Thursday, October 27, 2005

Disclosure

For those who care about these things, the Commonwealth of Virginia has won praise by a nationwide group that monitors campaign contribution disclosure laws and practices.

According to a report by the Campaign Disclosure Project (described as a joint effort of the California Voter Foundation, the Center for Governmental Studies and the UCLA School of Law, with financial support from The Pew Charitable Trusts),

States across the country provided better access to candidates’ campaign disclosure records in 2005 and particularly improved the usability of their official disclosure web sites, according to Grading State Disclosure 2005, a comprehensive, comparative study of candidate campaign finance disclosure laws and practices in the 50 states. Grading State Disclosure 2005 follows two prior annual reports, and is online at: www.campaigndisclosure.org
Virginia was singled out in a news release from the project, in addition to being ranked in the top ten:
Of the 34 passing states, eleven received grades in the A or B range, up from eight in 2004 and only two in 2003. Washington received the highest grade (A-) and rank, Florida ranked second with a B+, and California came in third, also with a B+. Overall, the study found that 13 states’ grades improved, while seven declined. Among the study's significant findings:

-- States with the best overall campaign disclosure programs, in rank order from one to ten, are: Washington (A-); Florida (B+); California (B+); Hawaii (B); Georgia and Illinois (B, tied for 5th); Virginia (B); Michigan and Texas (B-, tied for 8th); Rhode Island (B-); and Ohio (B-).

-- States with the weakest overall campaign disclosure programs, all receiving Fs and in rank order from 40 to 50, are: Delaware, Nevada and New Mexico (tied for 40th); North Dakota; Vermont; New Hampshire; Montana; Alabama; South Dakota; South Carolina; and Wyoming.

-- Virginia was the most-improved state, climbing from a D+ to a B and from 22nd to 7th place, followed by Iowa, which moved from 38th to 31st place, and Hawaii, which improved from 12th to 4th.
In the report's section on Virginia, it explains:
Virginia’s disclosure law is strong and ranks 8th in the nation. Candidates are required to disclose detailed information, including occupation and employer, about contributors giving over $100. Contributions made just before Election Day are reported before the election. Expenditure disclosure is excellent and candidates must report vendor name, subvendor details, and accrued expenses. Disclosure of independent expenditures is required, but last-minute independent expenditures are not reported until after the election. The state’s enforcement provisions could be improved, particularly in the area of auditing. Electronic filing is mandatory for statewide office candidates and voluntary for legislative candidates, though the Board of Elections estimates that 85 percent of legislative candidates participate in the program.

The State Board of Elections web site now features a comprehensive, searchable database of itemized contributions and expenditures, which is the reason for the huge jump in Virginia’s Disclosure Content Accessibility grade from an F to a B. The new system greatly improves access to campaign records, but is a bit cumbersome—for example, to view the names of all individuals making contributions in 2005 from a particular zip code requires looking at 18 different search results screens (three screens each for six different committees). To improve further in this area, the agency could add the ability to search by a contributor’s employer (data which is already included in the search results), and consolidate the search results screens.
Before I became aware of the Campaign Disclosure Project's report, just last night at the fundraiser for House of Delegates candidate Tom McCrystal, I had a conversation with Charlottesville Republican Chairman Bob Hodous in which we both agreed that Virginia's campaign finance laws should be a model for the rest of the country, and for federal law, as well: No contribution limits, no limits on who may give to candidates, but full disclosure readily available for any interested party to examine. As long as everything is done in the open, the possibility of corruption, real or alleged or imagined, is minimized.

What a wonderful alternative to the First Amendment-emasculating McCain-Feingold Act!

Political Medley

Last night I had an opportunity to speak with three current members and one potential member of the Virginia General Assembly.

Delegates Rob Bell (R-58), Bill Janis (R-56), and Ed Scott (R-30) were all on hand to cheer on the efforts of Tom McCrystal in his campaign to succeed retiring Delegate Mitch Van Yahres (D-57). McCrystal faces token opposition from former Charlottesville City Council member David Toscano. (What Toscano has in the form of a campaign treasury, McCrystal has in grit and determination -- or, as one Democratic voter told him as he was walking through a hard-scrabble Charlottesville neighborhood, "Man, you've got balls!")

The occasion was a Virginia's Future - McCrystal 2005 fundraiser at Fellini's, a long-shuttered but legendary downtown Charlottesville restaurant that has recently been resurrected by new management. Judging from the size of the crowd, which included former Fifth Congressional District GOP chair Randolph Byrd, 57th District co-chair Patricia Earle, and current Charlottesville GOP unit chair Bob Hodous, among other activists and FOTs ("Friends of Tom"), the event raised several thousand dollars for the McCrystal campaign. The money will likely be used for direct-mail outreach to voters in the last few days of the campaign, which ends November 8, the day Virginia voters go to the polls.

In remarks to the crowd, Bell said that Republicans in the area had been looking for a long time for a good candidate to run in the 57th District. He said that the choice of McCrystal was particularly good, because Tom knows the district and he is a particularly apt fit, in terms of temperament and his views on key issues, to his constituency.

For his part, McCrystal emphasized how he sees his role as a member of the House of Delegates as a representative of the people who will elect him. Taking a shot at his opponent's recent press conference announcing ambitious environmental initiatives, McCrystal said that "David Toscano wants to save the world; I want to take care of the problems at the Ivy landfill."

Referring to his experience on a General Assembly advisory panel on information technology issues, McCrystal said that the three Delegates present last night -- Bell, Janis, and Scott -- had been mentors for him and he knew that, because of their help and his experience in Richmond, he would be able "to hit the ground running" when he arrives at the state Capitol in January.

On that particular issue, McCrystal said that he would work on privacy issues, with special attention to the way new technologies threaten people's privacy through identity theft and other forms of fraud. "Twenty years ago," he said, "an invasion of privacy might have been a neighborhood kid looking in your mailbox to see what your electric bill says. Now it's some kid in Romania who hacks into your bank account and steals your savings." He told the crowd of supporters that he would bring his long experience as a computer consultant to bear in working with other members of the General Assembly to promote policies that will protect personal privacy. "As a member of the minority party in Richmond," he said, "my opponent will not have the connections and cooperation he needs to be effective for his constituents in Charlottesville and Albemarle County. I will."

In conversations with the sitting legislators, I was able to discuss some issues close to my heart. Bill Janis thanked me for my blog posting on the Virginia Piglet Book, and we talked about the culture of spending in Richmond and Washington. I said I was disappointed that the mainstream media, besides Bob Gibson in the Daily Progress, had largely ignored the release of the Piglet Book, but he noted that the story was covered extensively on local Richmond TV news programs, and that his wife dragged him out of bed so he could watch himself on the 11:00 o'clock news.

Prompted by a question from local GOP activist Joe Bishop, Ed Scott predicted that one of the first acts of the General Assembly next year will be to pass legislation to make it illegal for local or state governments to use eminent domain authority to transfer private property from one private owner to another, under the pretext of indirect public benefit rather than the clear constitutional requirement of public use. This would be the General Assembly's proper reaction to the Supreme Court's shameful decision in Kelo v. City of New London. (I also congratulated Delegate Scott for winning his primary election -- although I tempered my praise by saying I was disappointed that he had no general election opponent -- over that wacko theocrat, Mark Jarvis.) I also asked him if he had endorsed the Freedom & Prosperity Agenda, and he said he had talked to John Taylor about it but was otherwise non-committal.

