August 5, 1997

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Book for gay teens to stay in high school library


The Associated Press

BROWNSVILLE, Pa. (AP) -- A high school library book about teen homosexuality that advises safe sex and tolerance for gays is back on the shelf it sat quietly on for seven years.

A committee of educators and parents at Brownsville Area High School said Monday it will keep the 56-page book, ''Understanding Sexual Identity -- A Book for Gay Teens and Their Friends'' after a parent, Gina Wellington, asked that it be banned last May.

Since that time the book has divided the school board, angered parents crying for its removal and attracted the attention of the American Civil Liberties Union.

Among the passages Wellington and other parents found objectionable are descriptions of how to use a condom and a vignette describing a fictional 7-year-old boy's fascination with an altar boy.

After listening to students, parents and ACLU, the committee allowed the book to remain in general circulation. Parents can notify the librarian if they do not want their child to read it, according to school Superintendent Dexston Reed.

Ms. Wellington did not return phone calls to comment, but Reed said he thought she was ''satisfied.''

Walter ''Spinner'' Trynock, senior class president at the school, said keeping the book sends a message that the school values students' First Amendment rights.

''When they start restricting books like this the next step is taking out encyclopedias and almanacs,'' Trynock said. ''We're very lucky to have the school board we do have. I hope they continue to make righteous decisions like this.''

Trynock, 17, said he was also glad students do not have to ask permission to read the book and said it could be useful to every student _ gay or straight.

''If you want to read it you should be able to. I think we are old enough to decide for ourselves,'' he said.

Peggy Gursky, an incoming member of the school board, opposed banning the book, but said she was glad the committee allowed parents a role in deciding whether their children should read it.

''It was a wise decision, but how do parents know the book is there?'' she said. ''There should be some way parents are advised about objectionable books ... (because) there are probably other books that should be looked at.''

Stephanie Birnberg, the president of the ACLU's Pittsburgh chapter, said she was happy with all of the committee's decisions.

''The most important thing is that it stays on the shelf and students don't have to ask to use it,'' Ms. Birnberg said. ''We also stand behind [an individual] parent's decision that this is something their child ought not to see.''