Fistgate Teachers Knew
They Were Violating Trust
Weld and Cellucci Know? Does Gov. Swift
Local School Districts Still
The teachers at Fistgate knew
that the public would not approve what they were teaching to the
children about graphic homosexual sex, one of the teachers revealed
[W]e flew sort of below
the radar screen for a long time, Margot Abels told Bostons
homosexual newspaper, Bay Windows.
She taught them sex because
she thought she knew better than the parents what should be taught
to the children. She says she had the support of state officials
during her seven years at the state Department of Education.
We always knew that
we were working in an area that in certain places was considered
really controversial and we also knew that we were doing cutting
edge work and that there are plenty of people that don't support
doing work with gay kids. But I think that we flew sort of below
the radar screen for a long time and were able to, and had the complete
support of our agency. Maybe David Driscoll [Commissioner of Education]
didn't always know everything that we did, but certainly our supervisors
did," said Abels.
She added that she and Julie
Netherland, another teacher at Fistgate, always had the absolute
support of their immediate supervisors.
This raises the question whether
Governors Weld and Cellucci knew or should have known and what Jane
Swift knows now. Brian Camenker believes they knew a lot because,
as an activist, he told them many times what was going on. It was
only because they wouldnt listen that he had Scott Whiteman
make a tape at the annual conference in March 2000 so that no one
could deny it any longer.
Abels says that the Massachusetts
schools were a nationally recognized model for teaching
teenagers about homosexual sex until the scandal surfaced.
She claims the homosexual
AIDS program has been largely dismantled as a result of the fallout
Recordings Should be Released
complained that the tape recording that has been distributed by
the Parents Rights Coalition and MassNews is a distortion because
it is only a small part of the 70-minute workshop. She claims that
she was teaching the teenagers about disease-control during the
part that has not been distributed.
the only reason the other portions have not been released is because
she and Julie Netherland have successfully persuaded a judge to
put a gag order on the tape.
the judge were to remove the gag order, Camenker and Whiteman would
instantly release the entire 70-minutes of what occurred at Fistgate,
they tell MassNews. But they cant do so while the court has
an Order against them.
continued to claim last week that the workshop was an educational
class. The workshop was an incredibly successful experience
for young people, she told the homosexual newspaper. We
were mobbed after this workshop with kids who had questions for
us, and wanting [us] to link them up to resources and connect with
each other to get information. The passion the kids had there around
answering some of the questions, [saying] I would never take
that risk, I would never do that, My life
is too important, things like that, never made it on the tape.
Abels continued, Again, it never occurred to me, she
said, that an experience like this shouldn't happen for young
who was in attendance for the workshop, has disputed that any of
it was about disease. He says he will be very happy when Abels and
Netherland allow the public to hear the transcript of the entire
still believes that the teaching of explicit sexual techniques to
teenagers was a positive influence on the children.
never thought, Ooh, did we do something wrong here?
She continued, [I]t never occurred to me that an experience
like this shouldnt happen for young people.
apparently does not realize that some people compare her to the
members of the North American Man/Boy Love Association (NAMBLA)
who believe that they are helping young boys when they have sex
with them. They honestly think that they are assisting these youths
wonder why this 40ish woman would get so much satisfaction out of
talking dirty with youngsters. It would indicate a perverted
mind, they believe. (To read some of what Abels said to these young
people at Fistgate, search the archives of MassNews for western
believes that the act of sex is an integral part of being homosexual.
She told a group of teachers at Fistgate: We always feel like
we are fighting against people who deny publicly, who say privately,
that being queer is not at all about sex
We believe otherwise.
We think that sex is central to every single one of us and particularly
queer youth. She and the other instructors at Fistgate evaluated
for the teachers a few of the campaigns that have been
used to demonstrate to queer youth how to be safe while
still enjoying homosexual sex.
told the group of teachers that the campaign that she used, Respect
yourself, protect yourself, was thought to be good in getting
the message to kids to use protection. But she and others were concerned
that it made the children who didnt protect themselves feel
bad. So it ultimately was a poor message, they thought. Another
teacher, Michael Goucher, pointed out that many children have older
partners (commonly known as pedophiles to most people). These youngsters
do not feel they can discuss using protection with these men who
are older than they. If Goucher taught this message, he believes
it would cause them to lose respect for themselves.
campaign for abstinence, No sex, no problem, was ridiculed,
because it assumed that children could opt not to have sex. Additionally,
it made those children who had already had sex feel bad, or think
they had a problem since they had had sex.
reviewing a few of the campaigns they had tried, Abels described
for the teachers the project she had worked on, the Gay/Straight
Alliance HIV Education Project. She traveled to five different
schools each year conducting up to eight HIV prevention sessions
in that schools gay club. She and the other teachers who had
just told a group of children how to properly position their hands
for fisting were telling this room full of educators
that they would visit their schools and teach the same thing to
continues to claim that she was not officially representing
the state at Fistgate even though not only was she listed on the
program as an employee of the state Department of Education, but
she also had approval from her supervisor to attend. She immediately
sent him a list of the questions that were asked by the students
and she was given 11 ¼ hours compensatory time for her participation
Abels Sued to Get Job Back
sued this past January to get her job back and also for money damages
against whistleblowers Camenker and Whiteman.