I also spoke briefly to Rob Bell about his campaign commercials, which seem to be on TV every three minutes or so. I complimented him on how he was able to use the ads to highlight his legislative successes. (Most of his ads focus on the bill he shepherded through the General Assembly last session, which aims to combat bullying in government schools.) He said he felt it was important to accentuate the positive and avoid negative campaigning.

To my surprise, Scott said he recognized my name "from the Internet" and both Bell and Janis introduced me to bystanders as a prominent Virginia blogger. I blush at the compliment, and I think I have to work harder to live up to it.

I left the fundraising reception about 20 minutes past the announced end-time, yet there were still about a dozen or more supporters still milling about, talking with the candidate and the legislators. For all I know, especially given the presence of UVA College Republicans, it might still be going strong.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

A Very Nice Man

The eighth in a series of weekly Virginia Bloggers Carnivals is up at Sophistpundit.

Next week's Virginia Bloggers Carnival will be hosted by River City Rapids.

Meanwhile in blogging news, one of the few Republicans in Congress who actually works to shrink the size and scope of government, Representative Mike Pence, is promoting a bill that will protect the First Amendment rights of bloggers -- or at least some of us. According to an article in Editor & Publisher,

Bloggers who actually gather news would be protected under the proposed federal shield law, the legislation's first author, U.S. Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., told the Inland Press Association Monday.

Pence's view of who would qualify as a journalist under the Free Flow of Information Act differed from the assessment of the bill's co-sponsor in the Senate, Indiana Richard Lugar.

Exactly two weeks before speaking at the Inter American Press Association, Lugar said bloggers would "probably not" be considered journalists eligible for the act's protections.

Pence said bloggers would likely have to be considered on a "blog-by-blog" basis.

"Frankly, there are some that are out there gathering news," Spence said at Inland's 120th annual meeting. "There are many people though, who just link to your newspapers. It would be hard to argue to anyone that privilege applies to those people just because they have a Web site."

Pence asked the Inland publishers to rally their readers around the Free Flow of Information Act. "I believe we have an historic opportunity to close this hole in the First Amendment."
Echoing Thomas Jefferson's view that "were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter," Pence explained his motivation in filing the bill:
"As a conservative, I believe the only real check on government is a free press," Pence said. "And as someone who believes in limited government, I believe nothing is more conservative than promoting and protecting the principle of a free press."

Pence said he frankly believes much of the news media is liberal, and he joked that he reads The New York Times every Sunday morning and then goes to church to "so I know what both sides are up to."

"This isn't about protecting reporters," he said of the proposed shield law. "This is about protecting the peoples’ right to know."
Blogs are also getting more attention from readers -- perhaps even from readers who should be doing something else. Reporting on an Advertising Age study, Adam Gosling of Australia's Smart Office News writes:
US Blog readers waste more than half a million work years goofing off reading blogs in 2005 according to research by Advertising Age.

About 25 per cent of the US workforce, or about 35 million workers spend an average of 3.5 hours, or 9 per cent of the work week engaged with them, according to Advertising Age's analysis.
Gosling adds:
With estimates that 25 per cent of blog visits are directly connect to the job. The remaining 4.8 billion US work hours will be spent reading blogs not related to work.
So the question is: Does your boss know you're reading this?

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Company

Last month, the University of Michigan Press released a new scholarly examination of the work of Stephen Sondheim, How Sondheim Found His Sound, by Steve Swayne, an associate professor of music at Dartmouth College.

Several years ago I interviewed Swayne (who I know through email correspondence, though we have never met) for The Metro Herald. At the time, he was writing How Sondheim Found His Sound and I had just reviewed a production of Company that Signature Theatre had mounted in an Arlington County park. I was curious about how the creators of Company, Sondheim and his collaborator, George Furth, had made changes in the book and the score over the years.

Here is that interview, which appeared in The Metro Herald on June 29, 2001:

The Evolution of Company:
An Interview with Dartmouth’s Steven Swayne
Richard E. Sincere, Jr.
Special to The Metro Herald

Seeing Company in concert at the Lubber Run amphitheatre in Arlington last week, it became apparent that the show has changed – evolved – since it was first produced in 1970. To explore this evolution more thoroughly, The Metro Herald sought out a scholar who specializes in the works of Stephen Sondheim. We found Dr. Steven Swayne of Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, who agreed to answer a few questions for us. The interview, conducted by e-mail, follows.

TMH: Let’s start with some basics. Could you describe your professional position, and how you became interested in the works of Stephen Sondheim?

SS: I am an assistant professor of music at Dartmouth College, where I teach a class on American musical theater, among other things. My doctoral thesis is entitled, “Hearing Sondheim’s Voices” (University of California, Berkeley, 1999). I had written on Sondheim from an academic perspective as early as 1988, but I entered Berkeley with the idea of doing a Russian music dissertation. Early on, one of my faculty mentors suggested that I work on Sondheim; he liked my earlier work on him, and the American musical has by and large been ignored by musicologists. So here I am, still working on Sondheim’s music and influence. Right now, I’m working on a book, tentatively entitled How Sondheim Found His Sound.

TMH: Most musical theatre “classics” are set in stone after their first run on Broadway or in the West End. Their creators seldom make changes after that point. One exception is the 1946 revival of Show Boat, which includes revisions by Oscar Hammerstein II and Jerome Kern, and which became the”authorized version” until Harold Prince’s revival a few years ago. Now Company has become another exception: George Furth, the author, and Stephen Sondheim, the composer-lyricist, made substantial revisions for revivals in New York and London some 25 years after the Broadway premiere. Why do you think they did so?

SS: First, I would have to disagree with you that these classics are “set in stone” from the first run forward. While it is true tht the creators often don’t have a hand in making changes after the initial run – more times than not, they’ve passed on by the time a revival comes around– so many variables have gone into getting to the opening night that it is not sacrilegious to continue playing with some of these variables after opening night.

The transition of many of these “golden age” musicals from stage to film also shows that the creators were far more plastic in their conceptions of “final versions” than we may be accustomed to accepting. Some may want to treat these musicals as unchangeable works of art, but in fact they are commercial works as well, and as such they may be adjusted to changes in the marketplace.

I see Sondheim’s and Furth’s changes in this way; the audience of 1995 is different than the audience of 1970, and the revival gave them a chance to revisit and update their material. And remember: Sondheim has revised several of his musicals: Follies, the film version of A Little Night Music, Merrily We Roll Along, and Assassins today have interpolations that come from rethinking the original versions.

TMH: The most significant – or most apparent – change in the score of Company is the addition of “Marry Me a Little” at the end of Act I. This was originally, in an early draft, the finale for Act II. What do you think of this addition? Does it enhance the score, or do you think it’s redundant?

