A Teacher’s First Encounter with Gay Activism

Homosexuality became an issue early in my teaching career with the beginning of the AIDS epidemic, which coincided with my return to the classroom from an administrative position in 1979. The outbreak was a major news story and I covered it in the current events portion of my classes. We had only one nurse for six schools in our Fryeburg, Maine district and she asked if she could come into my social studies classes so we could teach sex education together. She believed my presence would make it easier on the boys. She was a conservative, Catholic woman and a widow. I was still quite liberal at the time and my own faith had grown lukewarm, but we worked well together for about three years, emphasizing abstinence and monogamy within marriage.

Prior to these developments I didn’t have occasion to deal with homosexuality, but four things happened in the early 1980s to bring it roaring into my world:

First: The “Gay Liberation” movement, which began with the Stonewall riots in 1969, had gained political power in Maine and elsewhere. Many states were repealing anti-sodomy laws and “gay pride” marches were commonplace in several major cities, including nearby Portland, Maine in the 1980s.

Second: AIDS. At first the disease was labeled GRID, for gay-related immunodeficiency. Shortly afterward homosexual activists lobbied hard to change it to AIDS, or “Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome.” The push was on to de-emphasize the disease’s strong connection to homosexual males in the United States.

Third: Homosexual activists had become powerful enough to turn the AIDS epidemic, which could easily have reversed the progress of their movement, into a vehicle to further it. Enormous outlays of government money went into both finding both a cure and a strategy to prevent the virus from spreading. Groups like Gay Men’s Health Crisis and ACT-UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) were steering that spending in directions that furthered the homosexual agenda—which activists insisted did not exist.

Fourth: Their propaganda campaign pushed slogans like: “AIDS Does Not Discriminate!” and “AIDS Is An Equal Opportunity Disease!”—designed to scare heterosexuals into believing AIDS would soon become widespread among them as well. This would further separate AIDS and homosexuality in the public mind, and it caused public schools to consider outrageous sex education strategies they would never have considered otherwise. That brought homosexuality into my everyday world as a teacher.

I tried my best to oppose the politically correct strictures that accompanied any discussion of AIDS. Ultimately though, there was little I could do but watch with dismay as the gay juggernaut rolled over public schools—and me—for almost three decades.

One of my sisters worked as a public health nurse in Massachusetts early in that period. She was bewildered when discovering that contact tracing, which was mandatory to prevent the spread of other sexually transmitted diseases, was not used to prevent the spread of AIDS. When someone got syphilis or gonorrhea, it was reported to state authorities. The infected patient was mandated to report his or her sexual partners who could then be contacted by public health nurses like her to inform them they’d been exposed to the disease and should get tested. These were common-sense, effective measures to contain STDs historically, but for AIDS—an incurable, fatal disease—they were abandoned.

When my sister told me about exceptions for people with AIDS—nearly all of them homosexual men—I was flabbergasted. Then I learned it was because of pressure from activists who put furtherance of their political/sexual agenda ahead of protecting public health—and those exceptions continue at this writing. Learning that the Democratic Party had been complicit throughout the process further accelerated my political evolution from left to right. It also motivated me to write about the subject as a columnist.

The Intolerance of Gay Activists
LGBT activists were among the first on the left to target me. Their campaign of opposition began innocently enough when strident letters to the editor appeared in newspapers publishing my columns. Later, I came to know most of the letter writers as activists pushing their agenda in Maine and New Hampshire. When letters didn’t silence me, they escalated.

Strident letters were fair enough in the marketplace of ideas. A few dealt with issues I’d written about—public health efforts to prevent the spread of AIDS—but most were ad hominem attacks generously sprinkled with the usual charges of “homophobia”; “hatred”; and “bigotry.” At first, they disturbed me, but such accusations became so numerous and frequent they lost their bite. I made it a policy not to respond in my column, trusting in the intelligence of my readers to see them for what they were.

My first column on homosexuality ran under the headline: “I’m Not Homophobic; I’m Homoexasperated” and outlined what I’d learned about AIDS and the homosexual agenda. America and the public schools were bombarded with propaganda about how AIDS would soon spread to heterosexuals and devastate them as much as it had homosexuals. In Maine, as in other areas, activists took control of government funding to combat AIDS. They targeted Maine schools with proposals to teach children about the specific sexual practices with the greatest danger of transmitting HIV, like anal sex.

Some of these activists proposed teaching students about things they could do sexually that would be less likely to spread AIDS, such as mutual masturbation. That kind of thing is commonplace in public schools now but it was brand new then. Some of the literature surrounding their proposals—and given to teachers—made mention of sex acts I’d never heard of: things called “fisting” and “rimming.” I had to do research to find out what those were. When I learned, I was appalled, and I wondered how any professional educator could possibly propose that schoolchildren be taught about them. As far as I know, they were not put into any specific curriculum in Maine at the time and now I realize they were mentioned as a way of de-sensitizing us to the bizarre nature of what some people did sexually. They wanted us to become jaded by their efforts toward “defining deviancy down,” as the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan put it decades before.

Though I never heard of these gay sexual acts being taught in Maine, they were in Massachusetts. “Fisting” was not only described, it was actually recommended to ninth graders at a special conference workshop paid for, in part, with state funds and delivered by three Massachusetts state employees. It was, of course, ignored or played down by the mainstream media. The keynote speaker at the conference, Kevin Jennings, later became President Obama’s “Safe Schools Czar,” to deal with bullying.

Deviancy had indeed been defined down—way down. The most troubling thing to me, however, was that it hadn’t yet bottomed out.

The Contagion Spreads
As I write this, I’m seeing news stories in conservative media about similar Planned Parenthood curricula for schools all over the country. Although these curricula are used with our children in public schools, they’re kept from parents. In Hawaii, they’re even kept from state legislators. Why? Because mainstream media outlets typically ignore the stories—like they did in Massachusetts, and, unfortunately, too many parents won’t believe something is really happening unless they see it on television.

Nonetheless, parents sometimes discovered things at the family dinner table after asking little Johnny what he learned in school that day—and were appalled when he told them. If they complained to administrators or school boards, they would be depicted as right-wing, Christian lunatics. Frustrated, they lost faith in public schools and either put their children into private schools or homeschooled them. Left-wing, homosexual activists like Kevin Jennings were then free to continue pushing the limits of what was considered appropriate or inappropriate in our public schools—all at taxpayer expense.

In the early 1990s when I started publishing regular weekly columns, I figured things couldn’t get much worse than what I was seeing and hearing. I believed that if I just informed people about what was going on, they’d rise up and put a stop to it. Now I see how naive I was. I didn’t comprehend the power of the leftist forces I was up against. A few years later, however, I learned that the left preached tolerance of alternative ideas and lifestyles only until they got firm control of the culture. After that, they became rigidly intolerant of opposing views.

Homosexual activists were my earliest and most vociferous adversaries. While I wrote about issues such as suspending the use of contact-tracing in AIDS cases and others, they relied on ad hominem attacks such as: “McLaughlin is poisoning young minds with homophobia. He’s unfit to be a teacher.” First they used letters to the editor, then they applied pressure on administrators and school boards, then used the courts. They and other leftists put me through the ringer for years. I endured it all until my retirement in 2011.

Editor’s note: The column above is an excerpt from the author’s forthcoming memoir of his life as a New England school teacher.

Tom McLaughlin

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Tom McLaughlin is a retired middle school social studies and history teacher who, for several years, has written an opinion column that appears in newspapers in Maine and New Hampshire and on several websites. He blogs at: Tom McLaughlin.

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