ON JULY 28, the Oregon Citizens' Alliance (OCA) successfully gathered enough signatures to place the "Student Protection Act" on November's ballot. This is their third state-wide measure in 10 years. Despite the innocuous title of this year's ballot measure, the broad aim of the "Student Protection Act" is nearly identical to the two previously sponsored by the OCA: to hem in legal privileges of gays and lesbians in the state. This proposed act hopes to immunize public school curriculum from gay, lesbian or bisexual issues. Oddly, this initiative has been granted ballot number 9, the same title as the OCA's controversial 1992 voter initiative.

Measure 9 in 1992 and Measure 13 in 1994, OCA's prior initiatives, agitated vehement battles throughout the state and were defeated by margins of less than 10 percent. Last week, when Ballot Measure 9 joined the ranks of 25 other issues, pundits predicted a radical change in the tone of this year's political season. Many of the other high profile ballot measure deal with fiscal and governmental issues. By addressing legal matters in terms of morality and by challenging issues that shape individuals' identities, Ballot Measure 9 promises to create a much more personal and emotional election.

The real danger, explains Jaime Balboa, Executive Director of Basic Rights Oregon, is that the initiative is vague. It does not fully explain what exactly it means to "encourage, promote, or sanction" homosexual behaviors, says Balboa. As he points out, "the bill does not say that homosexuality cannot be discussed; it says that homosexuality can only be discussed through the agenda of the OCA." Balboa believes that the initiative could pave the way for firing gay teachers, canceling counseling and support for gay and lesbian students, and eliminating any AIDS/HIV-related material that may be available to students. "This measure makes schools a dangerous environment for everyone, not just gay students" he warns.

Below, the Mercury documents the voices of some of those that the bill would affect:


Matt: One time I walked up to the urinal, and I didn't see this guy there who was the ringleader of this gang. If I had seen him when I walked in, I would have just turned around and walked out. But it was too late. Usually, I totally avoided the bathroom; I tried not to go at school. And so I stood there, scared. Of course he yelled at me later in the hallway--accused me of looking at his dick. Maybe once a week he and all his friends would yell at me: "You stupid faggot, you fucking queer."

Larry: The hardest part of youth is trying to keep perspective. The one thing kids don't want to feel is different. When they feel alienated, the drama and the hopelessness is so extreme. When you get to be my age, you realize there is another day, and there's always hope.

I had a girl who ripped my soul to pieces. She came out to her mom and because of it, her mom pretty much kicked her out of the house. I told her: "Sometimes it really helps me to write down my feelings. Why don't you write your mom a letter, and then bring it in and we'll talk about it?"

And I'm telling you, she wrote the saddest letter ever: "Dear Mom, I just wanted to tell you how much I love you. When I fell off my bike, you were there to pick me up and put a Band-Aid on my knee. And when the first boy broke my heart because he said I was ugly, you put your arms around me and told me it would be OK--because there are a lot of other people who would think I was beautiful. You've always been a part of my life, and when I shared with you the most intimate part of my life, you rejected me. That has torn me apart. You have ripped my heart from my soul." When she was reading it, there were tears rolling down my face; she finished and I said, "You know, you have to send this to your mom." And she did.

Heather: I want to raise awareness, so I'm trying to start a gay-straight alliance at my school. The gay teachers are the only ones who are pushing for it, because my principal doesn't think we really need it. She's afraid of what the parent reaction will be, but I think she's also in a kind of denial. Because when I talked to her, and she didn't even know that there's a problem with homophobia or that we even have any gay students.

She asked me, "What kind of stuff is going on, to make you think you need a G.S.A?" And I told her how everytime I walk through the hall I hear the words "fag" and "gay"; people just throw those around as insults. I explained to her how really negative an environment it is--that everyone is really homophobic. And she was like, "Oh they are? I thought we solved that problem."

Supposedly, she said, all the teachers were supposed to be more strict about it, but I've never seen a teacher do anything about it. Some even smile and laugh at homophobic jokes. She just kinda blew me off after that; we were supposed to have a meeting with some of the gay teachers and gay-supportive teachers. She just talks to make people feel better.