SS: “Marry Me a Little” is one of the happier additions to the revival, I feel. Bobby is our central character, so it makes sense for him to close out Act I. “Getting Married Today” used to be the last full song for Act I, and then there was dialogue after that (and the “Bobby baby” music), so giving Robert center stage makes dramatic sense. It also frames both the act and the entire musical, with “Company,” “Marry Me a Little,” and “Being Alive” being the songs that carry the message of Company.

As for the song being redundant, in a musical where the same birthday party happens three times, can anything truly be redundant? While the song carries some of the same ideas as “Being Alive,” “Marry Me a Little” is far more tentative, far more skittish. If one wants to see progression in Robert, one can argue that “Being Alive” is much more decisive than “Marry Me.” As it is, I hear all of the songs as co-existing in time: sometimes Bobby is determined to make a go at a relationship, and those times usually occur simultaneously with Robert.

TMH: Besides “Marry Me a Little,” there are minor changes in both the music and the lyrics in other songs. At first glance, they appear insignificant, but they must have meaning beyond the surface, otherwise Sondheim wouldn’t have inserted them. Here are a few I’ve picked out; please tell me what you think.

(A) In the opening number, “Company,” the last several measures have been changed from a very long “We lo-o-o-o-o-ve you” (sorry, I don’t have my original score in front of me to give you an exact beat count) to several successive “We love ... we love ... we love you”’s. Any explanation?

SS: In the score, it indicates, at this point, a pre-recorded tape takes over the vocal lines. I’ve always liked this idea, the notion that the note is held far longer than any human can hold a note. Were I directing this moment, I would have the actors on stage carrying on as though they can effortlessly sing this note forever! Perhaps Sondheim and Furth liked the insistence of the entrances in exchange for the interminability of the note. Perhaps they didn’t like the artificiality of the pre-recorded singing. I happen to prefer the former, and I would guess that you could still get permission to do it with tape. Either way, the moment conveys the oppressiveness of Bobby’s friends, so I don’t think it’s the significant a change.

(B) In “The Little Things You Do Together,” the couplet “It’s not so hard to be married/It’s much the simplest of crimes” has been changed to “It’s not so hard to be married/It’s much the cleanest of crimes.” Why?

SS: You’d have to ask Sondheim to get an answer as to why. “Cleanest” is easier to sing than “simplest,” and “cleanest” has some assonance with “crimes.” That would be my guess as to the change, but again, you’d have to ask Sondheim.

(C) In “You Could Drive a Person Crazy,” the sequence “I could understand a person/If it’s not a person’s bag ... I could understand a person/If a person was a fag” has been changed to “I could understand a person/If he said to go away ... I could understand a person/If he happened to be gay.” Is this just political correctness at play?

SS: To me, this is one of the less fortunate corrections. On the Sondheim Celebration at Carnegie Hall CD, you’ll hear the change there from “fag” to “drag,” and the audience all laughs, because they’re in on the joke. The concept of “a person’s bag” is so sixties that it truly dates that lyric, far more than “fag” would (w word that’s experiencing its own strange recrudescence). “If he said to go away” sounds rather pedestrian to my ears, but it does avoid positioning the lyric in the late 1960s. One could always write to the folks who hold the rights to the musical and ask if you could re-insert the older words.

TMH: This last question is just for fun: If you could choose just one song from Company to be recorded and stored in a time capsule to be opened 200 years from now, which one would it be, and why?

SS: “Sorry-Grateful,” without question. I marvel at how well Sondheim captures the ambiguity of marriage – and of relationships in general – in this song. The music seems at times to be indecisive, as if it cannot figure out how to go forward. And the lyrics, written by a gay man in his late thirties who hadn’t yet entered into a long-term relationship of his own, is so perceptive on the mixed blessings that marriage brings. It reminds me of an anecdote told of a man who was celebrating his fiftieth wedding anniversary. (My parents are celebrating theirs next month.) When someone asked him how he managed to stay married to the same woman for so long, he answered. “But you see, she’s not the same woman I married.” Nor was he the same man, and Sondheim captures that in his lyrics. “Everything’s different/Nothing’s changed/Only maybe slightly/Rearranged.” Even the notion of “rearrangement” carries with it the challenge of the “arrangement” called marriage. It’s a perfect song that describes the imperfect long-term relationships all of us – straight and gay – long for, find, sometimes leave, sometimes endure and (when we’re more grateful than sorry) ofttimes enjoy.
Dr. Swayne's book is primarily a musicological analysis of Sondheim's oeuvre, but it also contains some interesting biographical information, including a tracing of Sondheim's musical influences through a catalog of his record collection, and examinations of how Sondheim learned about dramatic structure, character, and theme from the movies and the theatre. (To be perfectly candid, the musicology in the book is a bit advanced for me, but the rest of the material is engaging enough that I can set aside the difficulties to enjoy the book as a whole.)

Thursday, October 20, 2005

I've Got to Find a Reason

Northern Crown is hosting the seventh edition of the Virginia Blog Carnival this week.

Next week's host will be Sophistpundit, followed by River City Rapids on Halloween, The (not so) Daily Me on Election Eve (November 7), and Bearing Drift on November 14.

Meanwhile, in other blogging news, a conference for Christian bloggers was held last weekend in California. TechNewsWorld reported on October 17:

What would Jesus blog? That and other pressing questions drew 135 Christians to Southern California this weekend for a national conference billed as the first-ever for "God bloggers," a growing community of online writers who exchange information and analyze current events from a Christian perspective.

The three-day conference at Biola University marked an important benchmark for Christian bloggers, who have worked behind the scenes for years to spread the Gospel and infuse politics with religion.

Topics included God bloggers' relationship with the traditional church, their growing influence on mainstream politics and how to manage outsiders' perceptions.

I like some of the headlines generated by the conference. The News Tribune in Tacoma, Washington, tagged its story with "Jesus blogged. Well, he would’ve." (Actually, I think St. Paul would've blogged, but he would've blogged about Jesus. Sunday readings would begin something like this: "A Reading from the Email of St. Paul to the Thessalonians.") The Miami Herald called the same AP story "Christians make call: Blog all ye faithful." The most obvious, of course, was chosen by MSNBC and other news outlets: "What would Jesus blog?" (Are there bracelets bearing the initials WWJB?)

One of my favorite headlines, though, was "Would Martin Luther blog?" To that, I think the answer is clear: Blogging is the not-so-dramatic equivalent of nailing your theses to the church door, out there for everyone to see and (one hopes) to discuss and debate. But here is the more modest reply of that story's author, Rebecca Barnes:
I’m not sure anything that important can come of what amounts to little more than electronic conversation. (Love is action and truth, not just words—1 John 3:17.) But I did agree with the blogger, who also told The Associated Press that one positive outcome of Christian blogs is a wider view of the issues.

"There's a bigger world out there than gay marriage and abortion," said Joe Carter, author of evangelicaloutpost.com.

The SmartChristianBlog also pointed to the worth of some blogs over others by categorizing them as either conversation for conversation’s sake or purposeful change-the-world sorts of rants and raves. One thing’s for sure, if all you do is read and write blogs you’ll have no time left for anything else. The proliferation of these sites in recent months and years is simply amazing.

