For immediate release
December 10, 2004
EQUALITY LOUDOUN, AREA CHURCHES CONDEMN IRRESPONSIBLE ANTI-CHILD ACTIONS OF STERLING SUPERVISOR
(December 10, 2004) Equality Loudoun along with local religious leaders today condemned Sterling Supervisor Eugene Delgaudio’s recent actions directed at the Loudoun County Public Schools anti-bullying program. Delgaudio has previously claimed that his full time job directing an extremist lobbying organization has “nothing to do with” his position as a Loudoun County elected official. He has now launched a local campaign to portray himself as a crusader against youth who are perceived as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender.
In objecting to a survey that asked parents of middle school students about observed anti-gay taunting, among other behaviors, Delgaudio claimed to be preventing “pro-homosexual teaching lessons.”
School administrators have confirmed their objective that all children in Loudoun County schools be provided with a safe learning environment and be treated with respect. Bullying is one of the main concerns of Loudoun youth, according to the focus groups conducted for our county Youth Initiative. Bullying can take many forms, but frequently targets victims on the basis of their gender expression or perceived sexual orientation. According to Human Rights Watch and other monitoring organizations, gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender youth are four times as likely to skip school because of fear, and four times as likely to attempt suicide compared with their non-gay peers. As the case of Joshua Melo (a fifteen year old Ontario student who committed suicide last month) illustrates, straight youth can also be victimized by this type of bullying.
“If Eugene Delgaudio thinks that teaching children not to torment each other is ‘radical’, he has demonstrated once and for all that he cannot be trusted with the safety and well-being of children,” said Equality Loudoun President David Weintraub. “He calls the 10th grade boy who hanged himself because of the anti-gay bullying he was subjected to an ‘isolated incident’, but the fact is that it could just as easily be the child of one of his Sterling constituents. Exactly the same kind of bullying goes on in the hallways of Loudoun County schools every day, and he thinks that’s just fine. This man has absolutely no sense of responsibility.”
“It’s ludicrous,” said Marc Gravallese, whose children attend Sterling Middle School, and who received the parent questionnaire that so incensed his supervisor. “To tolerate using sexual orientation or national origin as a derogatory remark to anyone is a violation of that person’s basic human rights in this country. Period. If a student were emotionally or physically harmed by this kind of bullying, the school system and Mr. Delgaudio personally should be held responsible.” He went on to say, “We simply can’t afford to have people like this making public policy that affects education. The social and financial risks are just too high.”
“We believe that the young people attending our public schools are entitled to protection from bullying in all forms. We are pro-family, and we believe that the best way to protect and support families is to teach children kindness rather than cruelty, tolerance rather than divisiveness, acceptance rather than fear. Bullying in any form is unacceptable and to suggest otherwise is irresponsible bordering on mean-spirited,” said Rev. Roberta Finkelstein, minister of Unitarian Universalists of Sterling, a Welcoming Congregation. “Mr. Delgaudio does not own the franchise on moral values. It is a matter of faith for us that every person is born with inherent worth and dignity; we are all God’s children. This is a moral value. Mr. Delgaudio seems to find it terrifying that young people struggle with issues of identity. What I find terrifying is the message that any subset of our children are less entitled to feel safe and supported in their struggles. The anti-bullying curriculum does not teach or support anything other than respect for difference and tolerance for diversity. Respect and tolerance are the building blocks of democracy, they are truly American values and should be taught in our public schools.”
“We have yet to fully recognize the tragedy of these kinds of homophobic attitudes for what they are,” said Rev. Don Prange, pastor of St. James United Church of Christ, an Open and Affirming Congregation. “Condoning the exclusion and demeaning of people for arbitrary reasons is a way of denying their full humanity, and it lessens us as a community. Authentic family values mean you don’t turn anyone away.”