Larry: It's kind of an unwritten code in public education that if you're a gay teacher, you don't talk about it. I always assumed that the kids thought I was gay, but my personal life is not something I think appropriate to discuss with students; my job is to be the best teacher I can be. So, my sexuality has never been an issue, or I thought it wasn't, until I was outed by the OCA; It was when the OCA was doing Measure 13, and they found out I was gay-it was all over the press. I was doing AIDS education, and I told the students that sexuality is something you deal with your whole life; just because you sleep with a man doesn't mean you're gay, and just because you sleep with a woman doesn't mean you're straight. The sad part for me was that because of that event a lot of health workshops like that were cancelled.

And then I realized how it did affect me, and if a student had asked me what I did last weekend, I could never say "my partner and I went to Reno last weekend and took our parents." I knew I would be called in to the administration, that they would talk to me about the fact that it's not appropriate to talk about that stuff. However, if a straight person had said, "Oh, I went to Reno with my parents," there would have been no consequences.

Matt: I haven't had a long relationship, but I had this really serious relationship for three weeks. I went to Tualatin and he went to Tigard, but he's reallyhigh profile. He's a national swimmer, and he was athlete of the month on the news. He was really, really closeted. I mean, he had a girlfriend while he was with me. So we were together for a week, but then he just decided that he couldn't deal with it. We never talked all through my senior year, and I think he still has that girlfriend. He hangs out with all the smart kids and he's in the IVY program--his life is so terrible. He's going to Stanford next year on a swimming scholarship; he told me that he imagines himself getting married and having kids.

Then, there was another guy that I was with for three weeks, but he broke it off for the same reason, because he was student council president and had a lot of friends. Both of them told me that they had this image to uphold. They both said that they felt trapped, like they had to be someone else for everyone else. God, they really have a lot of problems. I think I'm a lot happier than both of them. There's so much to be said for being honest with yourself.

Larry: One way of making connections with kids is to help them better understand life around you, to make personal connections. For example, about four or five years ago, I had a young man in my class, and he was falling to pieces. He was a ninth grader, and had gone from being a straight A student to flunking every one of his classes, because his dad had just picked up and left. I knew that he was gay, and I also knew he needed a male role model; So he and I sat down and wrote a plan about how he could get back on track, and he came in every day after school and talked about his dad--one day we actually called his dad. He told him "I really miss you, I really need you to be in my life." Part of his problem was he thought his dad knew he was gay, and he thought his dad had divorced his mom because he knew he was gay. And of course, once he talked to his dad, he realized that had nothing to do with anything.

Because of my participation, he and his dad got a lot closer. His mom told me later she really felt like I had saved him; She told me "He was so depressed, I don't know what he would have done." And I truly think that because he realized I was gay, he realized that just because he was gay doesn't mean he isn't able to be a good person.

Matt: I came out to my mom when I was 13. One day, I was getting ready to go to school, and I was upset. I had been really, really depressed for a long time, and started doing poorly in school. And then, that day, she stopped me and said she wouldn't let me go to school unless I told her what was wrong. So I told her. It was so scary, I thought she might throw me out, but instead she just cried a lot.

Then she took me to Exodus, to "reconstructive therapy," which I only went a few times. I hated the whole thing because they confused me so much more than I already was. They would say things like, "It's OK to feel these feelings, your feelings are real, but you should try to stop feeling them."

I accepted my sexuality when I was about 11 or 12, so I was really confident about who I was. But still, what they told me did get to me. I still have weird perceptions of who I am, and I can't quite accept it without doubting it a bit.

Heather: I don't know what I would do if all the gay teachers left, because they're the only ones who stop people from making homophobic remarks. In fact, they are the only ones who even talk about it. Like in history class, we never mention anyone who was gay and that leaves out a big part of history. And a lot of times in health class especially, there's no mention of it. That really irritates me. We talk a lot about heterosexual sex all the time; Our school works a lot with the AIDS, but in health class they don't talk about gay people and AIDS, just straight people and AIDS. So they completely eliminate the highest risk category, and I know of a lot of people who have unsafe sex.

Matt: If there was one thing that got me through high school, it was the couple of friends and teachers who were supportive. I thought of dropping out a lot--I wasn't even sure I was going to graduate. In fact, I still have to work on a few things to finish my diploma. But the student resources facilitator was really nice. She is a kind of a counselor, and she was the only gay teacher at our school. And then my senior year, I had an English teacher who was very, very supportive of me.

I never had any other adults I could talk to, and I didn't really know any gay people. I was introduced to one lesbian couple and one gay couple, and I only saw them once or twice, but it was really good that I at least knew of them, I knew they existed, you know?