One thing is clear: There are blogger affinity groups for everyone. There are rings of gay bloggers, conservative bloggers, liberal bloggers, porn bloggers, Virginia bloggers, neo-Nazi bloggers, bloggers who enjoy gardening, bloggers who like Star Trek, bloggers who hate Star Trek, bloggers who deny they're bloggers ... the potential for permutation and growth is as near to infinity as the lifespan of a government program.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Piggy in the Middle

Norm Leahy at One Man's Trash beat me to it; otherwise this is probably the first blog posting on the release of the Virginia Piglet Book by Citizens Against Government Waste.

The book, a compilation of pork-barrel spending in the Virginia state budget, was launched today at a press conference in Richmond hosted by the Virginia Institute for Public Policy. VIPP's John Taylor introduced three speakers -- CAGW's Thomas Schatz, state Senator Ken Cuccinelli, and Delegate Bill Janis -- while "Porky," a CAGW intern in a pink pig costume, stood by, silently looking on. Richmond radio and TV stations covered the event, as did the print media.

A news release accompanying the publication explains:

The Virginia Piglet Book combines elements of two perennial CAGW publications, the Congressional Pig Book and Prime Cuts, with the Virginia Institute's knowledge of the Virginia state budget. The report exposes many areas in the state budget where wasteful spending can be eliminated, providing a valuable resource to legislators and taxpayers.

From obsoleteand duplicative programs such as the Depression-era Virginia Milk Commission to unnecessary and wasteful institutions like the $3.2 million Virginia Commission of the Arts, the Virginia Piglet Book offers enough examples to make any Virginia taxpayer cringe.

The complete report is available online at www.cagw.org and www.virginiainstitute.org.
At the news conference, Schatz said compiling the Virginia Piglet Book was a real challenge -- the project was started three years ago -- because the "Virginia budget is extremely dense and difficult to get through," a thought echoed by both Senator Cuccinelli and Delegate Janis. Cuccinelli added that "transparency is critical to the debate" over budget and tax matters, saying that the "control of information has to shift from the government to the people." Cuccinelli expressed grave concern about the Governor keeping information from both legislators and the public during budget debates and criticized Governor Warner for failing to post budget information on the Internet, as required by a law he signed.

Delegate Janis expanded on these concerns by noting that the budget is the "only bill introduced in the General Assembly by the Governor," and not by a Delegate or Senator. He said "we have to rely on the Governor and the Finance Secretary to give truthful information" during the budget process.

Schatz pointed to the Warner-appointed Wilder Commission, which delivered a report about three years ago with extensive recommendations for cutting pork out of the Virginia budget. Unfortunately, Schatz said, after all that time, "over 90 percent of the recommendations have failed to be enacted." He said that the Wilder Commission recommendations, like the recommendations in the Piglet Book, represent "common sense decisions that ordinary organizations" -- but not the government -- "make on a daily basis." Referring to a number of programs that duplicate private-sector efforts, Schatz recalled Ronald Reagan's "Yellow Pages test": "If you can find it in the Yellow Pages, the government shouldn't be doing it."

Delegate Janis bemoaned the "culture in Richmond" that views raising taxes as the "first resort" whenever budget challenges are perceived. He said raising taxes should be the last resort, because "government cannot spend money as wisely as individuals an businesses" can. He commended the Piglet Book, saying it "gives us the intellectual ammunition we need to change the culture in Richmond."

Asked by Bob Gibson of the Charlottesville Daily Progress if there is any support in the General Assembly for the privatization of ABC stores (which sell liquor under a state government monopoly), Senator Cuccinelli answered: "There is no good reason for Virginia government to be in the retail sale of anything." Delegate Janis said that "we have to have a fundamental re-evaluation" of what is appropriate for the state government to do. He said we need to ask, not just of ABC liquor sales but of other programs as well, "Is this a core function of state government?" His conclusion in regard to Gibson's question: "This is going to be on the table."

A quick look at the Virginia Piglet Book reveals hundreds of millions of dollars in potential savings to Virginia taxpayers if the book's recommendations are heeded. Let's hope someone is paying attention.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

The Washington Post

An article in the Style section of today's Washington Post asks the question, why are Virginia voters so uninterested in this year's -- or any year's -- gubernatorial election?

In "Virginia's Quadrennial Dilemma: Whosis or Whatsizname?," Post reporter Linton Weeks turns to a number of old hands at Virginia politics to explore the issue: former Governor Jim Gilmore. VCU political scientist and Rolodex regular Robert Holsworth. Library of Virginia historian Brent Tarter. The late V. O. Key. And me.

As the winner of a Tony Award might say, I am honored to be in such distinguished company.

Seriously, though, I knew Weeks' article was coming, because he interviewed me twice over the telephone last week. I'm pleased to say that most of what I told him made it into print, either as a quotation or as a paraphrase.

Weeks begins his article with a summary of the reasons given for the decline in voter interest by his panel of experts:

First of all, the election is always held in an off-off year -- that is, a yawner of a year when there are no national elections. So you don't have anybody at the top of the ticket -- presidential or congressional candidates -- to make you get out of bed and put on your voting shoes. This year the election is on Nov. 8.

The bottom of the ticket doesn't look too sexy either. Of the 100 state delegate races, most of the candidates are incumbents who are running unopposed.

Virginia is the only state in America that does not allow a governor to run for a second term, so there are never any incumbents in the race. You are always being introduced to new politicians and you're never dashing down to the polling booth to keep your candidate in office or to run the other rascal out. The two gubernatorial front-runners are virtually unknown in many parts of the state.

As befits a Style-section article, Weeks makes some analogies with pop-culture images and then gets into the meatiest part of his analysis:
Over and over you hear the same plaint from voters. Like Coke and Pepsi, Wal-Mart and Kmart, Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen -- Kilgore and Kaine are so genetically, generically similar that it's tough to tell them apart. They may be the most uniform candidates since sliced bread.

Virginians might also be politicked out. Rick Sincere, chairman of the Charlottesville Electoral Board, speaks of his state's election fatigue. There is at least one election every year in Virginia, whether it's local, state or federal. In some communities there are two elections every other year. "And that's not even counting primaries," he says.

Sincere believes that one salient reason for the statewide dearth of enthusiasm in the gubernatorial contest is the "lack of competition in down-ticket races."

In other words, there are not a lot of contentious local contests. "Unless you've got someone talking about those issues that are close to home," Sincere says, "you're not going to get people to come out to the polls."

He says that over the years gerrymandering has created districts that favor incumbent officials and discourage competition. He thinks that a nonpartisan redistricting system, such as what Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is proposing in California or the one that already exists in Iowa, might partially solve the problem of off-off ennui.

Other proposed solutions include moving the governor's race to another year that might have more national interest. And allowing governors to serve for a second term.

"People think this is such an important tradition," Sincere says of the Virginia gubernatorial system, "and if it ain't broke don't fix it. Although there a lot of people who would say it is broke."

Then I learned something I never knew before -- one of those things Michael Feldman on Wisconsin Public Radio's Whad' Ya Know? would call "Things* *You Should Have Learned in School (had you been paying attention)." In looking at Virginia elections through history, Weeks reveals that V. O. Key's full name was "Vladimer Orlando Key." That's like finding out Kramer's first name is Cosmo.

