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A closer look at Donald Mendell, Stand For Marriage Maine's latest talking point

by Jeremy Hooper

Maine's "Yes on 1" campaign is using an anecdotal account from a local man by the name of Donald Mendell to supposedly "prove" that marriage equality has "everything to do with schools":

sfmmNothing to Do With Schools? Not So Fast.

The No on 1 campaign says Question 1 has nothing to do with schools. How do they explain posters like the one Donald Mendell saw in his child’s school, detailed in his letter to the editors of the Bangor Daily News? There is already an effort to promote a gay agenda in our schools, and it will only accelerate if Question 1 fails and homosexual marriage becomes legal in Maine.

Sex education?
The editorial “Same-Sex Among Us” (BDN, Sept. 18) accused those who oppose a law changing the definition of marriage of falsehoods and of “bringing children into the fray.” Having attended the April hearing in Augusta regarding the law, I witnessed many gay-marriage supporters bringing children up to the microphone, often holding them up to make their point. Only one of the opponents of gay marriage did that in the more than three hours I was there. A 7- or 8-year-old child was led to the microphone sobbing that people “wouldn’t let her auntie get married.”

Sex education is not the spearhead of the “homosexual marriage and behavior is equal to that of heterosexuality” message. It’s being done through the teachers who are forming clubs and organizing activities that purport to speak to harassment, but in fact are aggressively promoting an equality-of-behavior agenda with children in our schools. A club-approved poster, asking “When did you decide that you were straight?” has been placed, for the past two years, in our school hallway less than 50 feet from the main entrance. Try to read the words “When did you decide that you were straight” as might 13-year-old ninth-graders their first day of high school.

Objections that these efforts are not in keeping with this stage of development have not been heard. A yes vote on Question 1 can make your voice heard; a no vote will give those who use children’s trusting nature to turn them against the natural law written in all people the power to silence the rest of us.
Donald Mendell

This letter to the editor originally appeared in
the Bangor Daily News.
Nothing to do with schools? Not So Fast. [SFMM]

Okay, first off: The situation that Mr. Mendell is describing took place without marriage equality. It was a pro-tolerance project started by the school's three-year-old Gay-Straight Alliance. So to use it to discredit the merits of marriage equality is just plain absurd. Mr. Mendell's point of contention here does not revolve around the current legislation -- it revolves around acceptance in general! And that is not going to be rolled back, even in the highly unlikely event that the "yes on 1" campaign should succeed.

But that out of the way, let's move on to a conveniently overlooked point that makes this matter much more concerning than originally thought. That point: That Donald Mendell is not just a layman who has a kid in this high school, like "Yes on 1" makes it sound. Instead, Donald Mendell is actually a GUIDANCE COUNSELOR/SCHOOL SOCIAL WORKER at Newport/Maine's Nokomis High School! Yes, that's right -- he's a public school employee who has a responsibility to look after the welfare of ALL children. One would also think that he has a responsibility to handle whatever internal gruff he might have with his place of employment in a private, off-record manner (esp. in a role like guidance counseling, which revolves around trust). But instead, he has let his feelings known in an extremely public way. And not just this one time either. There's also this 5/2 letter in which he warns "thinking folks" of the "age-old ruse" of comparing homosexuality to race. There's also this 1/22 letter warning of the "myriad of ramifications" that will supposedly accompany marriage equality. Then there's this 1/4 web comment in which he intimates that marriage for gay couples will "ridicule tradition and belief in natural law." And in perhaps his most hostile missive, he used a 12/01/08 letter go after "a change that strikes to the heart of the Sacraments," denying that same-sex marriage is something that "our Lord would support." His engagement against our engagements has been going on for some time (with a really unfortunate ring attached to it).

Now, to be fair and transparent: Don's colleague at Nokomis Regional High, Sherri Gould, has also injected herself in the marriage debate, taking part in a "No on 1" campaign ad. But let's not pretend like there's no difference between appearing on TV to talk about "respect and Maine values (the message that Ms. Gould chose to convey) and appearing in public newspapers to attack gay "normalcy" (which is essentially what Mr. Mendell has chosen to do). Ms. Gould's comments should not make anyone, from the most out and proud gay kid to the most faith-entrenched Christian student, in any way wary of visiting her office. But we really can't say the same about Mr. Mendell's words! Plus, "No on 1" fully identified Ms. Gould as a public school employee. "Yes on 1," on the other hand, has positioned Mr. Mendell as a mere parent of a local kid. That failure to accurately disclose should raise anyone's eyebrows.

