Saturday, February 3, 2001
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Posted on: Saturday, February 3, 2001

Gabbard critics told to limit testimony

By Alice Keesing
Advertiser Education Writer

A parade of Carol Gabbard’s critics has dogged her ever since she joined the Board of Education in November and, on Thursday, chairman Herb Watanabe decided he’d heard enough.

"This thing will not be accepted henceforth," he said after more testimony both against and in support of Gabbard. "We do not want the board to be sitting out here having debate for one or another. This is not a place for that. If you want to take up issues that refer to education, we’d like to have that done."

Watanabe’s request speaks to the board’s concern that the situation could become disruptive. By law, the board can limit public testimony to subjects that are on the meeting agenda.

Gabbard has been a controversial figure since the run-up to the November election when she became embroiled in a heated debate about whether gay students should be given specific protection under the schools’ anti-harassment rules, referred to as Chapter 19.

There were street demonstrations both opposing and supporting Gabbard, and clashes with other candidates over the question of specifically supporting gay students.

Gabbard has said she believes all students should be protected, but asked whether homosexuality should be taught in schools as "a normal and natural lifestyle." Gabbard is the wife of Mike Gabbard, who led the successful campaign for a constitutional amendment on same-sex marriage in 1998.

After Gabbard won election to the board with nearly 100,000 votes, her opponents vowed to attend every meeting and scrutinize her every move. Most of them just observe, often wearing anti-Gabbard T-shirts.

Gabbard has not responded to her critics during board meetings. In a written response to Advertiser questions yesterday, she said: "The continuing harassment and personal attacks against me by homosexual activists at three BOE meetings makes it clear that they are more interested in demonizing me than they are in our children’s education.

"They’re essentially holding our children’s education hostage by wasting the valuable time and energy of the Board of Education members."

But Gabbard’s opponents say board member Denise Matsumoto asked for proof two weeks ago about their testimony that Gabbard had been hateful and harmful to gays and lesbians.

"So what we’re going to do is provide testimony that proves what we’re saying," said Nancy Roberts, a member of Stop Promoting Hatred Hawaii, which protested Gabbard’s candidacy.

Another member, Tracey LaGondino, said she objected to Watanabe’s request and said it won’t stop the group from attending meetings.

"Would he prefer protests as opposed to testimony?" she asked. "We’re going to be there every single time — it’s a public forum and we’re interested in public education, particularly in the implementation of Chapter 19, and not just in what Carol Gabbard is doing."

Meanwhile, the Department of Education is putting together a group of people to serve on the task force that will determine how the revised anti-harassment rule is enforced.

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