The things you miss in civics class.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Teenage Angst

Social conservatives have responded to last week's Time magazine cover story on gay teenagers, "The Battle Over Gay Teens" (chronicled here just a few days ago).

The compilers of a collection of quotations and paraphrases from the Time article, Robert Knight and Benjamin Frichtl, use their platform to evoke the incendiary image of "recruitment" as the purpose of organizations like GLSEN, an organization of gay and gay-friendly teachers, and the Point Foundation, a charity that offers scholarships to high-achieving gay and lesbian college students. They end their "report" with this sentence, no doubt intended to bring out the torches and pitchforks:

Clearly, the homosexual movement's effort to recruit children has never been stronger than it is now.

They also mischaracterize what was reported in Time. For instance, Knight and Frichtl say (note the placement of quotation marks), attributed to the Time article:
The average age of kids “coming out” as homosexual has “dropped to 10 for gays and 12 for lesbians,” according to the chair of Cornell University’s human-development program.
This is what correspondent John Cloud actually wrote in Time magazine:
The average gay person now comes out just before or after graduating high school, according to The New Gay Teenager, a book Harvard University Press published this summer.
This is followed a few paragraphs later by:
In the 1960s, gay men recalled first desiring other males at an average age of 14; it was 17 for lesbians. By the '90s, the average had dropped to 10 for gays and 12 for lesbians, according to more than a dozen studies reviewed by the author of The New Gay Teenager, Ritch Savin-Williams, who chairs Cornell's human-development department.
There is a big, big difference with beginning to get an inkling that you might be gay and actually admitting it to yourself and to others, that is, "coming out." Knight and Frichtl either don't know the difference or are purposefully misrepresenting what was reported in Time in order to arouse prurient emotions in their readers. Anyone who goes through the process of coming out knows that it takes years from that first inkling coming to the surface and the moment that one has the courage to say to another person, "Yep, I'm gay."

Knight and Frichtl also note:
At a youth retreat, the Point Foundation gave out gift bags to students containing, among other things, “a DVD of the film Hedwig and the Angry Inch, in which a teenage boy is masturbated by an adult” and “the Aug. 16 issue of the gay magazine The Advocate, whose cover featured a shirtless man and blared, SUMMER SEX ISSUE.”
Set aside for a moment that they exaggerate the explicitness of that scene in Hedwig and the Angry Inch (I've seen the play, but not the movie, and while the play is suggestive, it is not pornographic by any definition), or that The Advocate is no more provocative than People or Entertainment Weekly -- and mostly far milder and, pardon me, more boring. By using the phrase "youth retreat" in the context of talking about an article about gay teenagers, Knight and Frichtl may mislead their readers to believe that the DVD and magazine were given to high school students or younger teens. In fact, the "retreat" was for college students -- all legal adults -- who had received the prestigious and highly-competitive academic scholarships from the Point Foundation.

Knight and Frichtl go on, after mentioning how the Time report includes information about the discredited ex-gay movement:

But the overall impact of the article helps validate the idea of “gay kids,” and will undoubtedly induce some to act out their sexual curiosity since so many others appear to be doing so. The constant focus on homosexuality becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, much as TIME’s frequent articles during the 1960s and 1970s about the “growing phenomenon” of illicit drug use helped spur some kids to try marijuana and LSD.

I would be curious to see the evidence that articles in a news magazine like Time contributed to the drug culture of the 1960s and '70s. I find it highly unlikely that such evidence exists.

Even if it did, the idea that Time could, with a single article, "induce" kids to become gay is laughable. It is as laughable as the idea that someone can be "recruited into homosexuality."

The teenagers described in Time are already gay; they were gay long before any reporter found them to interview; and whether they were born that way or not, being homosexual is an immutable characteristic. One cannot be persuaded to be gay or straight.

Social conservatives have a real fear that gay kids -- and gay adults, for that matter -- are being treated with the dignity and respect that all people deserve, rather than, as in years past, treated with derision and violence. They may vent about articles like that in Time last week, but they are just whistling past the graveyard.

Andrew Sullivan writes about "The End of Gay Culture" in the current issue of The New Republic, saying in part:
The new anti-gay fervor is a response to the growing probability that the world will one day treat gay and straight as interchangeable humans and citizens rather than as estranged others. It is the end of gay culture--not its endurance--that threatens the old order. It is the fact that, across the state of Massachusetts, "gay marriage" has just been abolished. The marriage licenses gay couples receive are indistinguishable from those given to straight couples. On paper, the difference is now history. In the real world, the consequences of that are still unfolding.
Since people like Knight and Frichtl are obsessed with sex, they fail to see the richness of the lives of individual gay men and lesbians, and of the communities they have built in the face of what was until recently unremitting hostility (coming from the likes of Knight and Frichtl, only they were far more numerous and vocal). Near the conclusion of his article, Sullivan writes:

And, when you see the internalized defensiveness of gays still living in the shadow of social hostility, any nostalgia one might feel for the loss of gay culture dissipates. Some still echo critic Philip Larkin's jest that he worried about the American civil rights movement because it was ruining jazz. But the flipness of that remark is the point, and the mood today is less genuine regret--let alone a desire to return to those days--than a kind of wistfulness for a past that was probably less glamorous or unified than it now appears. It is indeed hard not to feel some sadness at the end of a rich, distinct culture built by pioneers who braved greater ostracism than today's generation will ever fully understand. But, if there is a real choice between a culture built on oppression and a culture built on freedom, the decision is an easy one. Gay culture was once primarily about pain and tragedy, because that is what heterosexuals imposed on gay people, and that was, in part, what gay people experienced. Gay culture was once primarily about sex, because that was how heterosexuals defined gay lives. But gay life, like straight life, is now and always has been about happiness as well as pain; it is about triumph as well as tragedy; it is about love and family as well as sex. It took generations to find the self-worth to move toward achieving this reality in all its forms--and an epidemiological catastrophe to accelerate it. If the end of gay culture means that we have a new complexity to grapple with and a new, less cramped humanity to embrace, then regret seems almost a rebuke to those countless generations who could only dream of the liberty so many now enjoy.

John Cloud's article in Time illustrates the "end of gay culture" that matters so much to Sullivan. Cloud writes:

Because he routinely sees young gays on MTV or even at school, a 14-year-old may now feel comfortable telling friends that he likes other boys, but that doesn't mean he is ready to enfold himself in a gay identity. "Today so many kids who are gay, they don't like Cher. They aren't part of the whole subculture," says Michael Glatze, 30, editor in chief of YGA Magazine. "They feel like they belong in their faith, in their families."

"Increasingly, these kids are like straight kids," says Savin-Williams. "Straight kids don't define themselves by sexuality, even though sexuality is a huge part of who they are. Of course they want to have sex, but they don't say, 'It is what I am.'" He believes young gays are moving toward a "postgay" identity. "Just because they're gay, they don't have to march in a parade. Part of it is political. Part is personal, developmental."

The political part is what worries Glatze. "I don't think the gay movement understands the extent to which the next generation just wants to be normal kids. The people who are getting that are the Christian right," he says.
The idea of "post-gay" may be what is most fearsome to social conservatives -- the idea that everyone be treated equally, with no substantial social significance to the terms "gay" or "straight." Instead, we'll all just be Americans. No more "other" -- just "us."

