools, in teaching non-discrimination, are promoting homosexuality and destroying the moral values he has tried to instill in his children.

"I would like to be left alone," Warren Grantham told the oversight and investigations subcommittee of the House Economic and Educational Opportunities Committee. "I would like to have a place to send my kids for education. . . . When they come home and have been indoctrinated with a myriad of things that are contrary to my religious views, I get angry."

Their views were expressed on the second day of congressional hearings intended to explore the teaching of values in public schools and whether parents can control information about sex education, condoms and AIDS that reaches their children.

It was a debate without compromise--a point not lost on committee members, many of whom are inclined to leave the issue in the hands of local communities. Republicans in particular have been under pressure from some religious conservatives to address what they see as the promotion of a "homosexual agenda" in public schools.

While Republicans on the panel had predicted that the hearings would not lead to major reforms, panel Chairman Peter Hoekstra (R-Mich.) said that there would be a review of how federal funds are spent on sex education and HIV/AIDS awareness programs.

Questions over how federal dollars are spent on these programs were raised by Claire Connelly, president of the Gay & Lesbian Resource Center in Ventura County, who broke ranks with gay rights groups after publicly criticizing the federal grant process.

Connelly said during Wednesday's hearing that the federal funds--about $3 billion annually--are "used for salaries and expense accounts for gay activists and lobbyists to infiltrate the public schools to espouse promiscuity and homosexuality, to establish meeting places for gay and bisexual men to have sexual trysts."

She also claimed that clinics receiving Ryan White Act funds, intended to provide medical aid in areas with high numbers of AIDS cases, have turned away needy clients because of mismanagement.

"That shouldn't happen," replied Rep. Steve Gunderson (R-Wis.), who is gay. He pressed Connelly to send the committee proof of her charges.

After the hearing, David M. Smith, a spokesman for the Human Rights Campaign, a national gay lobby group, called Connelly's testimony "a complete distortion of the facts" and said that the Ryan White Act funding is closely monitored. The act, signed by President George Bush in 1990, was named for an Indiana boy who died of AIDS.

But Rep. Dave Weldon (R-Fla.) told reporters that greater scrutiny of federal spending is warranted at a time when Congress is trying to reduce the federal budget deficit.

Gunderson and Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-Petaluma)--members of the full committee but not the oversight panel--drew on personal experiences to lecture on the need for tolerant attitudes toward gays.

Gunderson told the standing-room-only audience that he would be delivering a eulogy for a friend who died of AIDS, and Woolsey spoke of her gay son and of the need for students to learn to respect each other.

When one witness complained that he had been "publicly labeled" for his anti-gay views, Woolsey retorted: "You said you hated being called 'homophobic.' Imagine what these kids feel like when somebody calls them a name."

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