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Safe harbor for gay bigotry

SEE SPELLINGS run. So obvious is it what tail wags the new education secretary. Allegedly appointed to close the achievement gap and end what President Bush calls the soft bigotry of low expectations, the first loud barks from Margaret Spellings were not directed toward failing schools, incompetent superintendents, or even teachers unions. Spellings bared her teeth at lesbian mothers.

Spellings was offended by an upcoming episode of ''Postcards from Buster", which is aired by PBS. Buster is a cartoon bunny that goes around the country to show the diverse lives of real children. The episode that upset Spellings is called ''Sugartime!" It includes a visit by Buster to Vermont to see how maple syrup and cheese are made. Buster visits children who happen to have two mothers. WGBH-TV of Boston, the producer of the 40-episode series, said, ''The parents' lives are included only as a backdrop to the kids' lives; the focus is on Buster's visits to a sugar house and a dairy farm."

On Jan. 25, Spellings wrote PBS a stinging letter. She requested PBS to strongly consider refunding any federal funds used to make ''Sugartime!" She wrote that the episode ''would undermine" the mission of ensuring the highest quality of television for preschool children. ''Many parents would not want their young children exposed to the lifestyles portrayed in this episode," she wrote. She said federal funding is not meant ''to introduce this kind of subject matter to children."

PBS pulled ''Sugartime!" from national distribution to its approximately 350 member stations on the same day Spellings wrote her letter.

In a moment that betrays how the creeping and creepy censorship of the Bush era works, PBS officials insisted they made their decision before receiving her letter. After initially approving the show, Wayne Godwin, chief operating officer of PBS, and PBS president Pat Mitchell said they fretted that the episode ''might cause parents to be concerned about PBS as a safe harbor."

If PBS has become a safe harbor for homophobia, then we are in the midst of a hurricane. Two days after Spellings wrote her letter, her boss reminded America of his second-class view of gay and lesbian families. Asked by The New York Times what he thought about a Florida law banning adoptions by same-sex couples, Bush answered, ''The ideal is where a child [can] be raised by a man and a woman. That's the ideal world. A married man and a woman."

Gay families, according to a 2001 review of available data by Judith Stacey and Timothy Biblarz of the University of Southern California, have no differences in psychological well-being among the parents or the children compared with ''straight" families. The levels of investment in children displayed by the parents are the same.

Conservatives pounced on other parts of Stacey's and Biblarz's review which suggests that children with same-sex parents may be more open to same-sex relationships for themselves, even though the overwhelming majority of such youth turn out to be heterosexual. They have attempted to stifle the possibility that such families are safer harbors for children to express whom they are naturally meant to be.

They would have us ignore that what little data we have suggests that girls of homosexual parents are not as intimidated as girls from heterosexual families in co-ed activities and workplaces. Boys of gay and lesbian parents show signs of being more nurturing than boys from heterosexual homes. If we took the time to find out why, we might have less domestic violence and war and more equality.

Spellings and Bush are hostage to a homophobia so wacky that James Dobson, a Bush supporter on the religious right, is on a mission to let everyone know that another children's cartoon character, SpongeBob SquarePants, is in an upcoming diversity video sponsored by the We Are Family Foundation, a group that promotes national healing after Sept. 11.

The foundation website has a tolerance pledge that states, ''I pledge to have respect for people whose abilities, beliefs, culture, race, sexual identity, or other characteristics are different from my own."

Dobson growls that SpongeBob has been hijacked for ''prohomosexual propaganda." Spellings barks at lesbian mothers in Vermont. Bush talks about ''ideal" families. The hurricane of bigotry is gathering steam, with no certain safe harbor.

Derrick Z. Jackson's e-mail address is

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