Maybe I'm Naïve?

The local TV stations -- WVIR Channel 29 and WCAV Channel 19 -- had reports on their 11:00 o'clock news broadcasts about a forum that discussed the referendum for an elected school board in Charlottesville. Neither report has reached the stations' web sites, however, but I did find this blurb on WINA-AM radio's site:

A Thursday night forum brought out the pros and cons of an elected city school board. The issue will be decided by Charlottesville voters on November 8th. Former county supervisor Charles Martin spoke in favor of keeping appointed school boards. Martin says an elected board would cut down on the number of people willing to serve. He says many people don't realize the time and expense that must be devoted to campaigning. Martin also says changing the system could create bad blood between the school board and city council when a board member promises something that the city can't fund. UVA faculty member Jeffrey Rossman supports elected school boards. Rossman says diversity would continue with an elected board. He points out that African- American candidates received the most votes in the city council elections of 1996, 2000 and 2004. Rossman says an elected board would be more responsive to the needs of the community.
WINA continues to note, without details, that the local chapter of the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) has endorsed an elected school board and is urging people to vote "yes" on the referendum.

Fortunately, some details were available through a news release distributed by Citizens for an Elected School Board, the organization led by UVA faculty member Jeffrey Rossman and Charlottesville City Councilor Rob Schilling, announcing the NAACP decision:
CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA, October 13, 2005 – The Charlottesville Albemarle Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People has endorsed Charlottesville’s elected school board referendum. Dr. M. Rick Turner, president of the local NAACP, said the endorsement vote was unanimous.

Charlottesville City Councilor Rob Schilling, who helped to coordinate the bipartisan effort behind the referendum, was pleased with the endorsement.

"I'm grateful for the NAACP's thorough consideration of the elected school board referendum and their resulting endorsement," Schilling said. "I appreciate the diligence of the NAACP's membership in familiarizing themselves with the intricacies of this important issue."

Jeffrey Rossman, a University of Virginia professor and the initiator of the referendum petition, sees the endorsement as answering a question raised by some members of the community.

"Many thoughtful individuals have asked me: Is an elected school board in Charlottesville going to be diverse? The endorsement of the referendum by the local chapter of the NAACP suggests to me that the answer is: Yes, an elected board will be diverse. The city's voters are committed to diversity — African-American candidates have consistently been the top vote-getters in recent city council elections — and there are many well-qualified minority candidates who would make excellent school board members," Rossman said. "The residents of Charlottesville can vote in favor of the referendum on November 8th with confidence that our school board will continue to reflect the community it represents."

The elected school board referendum question will appear on Charlottesville’s November 8 general election ballot.
In answer to a question I posed in a previous posting, both candidates for the 57th District House of Delegates race, Tom McCrystal (R) and David Toscano (D), have endorsed elected school boards for Charlottesville, where both of them live and work. As reported by Bob Gibson in the Daily Progress on October 6:
Both candidates in the Nov. 8 election endorsed switching to an elected School Board for Charlottesville.

"It's really, really important," McCrystal said of the success of the Nov. 8 city referendum on the School Board. He said the events of the past year in the city school system have made elected school boards "absolutely critical" and added they should be ward-based.

Toscano, like McCrystal, said he had recently come to favor an elected board. "For a long time I was opposed," he said, "but I’ve changed my mind." The Democrat said he favors electing City Council at large but is not wedded to a particular method of electing the School Board.
McCrystal, by the way, has been endorsed by former New Jersey Governor and federal EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman, who did some campaigning with the state legislative candidate along Charlottesville's downtown mall last month.

Late-breaking: The Daily Progress has a report on last night's elected-school-board forum by James Fernald in this morning's editions. It says, in part:
Rossman noted that 78 percent of Virginia localities have moved to an elected school board and none has switched back. He thinks it would be a good move for Charlottesville. "We have a density here of civic-minded individuals. Call me naïve, but I have deep faith in Charlottesville voters."

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Rock the Vote

On Thursday, October 13, Governor Mark Warner (D-Virginia) will announce that he is directing the State Board of Elections to expand the state's Emergency Absentee Voting Program to include, in addition to military personnel stationed abroad, any registered voter from Virginia who is stationed, living, visiting or engaged in disaster relief in parts of the Gulf region affected by Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita. This will permit election officials to send absentee ballots by fax or email to those voters qualified to receive them in those fashions.

According to unofficial instructions sent by the State Board of Elections to General Registrars:

These qualified Virginia voters may e-mail or fax their request for an absentee ballot, receive the ballot and return envelope via e-mail, print and vote the ballot and return by mail. This method will dramatically reduced the time it takes for our qualified Virginia voters to cast an absentee ballot. All Virginia localities are required to participate.
Those who are eligible to participate in the program must meet these criteria and follow these instructions:
The voter must be currently registered to vote in Virginia.

The voter must be stationed, living, visiting or engaged in disaster relief in parts of the Gulf region affected by Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita.

The voter must record the name of the city, state and if known, the zip code where they are currently stationed, living, visiting or engaged in disaster relief in parts of the Gulf region affected by Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita on their completed absentee ballot application.

The voter must request their absentee ballot using one of the following applications: Federal Post Card Application or Virginia Absentee Ballot Application.

The voter must provide the registrar with a current, working email address or fax number.

This information is recorded on the absentee ballot application.

The voter must send the completed application to the Registrar’s office in the city or county where their Virginia residence is located.

If the above requirements are not met, do not send their ballot by email.

Application must be received no later than 5:00 PM Eastern Standard Time on Thursday, November 3rd, [2005].
Further information will be available from local registrars' offices after Governor Warner formally announces this initiative.

Love Makes the World Go 'Round

Until a few weeks ago, I had never even heard the term "blog carnival." Now I learn that there are many of them.

Beside the Virginia Blog Carnival, which this week features my post on evolution and creationism (and last week featured my post on Tom DeLay), there is the Carnival of Liberty, now in its 15th week. In addition, the TTLB ÜberCarnival lists more than 15 different blog carnivals -- and I am sure there are more.

The 36th Carnival of Education was kind enough to feature my posting from early yesterday morning, "At Seventeen," described like this:

Rick Sincere is (I believe) a new contributor to the Carnival. He's in Virginia, blogs at Rick Sincere News and Thoughts, and this week offers a post that was inspired by the Time Magazine cover story on gay teenagers. Rick reminds readers that coming out can actually save someone from years of psychological turmoil. He's got much more to say than will fit in this little blurb.
The Carnival of Education has more than three dozen entries divided into these seven categories: higher education, homeschooling, education policy, survival guide for students (and parents), survival guide for teachers, technology and testing, and teaching and learning.

Next week, the Carnival of Education will be hosted by the Education Wonks, which also hosted the 35th edition last week. (That post also has links to all the previous education carnivals.)