was successful in getting her old job back last month after going
to union arbitration against the state. She thought this made her
a heroine but Camenker pointed out that he has always known she
had the approval of people very high in the administration.
believe Abels absolutely, he told MassNews when she first
filed this suit against him. (Julie Netherland had filed her suit
last year in May 2000.) Upon hearing of Abels suit, Camenker
said, She is being used as a scapegoat. Theres no question
about it. For them to claim this was an isolated incident is completely
now says, Just because her superiors at the state approved
her talking dirty with children is not to her credit
in any way.
suit that Abels filed is forcing the parents to defend themselves
in an additional court. The first suit against them was filed in
a Boston court by Netherland. The new suit has been filed in Cambridge.
suit is obviously not an attempt to seek justice in the case,
said Atty. Chester Darling, who represents the two parents. It
is merely an attempt by the GLSEN crowd to harass Brian Camenker
and Scott Whiteman and to have them running all over the state defending
civil rights lawyer continued, It is also blatant forum-shopping
because these people want to hold the trial in a town that has many
liberals. They hope it will be impossible for us to obtain a fair
trial there. The main defendant in the case is the Commonwealth
of Massachusetts whose offices are in Boston. My clients were included
only to harass them even more and to give credibility to the filing
of the suit in Cambridge.
suit seeks: 1) Reinstatement of Abels to her job, 2) damages for
lost wages, 3) compensatory damages including those for emotional
distress, 4) punitive damages and 5) attorney fees.
Local School Districts
Still in Charge
school committees have always been in charge of what is taught in
their schools about sex education, but some of them have tried to
pass-the-buck by telling complaining parents that they are only
doing what is required by the state.
a parent in Nauset was told this by the chairman of her school committee,
MassNews contacted the Department of Education in Boston but could
not get an answer from them. So we went directly to then Chairman
of the State Board of Education, James Peyser, who gave us an interview
in which he said that this is definitely a local decision.
is a text book case of an issue [the material to be chosen for sex
education classes] that needs to be resolved locally. People need
to grapple with it locally and if the state tries to impose itself,
not only is that going to lead to problems in terms of implementation
at the local level, but is also one of those things where you have
to be careful what you wish for.
he warned, If you establish the states primacy in this
area, that means whatever the statewide political winds yield is
what you have to live with.
Abels used to visit five different schools across the state each
year and teach a Fistgate type class in those schools where she
had been invited. But neither she, nor anyone else, is doing that
any more, we are told. (Abels has not indicated whether she will
return to her job at the state or just accept the back pay.)
outrage from the public happened right in our state and so
people ran scared, Abels said. She noted that other
groups who served gay youth were fearful of losing government funding
and did not speak out against what happened.
a spokesman for the Department says that the program continues without
interruption. It is true that AIDS teachers are no longer allowed
to have direct contact with students. Instead they deal only with
the teachers. But nothing else has changed. The grants havent
changed, our commitment to the program hasnt changed,
the spokesman told Bay Windows.
Abels disputes that, according to the newspaper, saying that what
she's hearing is that since her firing, educators are more cautious
in their approaches to answering kids questions, perhaps at
the expense of providing them with valuable information.
find the full text of the Peyser interview, search the archives
The article in Bay Windows takes a soft tone
on the lawsuit against Camenker and Whiteman. It made the following
comment: Scott Whiteman secretly and possibly
illegally recorded the confidential workshop. [emphasis
added] This statement doesnt indicate much confidence in the
says she was disappointed by lack of support from the homosexual
community. The newspaper said, Abels says there was no sustained
support from the gay community on an issue which has broader political
implications beyond her losing her job. Meanwhile, the Right has
continually used the controversy as a rallying point--for instance,
to jeopardize the states funding for the Safe Schools Program
for Gay and Lesbian Youth and to attempt to derail Gov. Paul Celluccis
nomination for ambassador to Canada earlier this year.
believes that Camenker has great political power. I think
what people haven't really looked at in the press is the kind of
control that the far Right has over the state agencies and how when
Brian Camenker and his people came in and taped us and made this
horribly distorted recording of us and got someone from [radio station]
96.9 to put it all over the airwaves and make a big deal out of
it, there was nobody saying this is the act of a very hateful man
who's trying to dismantle programs that save the lives of kids.
gave incredible power to Camenker and MassNews, says
Abels. So on a personal level, it was heartbreaking but on
a bigger, more political level, I don't think people really looked
at the implications of not challenging both the Parents Rights Coalition
and the [Massachusetts News], which continues to print articles
about us and tried to use this case to get Cellucci not to have
his nomination. I think theyve really effectively used this
to leverage incredible power and control over the state agencies.
Abels Feel Vindicated? People ask me if I feel vindicated,
but I don't know that I was looking to feel vindicated. Im
more concerned about the work. And Im more concerned about
the political nature. Nobodys fooling themselves to say that
sexuality education isnt politicized and limited by fear,
but I think thats a shame and I think that this was really
an opportunity to be a rallying point and it wasnt.
Vindicated by Reinstatement of Fistgate Teacher