It still comes down to the heckler’s veto.

As everyone likely knows by now, the Loudoun County School Board has adopted a policy for regulating theatrical presentations in our public schools. Language proposed by Delgaudio sycophant Warren Geurin was added to the policy that was drafted at the May 25 Legislative and Policy Committee meeting. This language differed significantly from the amendment that Delgaudio, et al was publicly promoting (prohibiting “sexual themes, depiction of sexual acts and the promotion of sexuality,” language that has no legal definition and was clearly not going to get anywhere).

The added language was obviously developed in consultation with national anti-gay organizations such as Alliance Defense Fund and Liberty Counsel, and tracks with similar activity these groups are instigating in other parts of the country. Here is the adopted policy, with the new language in italics:

8-42 Theatrical Presentations

All student theatrical presentations are of pedagogical concern to the Loudoun County Public Schools and shall adhere to a basic educational mission of imparting fundamental societal values.

The name and resources of a school are used to disseminate student expression in theatrical presentations, and such expression may be fairly attributable to the school.

The Division Superintendent shall develop and implement guidelines for the presentation of theatrical productions presented as part of the public school curriculum. Those guidelines shall be designed to support drama presentations that challenge, nurture and extend student skills while adhering to the basic educational mission of teaching students boundaries of socially appropriate behavior, the rights and responsibilities of the exercise of free speech, and the importance of taking into consideration the sensibilities of the community.
Theatrical productions involving obscenity or advocating the commission of illegal acts or the violation of school rules or policies shall not be permitted. Disclaimers may not be used in place of observing this policy. The drama sponsor has the primary responsibility and the principal has the final authority for ensuring that this policy is followed.

Legal reference: Code of Virginia 18.2-372

Adopted unanimously by the School Board on June 14, 2005

We will reserve comment on the legal strategy the anti-gay right is attempting to implement with this added language until we receive answers to some specific questions about the policy. However, we can comment on the stated intent of the anti-gay advocacy groups who have demanded language that goes beyond prohibiting obscenity.

Pat Phillips, the Virginia state director of the far right group Concerned Women for America (although she publicly presents herself as a resident of Sterling) stated to the Washington Post that “the policy addressed her main concern, which was for ‘the normalization of homosexuality to be prevented.’ ” Translation into plain English for those lacking fluency in the special language of the anti-gay right: We can prevent the expression of the idea that it’s normal and natural for some people to be gay, lesbian, bisexual and/or transgendered.

Several leaps of logic are necessary to reach this dubious conclusion, so bear with us. Apparently, Ms. Phillips and her allies believe that any depiction of a GLBT person or relationship would constitute “advocating” specific intimate acts that are still violations of Virginia law (although this uncommonly silly and almost universally ignored law has been declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court of the United States). Therefore, according to this logic, any expression of the above idea would be in violation of the policy.

While we admire creative thinking in general, we don’t think that anyone will be fooled by this, especially courts of law. The policy language itself may be consistent with Supreme Court holdings, but any attempt to apply it unlawfully, i.e., to achieve the objective of viewpoint discrimination, will still be unlawful, and will be dealt with accordingly.

The litmus test is whether the adopted policy, had it been in place, would have prevented the production of the play “Offsides.” We don’t see how it could have. There was, as Ms. Phillips herself acknowledged, nothing obscene in the play. There was the depiction of behavior that violates the law and school policy – the abuse and physical assault of one of the gay characters – but certainly not advocacy of that behavior. The play did advocate some ideas, like respect and kindness and understanding, but these things are not against the law, at least not yet.

Ms. Phillips suggested in her June 14 speech to the School Board something that we believe to be true: That the anti-gay right must rely on their ability to bully drama sponsors and principals to self-censor any content that would elicit more howls of protest from her group. Once again, there is a legal term for this: the heckler’s veto. If this is what her group and their allies on the School Board must rely on in court should a decision be challenged, they will lose. Information is power, and they can only hope that the students and their allies don’t have any.

As one of the drama students in attendance June 14th told us, the students will continue expressing the ideas that they feel need to be heard, and this policy won’t change a thing. We have observed enough of the determination, integrity and talent of our drama students and GSA members to say this: In a battle of wits between the far right on our current School Board and these students, our money will be on the students every time.

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