Gays 1, Phobes 0

The passion of the Westminster school board

There's an old joke about a woman who so fears peeping Toms that she keeps her windows shut and her shades drawn. A friend asks, "I understand about the windows and shades. But why do you leave your front door wide open?"

"Because," she replies, "I don't want anyone looking through the keyhole."

That's how things are on the Bible-thumping Westminster school board. For three months, the board majority was so focused on thwarting state-mandated, anti-discrimination protections for transgendered individuals that it handed an unmistakable victory to an old nemesis: the gay and lesbian community.

Oddly, that wasn't the story told by The Orange County Register or Los Angeles Times.

Here's the background: because of perpetual violence against gay, lesbian and transgendered individuals in California's schools, state officials ordered school districts to update anti-discrimination policies in 2000. Every board in the state complied with the new law except Westminster's. The board majority—Judy Ahrens, Helena Rutkowski and Blossie Marquez-Woodcock—said it would rather forgo millions of dollars in annual state aid than contribute to what they called the "moral decay" that would follow expanding civil-rights protections to transsexuals.

That stand unleashed a remarkable protest in which parents accused the board of playing politics with their kids. The adamant members said they would not cave. Rutkowski, who once said school libraries have too many books on Judaism, saw a horde of transsexuals plotting to "shove their lifestyle down our throats. . . . I will do everything to protect students from this mind-set."

Woodcock was equally defiant: "I can't, with a clear conscience, vote for this trash. It's amazing how much we've eroded our society."

Most defiant was Ahrens, who calls the teachers' union "communist," touts Rush Limbaugh as an intellectual and equates sex education with promiscuity. She noted that it was "three brave women" who had taken a "moral stand." She said they were calling the state's "bluff" in hopes of pleasing God and asserted that, whatever the protest here on earth, her "rewards are going to be great in heaven."

Then, just hours before the state's deadline for compliance on April 12, Ahrens, Rutkowski and Marquez-Woodcock voted to give State Superintendent for Public Instruction Jack O'Connell what he wanted: an extension of anti-discrimination protections based on gender and sexual orientation. Not only did the triumvirate cave on the issue of transsexual rights, but remarkably—given its angry, pro-traditional values rhetoric—it also never once fought against inclusion of homosexuals in the policy. You might have heard cheers from the Boom Boom Room and hissing at Calvary Chapel.

But a strange thing happened: the media ruled unequivocally that the Westminster board majority had won and won decisively. According to the Times, the women "scored a major victory . . . on moral and religious grounds." The Register was equally wrong. It reported that Ahrens and her two colleagues had "refused to follow a state law they considered immoral." The same local Christian radio network that claimed homosexuals caused the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks called the Westminster showdown "glorious" and a "triumph of God" over "sodomites" and "evil."

The revisionist history turns on the board majority's declaration that even though it updated its discrimination-protection policy to comply with state law, it would still favor an accused basher in transgendered cases. Specifically, they said they would rely solely on the accused's post-incident "perceptions" of an alleged victim's gender to determine if the accused had intended to discriminate. The board's face-saving claim worked with reporters but was meaningless.

"State law defines gender in discrimination cases, not this school board," a state education official told the Weekly. "They added the necessary words to their policy. They changed their position to be in compliance with state law. Now they need to enforce it. I can't explain why the press saw this as a victory for them [the board majority]."

Reality isn't getting in Ahrens' way. Her son, a 19-year-old USC student, plans to release a documentary of the fight. Mark Ahrens told the Times for an April 27 article that the ordeal has been tough on his mother and that "the public has misunderstood her motives." He then hailed his mother as Christ-like. He said he might call the documentary The Passion of Judy Ahrens.

 
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