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

At Seventeen

Today, October 11, is "National Coming Out Day," which commemorates the first national march on Washington for gay rights, an event that occurred in October 1979. The purpose of National Coming Out Day is to encourage gay men and lesbians to "come out" of their hidden closets of sexuality and admit, to themselves and their friends and relations, who they really are. The benefits of coming out are explained in this week's Chicago Free Press by Paul Varnell:

There is a kind of moral obligation to come out, because coming out helps advance gay equality. It educates more people about the fact that they know and associate on an ordinary basis with a gay person and that gays are pretty normal people, not exotic creatures who lead some bizarre “lifestyle.” This information is always new for some people, and the more gays they learn that they know, the more successfully that message is reinforced.

It is useful to keep in mind too that coming out benefits the other person. It helps disabuse him or her of misimpressions and false beliefs. Knowing the truth is always better than believing lies, distortions, or mistaken views of any sort, so countering those is a virtuous act. If you think of coming out as doing the other person a favor, it may seem more plausible.

The other kind of reason to come out is psychological. There is definitely a liberating effect to coming out—initially, and with each subsequent person. You no longer have to lie or evade important facts about your social or romantic life. You no longer have to remember who knows and who does not know. And most of all, you are no longer hiding. You begin engaging the world as a fully integrated person, not just parts of a person.

Coming out to someone can, to many people’s surprise, actually enhance the quality of friendships and casual social relationships. You sometimes find that people you feared might have a negative reaction volunteer that they have a gay relative. Or they say they thought maybe you were gay, but they didn’t know how to bring it up, because you didn’t seem to want to talk about it. Or they may say they feel they know you better now and are glad that you told them.
(This article, like many others by Paul Varnell, is quite likely to end up in the archives of the Independent Gay Forum.)

Perhaps not coincidentally, Time magazine's October 10 cover story focuses on gay teenagers, noting the surprising rate at which these young people are coming out:
Kids are disclosing their homosexuality with unprecedented regularity--and they are doing so much younger. The average gay person now comes out just before or after graduating high school, according to The New Gay Teenager, a book Harvard University Press published this summer. The book quotes a Penn State study of 350 young people from 59 gay groups that found that the mean age at which lesbians first have sexual contact with other girls is 16; it's just 14 for gay boys. In 1997 there were approximately 100 gay-straight alliances (GSAs)--clubs for gay and gay-friendly kids--on U.S. high school campuses. Today there are at least 3,000 GSAs--nearly 1 in 10 high schools has one--according to the Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network (GLSEN, say "glisten"), which registers and advises GSAs. In the 2004-05 academic year, GSAs were established at U.S. schools at the rate of three per day.
The article talks about two different ways for addressing the problems and challenges faced by gay and lesbian teenagers.

One approach is that of the Point Foundation, which provides scholarships to prospective gay college students who have faced unusual hardship or adversity while growing up:
Launched in 2001, Point gives lavish (often full-ride) scholarships to gay students. It is one of the few national groups conceived explicitly to help gay kids, and it is a leading example of how the gay movement is responding to the emergence this decade of hundreds of thousands of openly gay youths.
The other approach is favored by some members of the so-called religious right and is an outgrowth of the discredited ex-gay movement.
On talk radio, on the Internet and in churches, social conservatives' canniest strategy for combatting the emergence of gay youth is to highlight the existence of people who battle--and, some claim, overcome-- their homosexual attractions. Because kids often see their sexuality as riverine and murky--multiple studies have found most teens with same-sex attractions have had sex with both boys and girls--conservatives hope their "ex-gay" message will keep some of those kids from embracing a gay identity. And they aren't aiming the message just at teens. On one of its websites, the Christian group Focus on the Family has warned that boys as young as 5 may show signs of "gender confusion" and require "professional help."

It's important to note that nearly all mental-health professionals agree that trying to reject one's homosexual impulses will usually be fruitless and depressing--and can lead to suicide, according to Dr. Jack Drescher of the American Psychiatric Association, who has studied programs that attempt to alter sexuality. Last month Tennessee officials charged that one of the longest-running evangelical ministries for gays, Love in Action of Memphis, Tenn., was operating unlicensed mental-health facilities. The state said Love in Action must close two residential homes--which include beds for teenagers--or apply for a license. (The ministry's attorney, Nate Kellum, said in an e-mail that the licensure requirement "is intended for facilities that treat mental illness" and not for a "faith-based institution like Love in Action.")

Few young gays actually want to change: six surveys in The New Gay Teenager found that an average of just 13% of young people with same-sex attractions would prefer to be straight. Nonetheless, gay kids trying to change can find unprecedented resources. As recently as the late '90s, Exodus International, the premier organization for Christians battling same-sex attractions, had no youth program. Today, according to president Alan Chambers, the group spends a quarter of its $1 million budget on Exodus Youth; about 80 of Exodus' 125 North American ministries offer help to adolescents. More than 1,000 youths have visited an Exodus-affiliated website called live hope.org to post messages and read articles like "Homosexual Myths" (No. 2: People are born gay). The website, which started as a modest Texas chat board in the late '90s, now gets referrals from scores of churches in 45 countries. "Twenty years ago, most churches wouldn't even let Exodus in the door," says Scott Davis, director of Exodus Youth. "Now there are open doors all across the country."
The level of success these groups can expect to find is suggested by an off-hand comment made by Time's John Cloud, who reported on a conference for teenagers Exodus is seeking to change:
I met very few at the conference who claimed to be completely straight. (At least two of the young men--one 21, the other 18--hooked up that week and still keep in touch.)
Intriguingly, the fresh-faced teenager featured on Time's cover, is comfortable being gay yet attended the Exodus conference out of a desire to learn more about his peers who are not so comfortable about themselves -- or their gay acquaintances:
For their part, several of the young Exodus Christians seemed more stereotypically gay--"I love that Prada bag!" a 16-year-old boy at the Youth Day squealed several times--than some of the Point scholars who had been out for years. Others had gone to Exodus with no intention of going straight. Corey Clark, 18, belongs to his GSA at Governor Mifflin Senior High in Shillington, Pa., and says he sees nothing wrong with being gay. He attended Youth Day because he wanted to better understand his evangelical church and friends who say gays should change. "Actually," he says, "I've heard so many good things about gay pride"--in the media and at school--"but I hadn't heard directly about the downside."
Another Corey, this one in Virginia, may have stepped into a minefield in his quest to establish a Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) at a rural Virginia high school. So far he has nimbly avoided the hazards laid in his neighborhood.

By way of background, earlier this year, a Virginia state legislator, Delegate Glenn Weatherholtz, introduced a bill intended to ban GSAs from schools in the commonwealth. Weatherholtz's bill, which failed and which would have conflicted with the federal Equal Access Act (passed, ironically, to protect student-initiated religious clubs, such as Bible-study groups, in government schools), was stimulated by a controversy over the creation of a GSA at Harrisonburg High School.

According to an email sent by Equality Virginia, a statewide lobbying group, to the Metro Weekly, a Washington-based news magazine:
On Thursday, February 17, the Senate Education and Health Committee is expected to vote on HB 2868, introduced by Del. Glenn Weatherholtz (R-Harrisonburg), that will allow discrimination against Gay Straight Alliances (GSAs) based on fear and misinformation about the nature of these organizations. You are receiving this alert since your Senator sits on this Committee. Please write your Senator today and urge him or her to oppose this mean-spirited, discrminatory measure. . . .

