Representative Robert Dornan (R-CA) has introduced a bill in the House, HR 862, that would require that "[n]o federal funds may be used directly or indirectly to promote, condone, accept, or celebrate homosexuality, lesbianism, or bisexuality." (emphasis added)

This sweeping legislation would promote federal witch-hunts for any "taint" of homosexuality in any federally assisted program. It could, among other things: (1) exact a draconian penalty from those jurisdictions, organizations, and businesses which have anti-discrimination laws or policies which include gays, lesbians, or bisexuals; (2) impinge upon religious liberty; (3) require health care and mental health professionals to violate professional ethics; and (4) endanger public health and welfare. Most significantly, it would broadly limit free speech and encourage the federal government to ferret out and censor "incorrect" views on homosexuality among federal employees, grant recipients, state and local governments, schools and libraries, government contractors and subcontractors, and beneficiaries of federally assisted programs, among others.

Because federal dollars are insinuated so thoroughly into every aspect of public life, no library, school, research facility, social service agency, or hospital would go untouched. The terms of this bill are so vague and broad that they can easily be manipulated to serve a virulently anti-gay political agenda. Acceptance of homosexuality could include mere retention of lesbian, gay, or bisexual staff, adoption of a nondiscrimination policy which includes sexual orientation, or even the provision of services--not related to sexual orientation--to lesbian, gay, or bisexual clientele. Indeed, the legislation will reach many service providers of AIDS training, counseling, and preventive care who do not view their work as promoting homosexuality in any manner.

It is clear from Rep. Dornan's "Dear Colleague" letter dated March 31, 1995, that he intends to target well respected HIV and AIDS education programs as well as workplace diversity programming for federal employees which, he claims, are simply pretenses, designed to make workers "feel less judgmental towards with HIV/AIDS." (Ellipses in original Dornan letter.) 1

But the reach of this legislation is far broader than the programs already identified by Rep. Dornan and his allies on Religious Right 2 . Many programs that do not have anything directly to do with sexual orientation could also lose federal funding. For example:

All federal funding that goes to states, cities, and counties that have enacted sexual orientation non-discrimination laws, is at risk. Dornan's bill could cost California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Wisconsin, every penny of federal funding they currently receive. The nine other states with executive orders prohibiting such discrimination, and the over 100 cities and counties with anti-discrimination policies or ordinances, would also risk losing federal support.

Dornan's bill could also affect congressional offices with non-discrimination policies. In the 104th Congress, 218 Representatives, and 64 Senators have such employment policies.

This bill may also reach government contractors with non-discrimination policies. Companies such as AT & T, Dow Chemical, General Motors, Lockheed, Marriott, Northwest Airlines, Xerox, and U.S. West, among many others, have written policies that may be construed as "condoning" homosexuality.

Dornan's bill may also have an impact on the federal governmentþs ability to collect statistics under the Hate Crimes Statistics Act, or the ability of state law enforcement agencies that receive federal funds to enforce hate crime laws that include sexual orientation.

A wide range of non-profit organizations also risk funding losses under this bill. Religious, academic, public health, and social service institutions would all face the unconstitutional choice of giving up either their First Amendment rights or their federal funding.

Specific examples of the types of programs whose funding will be at risk if the Dornan bill is passed include:

  • Religious groups that preach tolerance of homosexuality, or who welcome lesbian, gay, and bisexual congregants, may lose federal assistance for non-sectarian food pantries, homeless shelters, or other community-service programs they sponsor.

As a practical matter, the Dornan bill could compel schools to adopt federally mandated, content-based views concerning homosexuality in every facet of school activities, including:

  • School libraries could be forced to purge their shelves of literature with positive, or even non-punitive, gay or lesbian themes, and works by gay or lesbian authors.

  • Curricula could be reviewed by the federal government in areas such as history, biology, literature, health, psychology, philosophy, art and art history.

  • The exchange of ideas between teachers and students, which lies at the very core of the educational process, would be chilled and hampered by the threat of having funding cut off because some otherwise permissible exchange might be construed, after-the-fact, as having promoted, condoned, accepted, or celebrated homosexuality.

  • School newspapers, magazines, plays, musicals, and speech contests could be censored.

  • The content of counseling, either provided by the school or referred to outside agencies, could be censored.

  • Respected high-school anti-discrimination programs, such as that created by Governor William Weld (R-MA), or the Anti-Defamation League's "A World of Difference" could be censored, resulting in no discussion of intolerance, gay-bashing violence, or harassment within schools--a problem which 45% of gay male and 20% of lesbian high school students say they've experienced. 3

  • Programs to prevent students from dropping out of high school would also be affected--of the lesbian and gay students who experienced anti-gay harassment or violence, 28% drop out of high school as a result of such threats. 4

  • Programs for runaways could also be forced to refuse services to youth who self-identify as lesbian, gay, or bisexual, or risk losing federal funding, and possibly the ability to provide services to any youth.

