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Sunday, April 03, 2005

School district cancels gay author event

Community - Planet Out
Planet Out
School district cancels gay author event

Fri Mar 4, 8:33 PM ET
Larry Buhl, PlanetOut Network

SUMMARY: Officials in a Virginia school system cancelled the appearance of a gay fiction writer after some parents charged that he would not be a suitable guest for high school students.

Officials at the Chesterfield school system near Richmond, Va., cancelled the appearance of a gay fiction writer after an e-mail message from a conservative group convinced some parents that he would not be a suitable guest for high school students.

Greg Herren, primarily known for mystery novels featuring gay heroes, was invited to speak about his work and his career on March 11 at Manchester High School. But when an anonymous e-mail from the American Family Association was circulated to Manchester High parents and others, plans unraveled in only two days. Herren's lecture series was quickly rescheduled to after-school hours, then finally cancelled.

In a statement released by the Chesterfield school district, Herren's appearance would be "inappropriate for high school students."

A Chesterfield resident who protested Herren's visit after receiving the e-mail said, "There are plenty of avenues for folks with this particular opinion or position to express their First Amendment rights, but I don't believe a public school is the proper avenue without input from parents."

But Eric Russell, faculty adviser for Manchester's gay-straight alliance (GSA), said the e-mail's suggestion that Herron would indoctrinate students in "gay pride activist" issues is ludicrous.

"Greg did not intend to speak about anything inappropriate or controversial. He was going to talk about his experience at writing and being a journalist, things any writer would discuss as a guest speaker," Russell said.

"The whole controversy was started from some very vocal people, some from outside the district. All they think is, 'Gay man coming to talk to gay students -- how dare he?'" said Russell, who invited Herren to speak.

A longtime fan of Herren's work, Russell was miffed by other inaccuracies in the e-mail, such as the suggestion that Herren would sell autographed copies of pornographic novels to students.

"I sent out an e-mail to faculty members inviting them to hear him speak, and inviting them to buy signed copies of Greg's books. The signed books were only for faculty to buy, not students, and his novels aren't pornographic anyway."

Herren, who admits he has written short stories containing gay erotica for anthologies, refuted the e-mail's contention that his novels are pornographic.

"Despite the stupidity of the circulating e-mail and its inaccuracies, the thing that bothers me the most about this situation is that I was never given an opportunity by the school board or the superintendent to express my opinions, nor was I asked what I was planning to talk about," Herren said.

"What was further insulting to me was the insinuation that, as a gay man, I am either too stupid or too perverted to know what is appropriate or inappropriate to talk to high school students about. If the superintendent and the 'concerned parents' had read my work and then decided I was not an appropriate speaker, I would gladly let the matter drop. But I am terribly resentful that the entire reason I was dropped was because a group of homophobes -- without reading anything I've ever written, based on a bio that does not remotely come close to covering everything I've written -- concluded that I was a 'danger.'"

Russell said that, although the district caved in, Manchester school administrators have been supportive of Herren, the GSA and gay and lesbian issues in general. And he pointed to others in the community who have stepped forward to offer a counterprotest of the district's actions. The local MCC invited Herren to speak on the same date at their church, and a local businessman offered to pay for Herren to fly from New Orleans to Richmond.

Herren, 43, has published novels including "Murder in the Rue Dauphine," "Bourbon Street Blues" and "Jackson Square Jazz." He has also written for the Lambda Book Report and the Washington Blade.

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