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Gay rights assaulted in Wis. school publication

Reed Schneider, Opinion Writer
December 4, 2012
Filed under Opinion

Tanner, a Thirteen-year-old Shawano High School student, picked up a copy of the school paper, The Hawks Post, and read over the normal pro-and-con editorial page. There he found an offensive article that opposed same-sex married couples adopting children. Troubled and confused, he took it home to his two fathers, Nick Uttecht and Michael McNeilly.

This is incredibly disturbing because of how directly it targeted the link between homosexuality and parenting.

Even if the article was balanced at the end, the topic choice and its disrespectful approach made it offensive. The student responsible for writing the oppositional side, Brandon Wegner, had delved into biblical quotations, namely Leviticus.

“If one is a practicing Christian, Jesus states in the Bible that homosexuality is a detestable act and sin, which makes adopting wrong for homosexuals because you would be raising the child in a sin-filled environment,” Wegner said. “Leviticus 20:13 states ‘If there is a man who lies with a male as those who lie with a woman, both of them have committed a detestable act; they shall surely be put to death. Their blood-guiltness is upon them.’”

It’s within Wegner’s First Amendment rights to voice his opinion on the matter, but he did not do so in a reputable manner.

According to the Green Bay Press-Gazette, immediately after Uttecht brought it to the school district officials’ attentions, the school removed the article from its remaining papers and district superintendent Todd Carlson prepared a written statement.

“The Shawano School District would like to apologize for a recent article printed in the Hawks Post newspaper,” Carlson wrote. “Proper judgment that reflects school district policies needs to be exercised with articles printed in our school newspaper. Offensive articles cultivating a negative environment of disrespect are not appropriate or condoned by the Shawano School District. We sincerely apologize to anyone we may have offended and are taking steps to prevent items of this nature from happening in the future.”

Less than a month later, the school district was flooded with emails and phone calls both in opposition and support for the piece’s standpoint, according to WSAW, a news network based in Wausau, Wis.

The Hawks Post gained more publicity than it may have ever desired. With all the attention, attorney Harry Mihet decided to represent Wegner with Liberty Counsel, a nonprofit law firm specializing in First Amendment rights.

“He did nothing more than  express his opinion on a particular topic, an opinion in which with some are free to agree and some to disagree,” Mihet said, “but an opinion which is absolutely protected with the First Amendment of the Constitution.”

While it is a part of free speech, it’s not Wegner’s publication. The school district has the final say in how the district is represented. Kyle Schwingel, UW-Green Bay art major, agreed that while it may be Wegner’s right by free speech, there is a line that shouldn’t be crossed.

“There is a certain level of tolerance everyone expects,” Schwingel said. “Even if you don’t believe in it, you still know in your subconscious mind it wouldn’t be a good idea to cross that line.”

That line is crossed the moment a personal opinion becomes a public attack on someone else’s way of life, which is precisely what Wegner’s article encompasses. In the shadow of the offensive article, there are responses targeted directly at Tanner and his family. One woman, Judy Hurta, wrote an extremely close-minded comment directed at the 13-year-old.

“Sodomy is a sex act that is not love but sex.” Hurta wrote.  “Your dad loves you, but so did that coach at Penn state love the boys he violated. To normal heterosexuals, it is an abomination that you children are allowed to be raised in a home of love and sexual preferences that regular people don’t indulge in.”

Wegner’s article is the ignition to these types of responses — retorts from ignorant people who cannot discern love between two people and heinous sexual abuse.

These reactions tell Tanner, his siblings and any other kids with two fathers or two mothers that they can’t grow up properly. That is the exact fuel bullies need to begin their tormenting.

Christine Smith, an assistant professor of psychology, human development and women’s studies at UWGB, said it’s alarming to see something like this in a high school newspaper.

“High school students are at a time in their life when they are developing intellectually and socially,” Smith said. “To see something like this debated in the paper could be devastating. How would you feel if someone said your family is abnormal, is not acceptable, that your parents never should have been allowed to have you and that they’re not suitable to raise you?”

These are concerns that can extend to Tanner’s siblings as well, not just high school students. Articles like Wegner’s do not belong in a published newspaper.

When students are ostracized in their own school’s paper, there is something terribly wrong. Luckily, amidst all the fire, Tanner has maintained an optimistic view, something not all kids facing this type of pressure can do.

“I am not emotionally disturbed, nor do I underachieve,” Tanner said. “My parents teach me real values — to love everyone as they are.”