Sticker shock: rainbow riles parents

NEWS- Sticker shock: rainbow riles parents

The upside down rainbow triangle is a popular gay symbol, reclaimed from the pink triangle Nazis forced homosexuals to wear. At Western Albemarle High School, some guidance counselors display the triangle outside their offices. But critics consider the symbol inappropriate and preferential to homosexuals.

Bill "Biff" Rossberg is a parent who objects to the rainbow triangles. "They bother me on any number of levels," he says. "Many parents I've talked to have expressed concerns about the triangles on the door."

Western principal Anne Coughlin says the triangles were placed to indicate a safe place for students to discuss their concerns. "Some question whether it means we support homosexuality," she says. "That's not the intent."

While some counselors may have posted the symbols in the past, the triangles came out of the closet this year as part of the school's professional development plan to focus on a safe school environment. Addressing bullying and verbal harassment is also part of the initiative, says Coughlin.

But Rossberg thinks the displays will only increase divisions.

"Western is riven with cliques: jocks, rednecks, preps, rich kids, poor kids, hunters, and leadership kids. I think it shows a poor understanding of the adolescent psyche. They're just going to single [gays] out," he says.

He also suggests favoritism.

"If you're going to put up one symbol, why not all?" asks Rossberg. "Would they allow a cross? What about a Star of David?"

"I would hope we treat all students equally," responds guidance counselor Caroline East. "I don't think it suggests we're promoting gay issues."

Rossberg calls the rainbow triangles "a back-handed way of working around the requirements for getting sexuality information into the family life education curriculum." And he wonders why Mary Rodriguez, a member of the local Parents, Family, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFFLG), has been allowed to pass out the triangles at Albemarle and Charlottesville schools, which she says she has been doing since 1999.

"Where's the balance?" asks Rossberg. "All they put out there is the far leftwing, pro-homosexual view," he says, referring to Rodriguez.

"We know about the high suicide rates of gay and lesbian teens, primarily because of the secrecy," explains Rodriguez, mother of a gay son. "They don't feel they can trust anyone." And if the teen is still in the closet, talking to parents isn't an option, she adds.

County school superintendent Kevin Castner says the triangles don't violate any policy: "They don't promote anything other than a safe harbor for kids."

Castner says he's heard no complaints about the stickers except from Rossberg. As for the fate of the triangles at Western, "They're going to stay," he says.

Over at Monticello High School, rainbow triangles have been displayed in the past, but they're not up this year. "We didn't intentionally take them down," says principal Billy Haun. "Counselors are just realizing they aren't there. We haven't had any complaints about them."

Albemarle High School doesn't have the triangles posted. "For us, it's understood that this is an area where you can come and feel safe," says Yvonne Brown, head of guidance.

And at Murray High School, the rainbow triangles decorate classrooms, halls, and even the principal's office. "There have been no complaints," says guidance counselor Morrice Apprey. "I won't say we all agree, but we are all accepting."

Rossberg says others share his concerns in a community where many see homosexuality as "immoral" or an "aberration." He stresses, "I don't have a homophobic bone in my body. It's against my religion to hate anybody."

Ben Hurt, former AHS principal, also thinks the symbols are "out of order," and says guidance counselors should be there for all students, not just one group.

At-large school board candidate Linda McRaven echoes Hurt's remarks and worries the stickers will make other students uncomfortable. And she criticizes the "in-your-face" aspect of gay symbols. "It's so political. It's a very political symbol," she says.

Her rival, Brian Wheeler, would want to check with county staff on the appropriateness of posting the stickers, but says, "My first reaction is that it doesn't seem problematic, and it supports school board policy."

In 2001, the Albemarle County School Board adopted a resolution to provide an educational environment free from discrimination of all kinds, including sexual orientation.

Rossberg plans to take his concerns to the school board October 23. "This is so agenda driven," he complains.

"I do have an agenda," replies PFLAGer Rodriguez, "for all kids to be safe in school."

Superintendent Castner relates how school violence can escalate into a Columbine. "The kids were being tormented, and they acted out in terrible ways," he says. "Schools are more sensitive to that. Things don't happen in isolation."

While Castner and Rossberg disagree about the triangles, Rossberg shares the superintendent's concern about violence in the schools. "I have a real fear some gay kid at Western is going to get beaten up in the bathroom," says Rossberg.

Rossberg also reports that since Madonna kissed Britney Spears at the MTV awards, girls at Western are "making out in the cafeteria." Principal Coughlin says she's unaware of that trend, but that "inappropriate public displays of affection are something we regularly address with students."

Says Castner about the alleged girl kissing, "We don't allow that for any group."

Rainbow triangles have some parents wondering whether Albemarle is pushing a gay agenda.