A story about an LGBT-inclusive anti-bullying workshop at a middle school in New York's Red Hook school district has been playing huge in religious-right and conservative circles lately. The story, which suggests that the workshop not only involved a forced lesbian kiss between eighth grade girls but supposedly instructed the boys to carry condoms in their pockets, has been the talk of several conservative sites, from Free Republic to American Thinker to WorldNetDaily. The National Organization for Marriage (NOM) referred to this story in three separate emails last week as an example of what will happen should marriage equality become legal across the country.
Not surprisingly, the story is incorrect. According to the school district, during the workshop at Linden Avenue Middle School, no female student was forced to engage in any lesbian kissing, male students were not told to carry condoms, and sexual activity between students was not condoned in any way. The district explained:
During the week of April 9, eighth grade communication sessions were held at Linden Avenue Middle School. These sessions were designed by building leadership and the guidance department. The goals of these sessions were to encourage students to treat one another (and all marginalized groups) with more respect as well as to further develop an appreciation for personal dignity. In response to parental concerns about these sessions Dr. Zahedi, the middle school principal, held an evening informational forum on April 16. This session was well attended and the subsequent feedback has been positive. In addition, the Board of Education and Superintendent of Schools, Paul Finch, addressed the community at the April 24 board meeting on the topic of these sessions. Here again, feedback from the community and students was overwhelmingly positive
The story gained steam when it was picked up by Fox News reporter Todd Starnes. Although Starnes did cite an area newspaper, the Poughkeepsie Journal, in his piece, he chose to emphasize the "lesbian role play" and play up the "they didn't even notify the parents!" angle, thereby implying that the school was trying to indoctrinate students.
On Monday of last week, the district sent Starnes an email asking that he update his story with correct information. And now the school district has to deal with what it calls "hostile and hateful emails" from many who don't even live in the area. It puts the blame for this solely on Starnes and the organizations that chose to repeat Starnes' inaccurate story, such as NOM.
My guess is that Starnes had already made up his mind about what the "true story" about the workshop was once he heard of the alleged lesbian kiss and the condoms.
According to Equality Matters, Starnes uses his Fox News megaphone to give a platform to several anti-gay groups and thus push anti-gay misinformation into the mainstream. Equality Matters points out several other incidents in which Starnes has made it a point to report stories that "depict LGBT equality as a threat to religious and personal freedom."
In the case of the Linden Avenue Middle School workshop, the only threat was most likely Starnes himself. A "reporter" on a crusade to push a point of view instead of the facts is always dangerous.