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FIRST-PERSON: Same-sex class sweethearts & media’s power of suggestion

McMINNVILLE, Ore. (BP)–According to an Associated Press report Dec. 4, two girls will be listed in their high school yearbook as “class sweethearts” after the superintendent overruled the school principal and said same-sex couples were eligible for the title.

Seniors at Dover High School (Dover, N.H.) overwhelmingly voted to bestow the honor of “class sweethearts” on an openly lesbian teen couple when the yearbook staff conducted its annual survey to name students to categories such as “most athletic” or “most artistic.”

Principal Robert Pedersen declared the results invalid because the students were asked to name one male and one female for the honor. “I considered it unfair to change the rules and intent of the balloting after the event,” Pederson said.

The yearbook staff decided to eliminate the category of “class sweethearts” rather than award the title to the second-place male/female couple. Students began collecting signatures for a petition before the school superintendent, Armand LaSelva, stepped in, declaring the original results would stand. “Even if there was confusion about the ballot, the senior class members spoke [via their petition],” he said.

The positive attitude possessed by the Dover High senior class toward homosexuality is shared with students throughout the United States. In August 2000, a Zogby International poll found that 85 percent of seniors thought gay men and lesbians should be accepted by society and that two-thirds of those surveyed said gay marriages should be legal. The survey discovered that students are consistently more liberal on gay issues than “older” Americans.

Interestingly, more than half of the seniors surveyed (53 percent) said that gay issues had not been discussed in any of their classes. The Zogby poll raises a question: If students are not obtaining their “liberal” views on homosexuality from “older” family and friends or from school, how or what is shaping their attitudes?

Could popular media, that is overwhelmingly sympathetic to homosexuals and their place in society, be a significant factor in shaping the attitudes of students toward sexuality?

Print and electronic media constantly convey the message that gay is natural, normal and healthy. The power of a repeated message is very real and very persuasive. Just ask the advertising executive of any Fortune 500 company.

A prime example of the media’s portrayal of homosexuality can be found in a most unlikely place – a popular sports film.

“Remember the Titans,” a movie released in September 2000, is about how a high school football team helps its community overcome racism. The film is based on the true story of the integration of the high schools in Alexandria, Va., in 1971.

The players and coaches of the T.C. Williams Titan’s overcome racial prejudice to become a championship team. Their example helps ease the community into a new era of race relations.

Near the beginning of the movie, the Titans are at preseason camp. After a practice a new team member, known as “Sunshine,” approaches one of the star players in the locker room and kisses him. All the players are stunned and the “star” reacts violently.

In a following scene, another player, “Petey,” attempts to ask Sunshine if he is gay. The exchange goes as follows: “Hey Sunshine, you were just messing with Bertier’s mind. I mean it really don’t matter, but you aren’t really, you know,” Petey says. Sunshine replies, “If it don’t matter, then what’s the big deal?” Petey asserts, “I got to know!” Sunshine calmly retorts, “Gotta know what?”

The key problem that I have with the scene is that it never happened. The real Titans of the 1971 season maintain a website at www.71originaltitans.com. There they answer frequently asked question about the movie. One of the oft-posed queries is whether the locker room kiss occurred. The answer to the question is an emphatic “no.”

If the scene is not a part of the “true story” of the Titans, then why was it added? Simply put, the powers-that-be behind the movie were equating homosexuality with race, thus sending the message that being gay is as natural as being black, white or any other race — and it just doesn’t matter.

Expect popular media to continue to convey messages like the one in Remember the Titans as homosexual activists and those sympathetic to their cause seek to shape the attitudes of young people in America. The power of a repeated message is significant. Who knows, perhaps a high school near you will be the next to feature a gay couple as class sweethearts.
Boggs, whose column appears in Baptist Press each week, is pastor of Valley Baptist Church, McMinnville, Ore.

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  • Kelly Boggs