Fights homophobia by attacking right to speak
As Maine voters last fall considered whether to outlaw same-sex marriage, an unusual debate unfolded on television. Sherri Gould, the literacy coach at Nokomis Regional High School, in Newport, appeared in a commercial to dispute the notion — advanced by opponents — that same-sex marriage would be taught in the public schools. And Donald Mendell, a guidance counselor at the same school, appeared in a competing ad in which he called Gould a "gay activist already pushing this type of agenda."
In a report by the Portland Press Herald, assistant superintendent Arnold Shorey called the dueling spots "a good civics lesson about the First Amendment."
He was right — but perhaps not in the way he had intended. Because, soon enough, a social worker at nearby Newport Elementary School named ANN SULLIVAN filed a complaint against Mendell with the Maine Office of Licensing and Registration arguing that Mendell should be stripped of his license to engage in social work. Her complaint said that Mendell "does not have the right as a licensed social worker to make public comments that can endanger or promote discrimination."
Mendell called Sullivan's action "frivolous" and "politically motivated." The licensing authorities agreed. In April, Mendell was cleared, with spokesman Doug Dunbar saying, "The board found there wasn't adequate evidence of a violation, so they found it wasn't adequate for a disciplinary action."
The story of same-sex marriage in Maine has not been uplifting. Voters in November rejected it, thus relegating lesbian and gay couples to second-class status. Maine and Rhode Island are now the only New England states where same-sex marriage isn't recognized. And it is unfortunate that Mendell would seek to impose his personal views of morality on everyone.
But it is equally unfortunate that Sullivan, an educator, would choose to fight the good fight against homophobia by trying to deny a fellow educator his First Amendment right to speak his mind. The licensing board, by doing the right thing, provided Newport students with a valuable lesson about free speech.