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Protests Raised Against Play

Protests over a student-written high school play exploring homosexuality have subsided, after triggering a barrage of e-mails, letters and phone calls protesting the work.

The uproar had students championing their first amendment rights while some adults decried what they perceived as the promotion of a deviant sexual lifestyle.

The School Board’s Legislative/Policy Committee was scheduled to meet Wednesday night to begin its review of the issue. Chairman Mark Nuzzaco (Catoctin) said the panel will need to talk to a lawyer. "We’ll eventually craft some sort of proposal that we’ll consider as a committee, then … at some point present it to the public for further comment."

Stone Bridge High School's "Postcards from Paradise" collection of one-act plays premiered a week ago. The play "Offsides" by Sabrina Audrey Jess featured a scene in which two male students gave the appearance of kissing one another. "I am not trying to promote any sort of sexual lifestyle. I just want to be heard," she told the School Board at its Feb. 8 meeting.

School Board member Bob Ohneiser (Broad Run) said the play violated current policy and that it is the board’s job to censor the students’ work when necessary. "We have a policy we will not allow anything to appeal to prurient interests," he said.

THE SCHOOL BOARD SHOWED a video tape of the production, which depicts the pain a high school football player goes through when his friends learn that he is gay. They invited the playwright, the school principal and others to present their views about the production.

Chairman John Andrews complained about an e-mail that was sent by a member of his church. The message said the students had actually kissed, and one of the actors said words to the effect that "You can’t tell me that there isn’t a little bit of me in every one of you."

The quote was taken out of context and was not totally correct, he said.

The ending actually read: "Is that why you hate me? Is it because you see a little of me hiding in you?" Jess said the ending was not meant to imply that everyone is hiding some secret homosexual feelings.

Andrews said he was "disappointed" that the e-mail contained a message for people to call him and complain, without someone first phoning him and discussing the matter. He also said he was unhappy that the author of the note was a politician who has received significant financial backing from him.

Andrews never mentioned the name of the politician, but Del. Richard Black (R-32) had e-mailed constituents on his mailing list. He urged them not to allow tax dollars to "promote homosexual activity in our schools."

Reached by phone the night before the board meeting, Black said, "We all think of schools as good, wholesome places for our children. I was very disappointed that this kind of homoerotic activity is going on."

Black, who was in Richmond, did not attend the play's premiere himself, but said he received many e-mails from constituents who were offended by the material.

In his message, Black had urged constituents to contact Schools Superintendent Edgar Hatrick and School Board members to decry the use of tax dollars for plays such as "Offsides."

Black’s son-in-law, Supervisor Mick Staton (R-Sugarland), and Supervisor Eugene Delgaudio (R-Sterling) also issued statements criticizing the play.

BLACK’S WIFE, BARBARA, said she felt "compelled" to address the School Board as a mother, grandmother and a concerned citizen. She said the kiss between the two male students was an overt attempt to promote homosexual behavior. She said her comments were not meant as an attack on students or adults who are gay. Anyone with an ounce of compassion couldn’t help but feel for the student who was "conflicted in this lifestyle" during the play, she said.

"This is indeed an emotional, sensitive issue, and it’s also too important to ignore," she said. "Our school should not be in the business of promoting any type of sexuality or lifestyle. We need a clear statement or policy."

Andrews asked the students whether there actually had been a kiss. Aaron Henry, who played the protagonist in the play, set the record straight. "There was no touching of our lips. We didn’t even get within four or five inches of one another."

Jess said she had to replace one cast member, who said he was no longer comfortable with his role.

School Board member Joseph Guzzman (Sugarland) said tolerance is an American ideal that requires respect. But the play showed disrespect. "There is absolutely no place for this in the schools. I’m disappointed this should be permitted in this district. I’m not going to quibble over whether the kiss was insinuated or an actual kiss, it is our responsibility … to provide a learning environment that is safe for everybody."

Jess said her intent was not to promote homosexuality. "‘Offsides’ was never ever meant to promote homosexuality, but rather to promote tolerance, something which there is too little of." A disclaimer was recorded and played before the show, warning of its content and providing an opportunity for anyone who might be offended by its content to leave.

Matt Struth, a student, reminded the School Board of Matthew Shepherd, who was tortured and killed because he was gay. "The only alternative to tolerance is an environment of fear," he said.

Jess received a number of compliments from the board and audience for her writing skills, despite the mixed feelings about its content.