We fully support Mr. Mendell's right to engage in any way he sees fit. But at the same time, we as gay people who are deeply concerned about equality, rights, and the separation of church and state, have no choice but to push back against this kind of thing.

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Your thoughts

Alexandra, I dont believe Mendell's statement about stress related to having homosexual parents relates to every child he has seen with those circumstances, do you? He is not calling same sex couples as parents "hardships", he is discussing, from experience, the experiences of students who come to him...and by the way, still come to him. They would rather see him and feel safe in his room, that get seen by the gay sympathizing social worker...unless you talk with people in this school district that he has served, the families, and generations of families, I suggest the comments be kept towards freedom of speech.

Posted by: rufus springer | Nov 3, 2009 12:52:16 AM

Here is the odd thing that happens when a person takes a public stand on an issue: personal beliefs or opinions stop being about one’s experiences specifically and become general. When he talks about the “stress” of having gay parents in a newspaper article, I cannot but think that he believes it to be generally true, that most students with, using your words, “those circumstances” have bad experiences in life, and so forth. But this assessment is invalid and untrue. And yes, I would like to talk to some of these students and see how reassured and comfortable they are with the counselor that advocates against equality for ALL. You seem to know them very well to speak on their behalf. But forgive me if I don’t take your word for it. I said it before and I will say it again: one cannot advocate for safe environment and acceptance in schools and say that a certain group doesn’t have the right to have equal rights. I don’t expect people to understand this right away, since the change in mentality is the hardest change of all. But I hope that all of us will realize some day that it is impossible to gain anything by taking basic human rights from others just because some of us cannot fathom what it is or disagree with “the life styles.”

Posted by: Alexandra | Nov 4, 2009 11:04:20 AM

For Bob Stevens and all the others who are flying off about Mendell's lack of first amendment rights and the fact that he is being "investigated", let's flip the switch.

Would you support a guidance counselor in a public school who took to the broadcast world to say that he believed marriage was only between men and women of the same race?

What you, the Bob Steves of the world, don't understand is that sure, everyone can have an opinion, but some opinions HURT other people. I'm sure there are tons, TONS of people in the US who disapprove of interracial relationships (see the guy who denied the marriage licence to the couple in LA). More often than not, we would NOT prop these people's opinion up as first amendment rights.

If someone doesn't "dislike" black people, but just has "strong beliefs" that blacks and whites shouldn't be married, his opinions have the potential to inflict harm and bias to others, particularly in an environment like a school!

So tell me, Bob - would you support Mr. Mendell if his opinion was of race and not of orientation? Would you disagree that statements such as "marriage is between one white mand and one white woman" are harmful, and could cause students of multiracial backgrounds from seeking advice from him and trusting him? Students who are in biracial relationships? Come on.

Gay people exist. This isn't a matter of "beliefs". You can not pretend gay people - students, teachers and parents - exist, even if you want to "believe" it. Just like people who "believe" black people aren't equal to white people can't change the fact that black people ARE equal to white people, this guy, who believes "gay marriage is not the same as straight marriage and gay people don't deserve the same rights" can't change the fact that a.) gay people exist b.) they are people c.) they deserve respect just like anyone else and d.) his words have the potential to hurt the people his job requires him to help!

Posted by: Stef | Nov 8, 2009 9:44:10 PM

gay people don't exist* my bad

Posted by: Stef | Nov 9, 2009 12:09:13 AM

Black - Race
Gay - Behavior
The only right people have here is life, liberty, and pursuit of property.
Sorry if your feelings hurt. Sorry for peoples feelings to get hurt. That is life. What happens when everybody is happy with everything. Is everyone suppose to be accepting of everything?

So your question cannot be answered because it is so hard for YOU to understand BLACK IS NOT GAY
BEING BLACK IS BEING BLACK OR YELLOW OR RED OR WHITE OR BROWN.? Did that just hurt your feelings too?
GAY, can I get some help with this one?

Posted by: Bob Stevens | Dec 3, 2009 4:10:45 AM

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