The Secret Seminar
Is the Governor's School of North Carolina Promoting a Homosexual Agenda?
Family North Carolina MagazineSep/Oct 2006
Like many North Carolina parents, Jim and Beverly Burrows never dreamed that a public school classroom would be the place their son was exposed to a pro-homosexual agenda. But that’s exactly what happened when the Burrows sent their son to the taxpayer funded Governor’s School of North Carolina in June 2005 to study natural science.
Offered as a state-sponsored summer residential program for academically gifted North Carolina high school students, the Governor’s School reaches 800 teenagers each year. Teaching is split between two campusesthe Governor’s School West (GSW) in Winston-Salem and the Governor’s School East (GSE) in Raleigh. The program provides a number of seminars and courses on various academic disciplines including drama, foreign language, and mathematics. But according to Beverly Burrows, parents were not told that the six-week program would also include an optional seminar promoting the homosexual lifestyle.
Titled “The New Gay Teenager,” the session was based on a book by Ritch Savin-Williams, an openly homosexual professor at Cornell University. Class discussion centered on whether embracing labels based on sexual orientation is beneficial or harmful to homosexual teenagers. The Burrows allege that two homosexual individuals, one of whom tried to convince their son to open a gay and lesbian club at his high school, taught the seminar.
“Parents were not given the option to ‘opt out’ [of the seminar] for their student,” Burrows told Family magazine, adding that other classes at the GSW also worked to demolish students’ religious and moral convictions. “Our son came back entirely different than the son we entrusted this program with,” she said. “He rejected our religious values, our family values, and our conservative views. Natural Science was the least of the subjects my son was required to attend.”
Fighting for change
After their son returned from the GSW in July 2005, the Burrows sent a letter dated August 30 to State Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson expressing their concerns over the seminar. The letter alleged that the instructors had a “pro-homosexual agenda” and requested that Atkinson conduct “a thorough investigation.” The Burrows maintained that the seminar taught “how the Bible was not true” and encouraged students to question their parents’ traditional values and religious faith.
The Burrows subsequently received a September 23 letter from Atkinson and State Board of Education Chairman Howard Lee. The letter stated that Atkinson and Lee had contacted the Exceptional Children Division requesting that Governor’s School staff meet “to begin examining the course offerings and instructional practices” of the school. One month later, Mary Watson, Director of the Exceptional Children Division, contacted the Burrows in defense of “The New Gay Teenager,” stating that the decision to authorize the seminar “was not rendered with motives inconsistent with the philosophy and goals of the Governor’s School.”
The Burrows then contacted the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF), which sent a letter dated February 17, 2006 requesting that the Governor’s School cease and desist from offering the seminar or any other sexually related course during future semesters. In the letter, ADF Senior Legal Counsel Mike Johnson argued that the GSW seminar breached the First Amendment by showing hostility toward religion and violated North Carolina law by disregarding the state’s abstinence-until-marriage statute.
Atkinson and Lee dismissed ADF’s findings in a letter dated March 16, arguing that the seminar did not violate the constitutional rights of the Burrows or their son. The letter also maintained that the Governor’s School is not a public school as defined by North Carolina law and is therefore not subject to the state’s abstinence standard.
Johnson countered in an April 28 letter, pointing out that the Governor’s School, which is funded by the North Carolina General Assembly through taxpayer dollars, is clearly a public school. The letter also warned that legal action might be taken if “the Attorney General’s office will not cooperate and assist these concerned citizens.”
American History X
The GSW again came under fire in June for scheduling the showing of a sexually explicit film during the 2006 school. Titled American History X, the 1998 film reportedly contains a plethora of objectionable material, including 205 uses of the “F-word” and an explicit homosexual rape scene.
ADF again spearheaded efforts to prevent students from being exposed to the film. Mike Johnson stated in a letter to North Carolina Deputy Attorney General Thomas Ziko that material presented in the film “is inappropriate for the minor children who are in attendance” and “the exhibition of the film may very well violate North Carolina obscenity law” in addition to “other state statutes.”
Governor’s School staff reportedly retracted the film and replaced it with the PG-rated Rabbit-Proof Fence, according to the Carolina Journal.
While the legal controversy over “The New Gay Teenager” marched onward, Beverly Burrows and her husband took action themselves to spread the word about the controversial seminar.
On July 8, the Burrows attended Parent’s Day at the GSW in hopes of reaching as many families as possible. Positioning themselves one block from the campus, the Burrows handed out information packets detailing their own experience and advising parents to thoroughly investigate the seminars and curriculum offered before committing their children to the Governor’s School.
According to a memo released by the Burrows, GSW staff attempted to deter them from handing out the packets, even going so far as to call the police. “They sent down a girl from the office and a student to try to intimidate us,” Burrows said. “They tried to block us from being able to hand out the info, but my husband and I just kept on doing what we were doing...[The police] informed us that we were within our rights.”
Despite protests by the GSW staff, the Burrows distributed information to 200 families with children attending the Governor’s School. “One of our goals is to let the parents know what is going on in this program so that they can make an informed decision as to the benefits to their student and their family,” Burrows said. “Having $1.3 million of taxpayer funds going to support this program is questionableespecially with no one wanting to take responsibility for oversight. The program could be wonderful with the emphasis it was intended to have.”
David Bass is a research assistant with the North Carolina Family Policy Council.
Copyright © 2006. North Carolina Family Policy Council. All rights reserved.