Requiring such orthodoxy in the school is antithetical to the promotion of free inquiry that has been the hallmark of this nation's educational system. It is also antithetical to the well-settled proposition that the public school system works best when local communities determine for themselves the content of their educational programs. See Brown v. Board of Education, 347 U.S. 483, 493 (1954) ("[E]ducation is perhaps the most important function of state and local governments.")

The Dornan bill would also limit access to information in the nationþs libraries, and restrict the ability of the Library of Congress and libraries around the country which receive federal support to use their best judgment when procuring materials. The collection of the Library of Congress could become regulated by content, and Religious Right activists would have a new basis for their challenges to library collections across the country.

Colleges and universities that receive federal funding for any purpose, including student federal financial aid, could face dramatic challenges to academic freedom and the free exchange of ideas under the Dornan bill.

The Dornan bill would moreover run afoul of professional ethics codes. The National Association of Social Workers, the American Psychological Association, and the National Education Association, along with most professional health, mental health, and educational organizations have adopted ethical codes against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

Finally, this legislation could interfere with the provision of health care and research enhancing public health. In order to carry out their public health mandates, the Centers for Disease Control, and state and local public health organizations, must retain the ability to conduct research on all health problems within the U.S., regardless of the sexual orientation of those affected by the problem. Prevention programs, funded by Health and Human Services, the Veterans Administration, the Department of Education, and many other federal agencies, must also continue to be targeted to at-risk populations if they are to be of value.

These concerns and examples are neither far-fetched nor hypothetical. This legislation would arm anti-gay organizations with an extraordinary weapon to challenge the content of, and access to, information throughout society. Even without this law, groups such as the Traditional Values Coalition, Concerned Women for America, the Eagle Forum, and Citizens for Excellence in Education, conduct virulent campaigns against the so-called þhomosexual agenda,þ and seek to demonize gays and lesbians, and to censor and defund organizations and programs they believe condone or accept homosexuality--from holdings in public libraries to the content of textbooks and classroom discussions.

When public officials disagree with or vote against these groups on these issues, they often face well-organized smear campaigns. For example, in November, 1993, the Texas State Board of Education considered approval of five high-school health texts. Religious Right groups, including the American Family Association, the Eagle Forum, the Christian Coalition, and the California-based Citizens for Excellence in Education, demanded over 1000 substantive changes to these books. These included deletion of definitions for the terms homosexuality and homophobia, substitution of photographs of working women with photographs of men in the same jobs, and elimination of references to contraception and AIDS. The board recommended over 300 of those changes to the publishers before approving the textbooks for use. Board members who voted for the books were characterized in Religious Right voter guides as "promoters of homosexual adoption," and "in favor of teaching oral, vaginal, and anal intercourse in high school." The Religious Right succeeded in defeating two moderate incumbents and one moderate running for an open seat, giving the right wing a majority on the Board. 5

Similar attacks were launched against members of Congress who opposed the so-called "Hancock" amendment last session, which would have imposed a "Dornan-like" restriction on education funding. The Christian Coalition sent out a "Congressional Scorecard" claiming that members who opposed the restriction voted in favor of "promoting homosexuality to school children." 6

While members of these groups are entitled as citizens to raise their concerns and to have them considered by our policy makers, the Dornan bill would codify their narrow views in federal law, and would hand them a club with which to force local communities into compliance.

Regardless of local desires, policies, and standards, the religious right's political agenda could determine the holdings of public libraries, content of public educational material, quality of public health and mental health services, and the degree of religious liberty to which all citizens are entitled.

1. "Dear Colleague" letter from Rep. Dornan to House of Representatives colleagues, dated March 31, 1995.

2. Washington Blade, Feb. 17, 1995. Further religious right targets of this legislation can be found in a document called "How Congress Supports and Funds Organized Homosexuality" by Paul T. Mero, of the anti-gay organization American Priorities. Among the targets Mero attacks are AIDS education grants to numerous local education organizations, workplace diversity programs, and announcements of commitment ceremonies in department newsletters.

3. Gay Rights Law for Schools Advances in Massachusetts, N.Y. Times, Dec. 8, 1993. See also 79 Pediatrics, 326 (1987), and Nat'l. Gay and Lesbian Task Force, Anti-Gay/Lesbian Victimization, (1984).

4. Id.

5. John Young, School wrecking crew, Waco Tribune-Herald, Oct. 30, 1994; Roseana Auten, Fear and Baiting on the Campaign Trail, Austin Chron., Nov. 4, 1994; Joseph Garcia, Education panel sees GOP gains, Dallas Morning News, Nov. 10, 1994.

6. Christian Coalition, 1994 Election Edition Congressional Scorecard.