Loudoun Insider over at Too Conservative has taken the ironic position that candidates’ family members should be generally off-limits to scrutiny. This seems like a good guideline. But what should happen when a candidate’s spouse has been more involved in public policy debate than the candidate?
For most of those discussing the offensive push poll attributed to Delegate candidate Lynn Chapman on TC and other blogs, the issue is ethics and decorum. What they wanted to know is that their candidate is not a rude, divisive bomb-thrower in the mold of former Delegate Dick Black, and that he wouldn’t become a similar embarrassment to the Republican Party. For most of them (there are exceptions, I’m sure), the important thing is not whether Chapman would vote the same way or introduce the same kind of legislation as Dick Black, but rather that he would be a gentleman when he does it. Fair enough, as far as that goes. From our perspective though, I think the important question is whether, if elected, Chapman would unload on our community with a raft of vindictive anti-gay bills as Dick Black made it his mission to do.
We don’t really know the answer to that. That’s why I told the Loudoun Times-Mirror that to treat the rumor that his opponent is gay as a smear, without further explanation, is itself a smear of our community, “one that I’m sure Mr. Chapman doesn’t intend if he is sincere about distancing himself from the ‘bash the gays’ playbook of Dick Black and Patricia Phillips.”
That’s also why I questioned Chapman’s statement that “unsuccessful attempts were made” to expose the alleged “third party pursuing their own agenda” as an inadequate response. If he is truly outraged by this false claim by a third party to be speaking for his campaign, there are steps he could take to find out who it is. And if it was important to him to clarify for the gay community that his stance toward us is not like Dick Black’s, he could do that as well.
There are, unfortunately, other reasons to be skeptical of his disavowal.
Remember the brouhaha created by Dick Black over a student play he never saw? His hissy fit that resulted in demands that the School Board create a policy governing the content of school plays, months of School Board meetings that sometimes lasted until midnight, untold hours of wasted staff time, and some of the most vile letters to the editor seen in this community in recent memory?
Susie (also known as Kathryn B.) Chapman was prominently involved in that fabricated controversy. She wrote letters to the editor, she attended meetings with and spoke alongside Patricia Phillips and Dick Black’s wife Barbara, and she co-founded the Community Levee Association, a local advocacy group formed specifically to coordinate demands for a policy that unlawfully restricts student speech. (Interestingly, all content from the CLA website has since been removed.) The demand of all these parties, along with frequent emails from professional anti-gay activist Eugene Delgaudio, was very consistent: That our public schools should violate federal law by prohibiting the expression of a single idea. The idea that they have gone to such trouble to erase is that it is normal and natural for some people to be gay, lesbian, bisexual and/or transgender.
The Chapmans are certainly free to disagree with this viewpoint. I have no objection to that (although it’s something that voters should be aware of). It is another matter entirely to demand that students in our public schools be prevented from expressing it in their own original work. Although the School Board had managed to draft a policy that any reasonable person could support – after all, no one ever held the view that obscenity should be allowed in school plays – for Susie Chapman and her allies, prohibiting obscenity wasn’t enough. From the Connection account of the June 14 School Board meeting:
Susie Chapman, wearing a “Remember the Children” pin, said the policy needed to be tougher. “Obscenity doesn’t cover enough,” she said.
She also complained her children, under the proposed policy, would be vulnerable to who the principal or drama teacher is in terms of what content would be allowed.
“Under the [proposed] policy my children remain vulnerable,” Chapman told board members. Vulnerable to what? If prohibiting obscenity is “not enough,” what is it exactly that this prohibition would fail to cover? There was one remarkable meeting of the board’s Legislative and Policy Committee at which this mystery was explained.
When questioned by the Superintendent about what certain board members were trying to say without saying it, the truth tumbled out.
Some of the School Board members finally had to admit that it wasn’t “sexual interaction” or “depiction of sexual acts” or “sexual themes” that they really object to after all. They had to admit that they think a kiss between two people of the opposite sex is perfectly appropriate, but even an implied kiss between two people of the same sex is “lewd,” “shameful” and possibly even “obscene.”