The bill, which was filed after a GSA formed at Harrisonburg High school, was modified on the House side from a outright ban on any group justifying or supporting a lifestyle having to do with sexual behavior. As amended, it now would allow individual school boards to discriminate against GSAs by stating, "local school boards in their discretion may prohibit school facilities from being used by any student club or other student group that encourages or promotes sexual activity by unmarried minor students." While GSAs technically would not be affected by this law -- since no GSA "encourages or promotes sexual activity,"-- if passed, it would allow discrimination through misinformation and prejudice about these groups to block a GSA from forming, forcing the school board to face expensive and protracted litigation as the groups sue to form under the federal Equal Access Act.
The Harrisonburg school board responded to the threat of a GSA in its community by passing a rule that required all students who wanted to belong to student clubs to also get a permission slip from their parents. This proposal was met with some opposition, naturally. Chay Lee of WHSV-TV reported:
A rule that would require parents to sign off on their kids joining clubs at a local school has some people up in arms.

The gay and lesbian advocate group, Equality Virginia, has sent a letter to the Harrisonburg School Board expressing its concerns. The rule was proposed by Doctor Cathy Dlusher, and she believes it will help bring parents closer to their children.

The group feels this rule will discourage kids from joining.

"I think a parental consent policy would severely inhibit people who would need to attend a gay and straight alliance meeting; parents are the last usually to know about their children's sexual orientation; in fact, children are most afraid of the reaction of their parents," says Dr. Christine Robinson.
Despite opposition, the school board approved the policy at its meeting on December 7, 2004.

Delegate Weatherholtz, who represents the Harrisonburg area in the General Assembly, felt that this measure was not sufficient. According to the Augusta Free Press, the proposed bill would add:
a subsection D to the already existing Section 22.1-79.3 of the state code relating to policies regarding access to public schools.

"In the exercise of their authority to protect the well-being of students as recognized by federal law pursuant to 20 U.S.C. Section 4071 (f), local school boards providing equal access and fair opportunity to use school facilities or to distribute literature shall not allow such access or opportunity to use such school facilities or to distribute literature to any club or other group that is focused on supporting, assisting or justifying any lifestyle involving sexual behavior," the proposed code addition reads.

The measure was put into the legislative hopper on Friday morning with 34 copatrons having signed on - including 33 members of the Virginia House of Delegates and one senator, Harrisonburg Republican Mark Obenshain.
The bill subsequently passed the House Committee on Education by a vote of 22 to 0 and the House Courts of Justice Committee by a vote of 19 to 0, before being passed by the full House of Delegates by a vote of 95 to 0. (Where was Adam Ebbin that day?)

When Weatherholtz's proposal reached the state Senate, however, it found itself in a cul-de-sac known as the Senate Committee on Education and Health, which killed it on a 9 to 6 vote. (The vote was technically to "pass by" the bill "indefinitely," a form of tabling, so there were 9 "ayes" and 6 "nays.")

Fast forward a few months for a look at what's happening in Rockingham County, close by to Harrisonburg but apparently a world away.

At Turner Ashby High School in Bridgewater, 17-year-old senior Corey L. Loucks, Jr., is the president of a new Gay-Straight Alliance. According to Corey -- whose prom date was one of the subjects of my May 7 article, "Prom Season" -- there was very little opposition from faculty, parents, students, or administrators.

Corey aspires to become a psychiatrist; his top choices for college are the University of Virginia and George Mason University. He is an active student who belies the image of the withdrawn, bullied gay teenager. He probably does not need the support and fraternity that a GSA provides as much as some of his peers might; perhaps that is why he is assertive enough to lay the groundwork for the group himself.

Corey sings bass in the TA Singers, is co-president of the French Club, serves on the Student Advisory Committee (which advises the school administration on things Turner Ashby needs, such as drinking fountains that should be repaired), competes on the Scholastic Bowl team, and participates in a group called "Youth and Government." (According to the TAHS web site, "The Youth and Government Club is open to any student who wishes to be of service to their school and community. Members are expected to develop leadership qualities and to participate in all club activities. The Youth and Government Club makes available opportunities for students to participate in the Model Judiciary, Model Executive, and Model General Assembly programs.")

In short, Corey Loucks is exactly the kind of student the Point Foundation looks for in allocating its scholarship awards. As John Cloud explains in his Time cover story:
By the late '90s, [Bruce] Lindstrom was talking about the idea of a scholarship program with his boyfriend Carl Strickland (who is 29 years younger) and with his old friend John Pence, a San Francisco gallery owner and former social aide to Lyndon Johnson. One night in 2001 at Lindstrom and Strickland's home--which they call the Point because it sits on a promontory on the Nevada side of Lake Tahoe--the three christened the Point Foundation. Since then, some 5,000 young gays have applied, and 47 Point scholars have been named.

Lindstrom sees the United Negro College Fund and the Rhodes scholarships as his models, and in order to win, Point candidates must prove both academic success and commitment to gay causes. Not surprisingly, many also have biographies resembling Lindstrom's--they come from conservative families that haven't immediately accepted them. Candidates must write an essay on "how you feel you have been marginalized because of your sexual orientation." When scholars were called upon to introduce themselves at the retreat, many offered heartbreaking stories of family repudiation. It was routine to hear sniffling during these presentations, especially from adults.

Back in Rockingham County, Corey says the Turner Ashby GSA will have its first meeting during the third week of October. Asked what kind of activities the GSA will have, he told me: "We plan to have and AIDS benefit with bands where the money goes to AIDS research, we want to adopt a road, and we hope to have other fundraisers for local charities."

That doesn't sound like the sort of "sex club" or "dating service" feared by Virginia legislators or Harrisonburg school board members. No wonder Corey and his friends had no problem getting approval from the Turner Ashby administration or the Rockingham County school board.

The path was not completely obstacle free. Corey told me that "last year we had an anti-GSA petition going around against us and kids calling me names and saying I'm going to hell." One faculty member, Mike Stover, who teaches world history, also objected. According to Corey, "he said that it was wrong and it shouldn't be a club but he can't stop it because of the laws."

The group's faculty advisor, Rebecca Bonds, also sponsors the school's chapter of Family, Career, and Community Leaders of America (FCCLA), or what was formerly known as Future Homemakers of America. Corey describes Bonds, who teaches "family and consumer sciences" (earlier generations called this "Home Economics," or HomeEc), as "awesome." No doubt.

Until the GSA actually meets a few times, we can't know how many members will attend regularly. Corey estimates that "15 to 40 kids" have expressed interest.

GLSEN
lists just over 60 Gay-Straight Alliances in Virginia (including the new one at Turner Ashby High School). Some are at private schools, others at government schools. Most seem to be in suburban Northern Virginia -- Arlington and Fairfax counties, in particular -- but the list includes Christiansburg and Western Albemarle High Schools, which are each pretty far from "inside the Beltway."

Students like Corey Loucks deserve kudos for ignoring the objections of uninformed and busybody legislators and moving forward to create the kind of environment in which all students, regardless of sexual orientation, can grow and thrive -- and, frankly, enjoy a normal high school career without fear of being bullied and beat up.



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