Fistgate Teachers Knew They Were Violating Trust

Did Weld and Cellucci Know? Does Gov. Swift Understand?  


Local School Districts Still in Charge

Interesting Items

By Atty. J. Edward Pawlick
September 5, 2001

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 last week. 

“[W]e flew sort of below the radar screen for a long time,” Margot Abels told Boston’s 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 wouldn’t 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 from Fistgate. 

Tape Recordings Should be Released

Abels 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. 

However, 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. 

If 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 can’t do so while the court has an Order against them.  

Abels 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 people.”

Whiteman, 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 session. 

Helping Children? 

Abels still believes that the teaching of explicit sexual techniques to teenagers was a positive influence on the children. 

“I never thought, ‘Ooh, did we do something wrong here?’” She continued, “[I]t never occurred to me that an experience like this shouldn’t happen for young people.”  

She 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 to mature. 

Many 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 suburbs.”) 

Abels 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.  

She 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 didn’t 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.

The 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.  

After 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 school’s 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 their students.  

Not Official?

Abels 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 hours compensatory time for her participation there. 

Abels Sued to Get Job Back 

Abels sued this past January to get her job back and also for money damages against whistleblowers Camenker and Whiteman. 

She 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. 

“I 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. There’s no question about it. For them to claim this was an isolated incident is completely disingenuous.” 

He now says, “Just because her superiors at the state approved her talking ‘dirty’ with children is not to her credit in any way.” 

The 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. 

“This 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 themselves.” 

The 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.” 

The 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

Local 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.  

When 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. 

“This 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.” 

Therefore, he warned, “If you establish the state’s primacy in this area, that means whatever the statewide political winds yield is what you have to live with.”  

Margot 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.) 

The 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.” 

But 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 haven’t changed, our commitment to the program hasn’t changed,” the spokesman told Bay Windows.  

But 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.”

To find the full text of the Peyser interview, search the archives for “Peyser.”


Interesting Items

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 doesn’t indicate much confidence in the suit. 

Abels 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 state’s funding for the Safe Schools Program for Gay and Lesbian Youth and to attempt to derail Gov. Paul Cellucci’s nomination for ambassador to Canada earlier this year.”

She 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.”  

Fistgate 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 they’ve really effectively used this to leverage incredible power and control over the state agencies.” 

Does Abels Feel Vindicated? “People ask me if I feel vindicated, but I don't know that I was looking to feel vindicated. I’m more concerned about the work. And I’m more concerned about the political nature. Nobody’s fooling themselves to say that sexuality education isn’t politicized and limited by fear, but I think that’s a shame and I think that this was really an opportunity to be a rallying point and it wasn’t.” 

Camenker Vindicated by Reinstatement of Fistgate Teacher

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