After many, many frustrated attempts to include language like Mr. Geurin’s that would “do more” than prohibit obscenity, because that “doesn’t go far enough” in addressing “these things that concern us,” and after some pointed questioning by their colleagues, Mr. Nuzzaco, Mr. Guzman, Mr. Geurin and Mr. Ohneiser finally admitted what they had so carefully resisted saying in plain English.
Struggling to explain why he and Mr. Guzman thought it necessary to include language that specified “content that depicts sexual acts that warrents a disclaimer” be prohibited, Mr. Ohneiser informs us that “you could have sexual acts that are not necessarily obscene but are shameful or morbid.”
“What exactly do you mean by sexual interaction?” asked Superintendent Hatrick. “Are we talking about copulation? Are we talking about a kiss? Holding hands? Is there a legal definition?”
“There could be depictions of sexual interaction that are not shameful or morbid,” Mr. Ohneiser explained. Mr. Nuzzaco, helpfully, reassured everyone that his proposed language wouldn’t prohibit “sexual interaction, like a kiss, between a male and a female,” but would “cover this stuff we’re concerned about.”
And what is it that distinguishes a kiss “between a male and a female” and a kiss between two people of the same sex? An idea.
The policy that was ultimately adopted is the one that Patricia Phillips says she is “very pleased” with, telling the Washington Post that it addresses her main concern, which is for “the normalization of homosexuality to be prevented.” The desire of our hardworking school personnel to avoid further harassment by people like Patricia Phillips and Susie Chapman has resulted in widespread self-censorship.
[Drama teacher John] Wells described the feeling that he has no idea who might walk in to one of his productions or what they might be offended by ““ “we don’t want to poke the bear,” he said. His own principal was afraid to approve a parody of censorship itself, out of fear that it would stir up protest by people assuming that they were being made fun of…This prize-winning play has been performed many times elsewhere with no problems. He also asked us to consider the play “Inherit the Wind.” Although it obviously does not violate the policy in any way, it deals with a “hot-button issue,” evolution/creationism, and would for that reason “stir up a hornet’s nest.”
This is the clearest indication of what the censors were after. It doesn’t really matter what is in the policy; what is important is that they demonstrated their willingness to create a disturbance and disrupt the schools’ primary mission of instruction. They could repeat this disturbance for any reason, at any time, whether or not it has anything to do with the current policy…
…Right next door in Fairfax county, high schools regularly perform “The Laramie Project,” and there is absolutely nothing in the policy or regulations that would preclude Loudoun county high schools from doing the same. Regardless, Wells says that “right now, no one I know in Loudoun would come near “The Laramie Project.”
In addition to her leading role in the attempt to erase any affirmation of gay students from our public schools via the heckler’s veto, Susie Chapman supported Dick Black son-in-law Mick Staton’s campaign for the 33rd District Senate seat, telling a Washington Post reporter: “Social issues are very important to me.” She is also listed as the volunteer coordinator for the Family Leader Network campaign for Bob “Virginia’s Chief Homophobe” Marshall’s so-called “marriage amendment.”
This all provides a much more illuminating context for the following excerpt from Mr. Chapman’s second press release, in which he both acknowledges that the push poll calls were made, and disavows the involvement of his campaign:
If the calls are being made by people who have the mistaken view that this tactic somehow helps my campaign, I want them to know that I am personally offended by such tactics. Unfounded anonymous personal attacks against political candidates undermine the integrity of our fundamental democratic processes no matter who uses them and no matter how justifiable the cause may seem. [Emphasis added]
The bolded portion reads to me in this context as coded language directed to that narrow segment of voters who would actually be swayed by the revelation that a candidate is gay. It says to them “I’m with you, I understand, but this wasn’t the way to go about expressing it. Now hush.” That wording, as opposed to a clear condemnation of the push poll’s appeal to anti-gay sentiment, suggests one possible answer to my question.
We welcome clarification from the Chapman campaign on this matter, and especially encourage concerned voters in the 32nd District to seek answers. Specifically, what is Chapman’s position on student freedom of expression, including the right to maintain Gay/Straight alliances? Does he think that Virginia public schools should defy federal Equal Access law in order to secure special rights for the viewpoint expressed by his wife and her political allies?
Other good questions for candidates are suggested by the Equality Virginia Political Action Committee, a bi-partisan PAC committed to electing fair-minded representatives. You can download the EVPAC 2007 Campaign toolkit from Equality Virginia.