By Sharon Gittleman
TROY – A poster sharing the message that gay people are everyday people has raised an uproar in Troy. The poster shows a group of youngsters surrounded by typical everyday careers – mail carriers, soldiers, artists, scientists and teachers.
The poster, displayed in a Troy High School classroom for nearly two years, was the subject of a debate at a Troy Board of Education meeting last week.
The meeting followed attempts by some local parents to have the poster removed from the wall.
Anthony Cruz said he opposed the poster because students shouldn’t get messages at their school supporting sexuality of any kind.
“We aren’t against homosexuals,” he said. “I would be no less against a poster depicting boy-girl activity.”
Cruz said he’d like to see the poster replaced by another that was inclusive of all groups, depicting a variety of people in different roles, from carpenters to lawyers, with the legend, “Respect Your Neighbors.”
Before the meeting began, one Troy parent said she wished there was a series of posters saying, “handicapped people are everyday people,” “people of other races are everyday people” and “unborn babies are everyday people.”
“Let’s include everybody,” she said. “This looks like you’re promoting something. It doesn’t look like tolerance.”
Another Troy parent said he thought the poster promoted acceptance of the gay lifestyle.
“There’s one objective of the whole gay movement – it’s about being accepted,” he said. “The problem is when that comes against deeply-held beliefs of other people.”
Nearly 100 poster supporters and opponents packed the board of education meeting room, with many stepping forward to read prepared remarks.
Leslie Thompson, executive director of Affirmations Gay and Lesbian Community Center in Ferndale held up the poster during her remarks, telling the crowd her organization created the statement.
Thompson said as a teenage girl, she was presumed to be gay because she was interested in sports. Merciless teasing followed, with her tormentors referring to her as “Lezzie” instead of “Leslie.”
“Now, we have the chance to change things,” she said.
Before the meeting began, Thompson said she was shocked that someone would be upset about a poster that had been placed on a classroom wall years ago to promote cross-cultural awareness and valuing individual differences.
“There is nothing in that poster that talks about sexuality,” she said.
In the meeting room, Adam Bernard of Royal Oak stood up to say there is no gay agenda – unless tolerance and equality is an agenda.
“I’m here for the geeks and the nerds and everyone who felt out of place in high school,” he said. “Thinking you’re different than 90 percent of your schoolmates is scary.”
The law was on the side of those supporting the continued display of the poster, said Triangle Foundation Director of Policy Sean Kosofsky.
Federal law requires all student clubs to be treated the same, he said. If this poster was removed, all student groups’ posters would have to be taken down.
“This is a referendum on whether people like gay people or they don’t,” he said.
Outside the meeting room, Kosofsky said no one was trying to teach anyone to be what they aren’t.
“It’s about demystifying the gay community by giving us a face,” he said.
Bloomfield Township resident Tom Hitchman told BTL he didn’t understand why the poster was the subject of such a controversy.
“My biggest concern was the poster was only displayed in one classroom,” he said. “It should be centrally displayed in every school.”
Parents, Families & Friends of Lesbians & Gays Detroit Co-President Pam Hazlett, from Rochester Hills, agreed with Hitchman.
“The fact that people don’t want it shows it needs to be there.”