Winchester High School assembly Œhorrifiesı local parents

WINCHESTER — When a gay teacher, a transgendered woman, and a gay woman spoke at a Winchester High School assembly recently, at least two parents were horrified by the school's decision.

"We will not stand for this type of information being shared with our kids at school," said Winchester resident Mike Rotondi and his wife in an e-mail. Rotondi's 15-year-old son is a student at WHS.

The controversial assembly was hosted by Spectrum, the high school's Gay-Straight Alliance. It took place earlier this month, during Pride Week.

Spectrum students felt that the school should have a day of dialogue with follow-up discussions to reinforce that Winchester supports its members of the gay community, said principal Thomas Gwin.

Gwin said he supported the assembly as an attempt to show respect for diversity, promote tolerance, and to ensure that everyone feels valued in the school community.

"The purpose was to educate students about differences so we can eliminate or decrease stereotyping," he said in an e-mail.

Three speakers spoke at the assembly: a gay woman, gay biology teacher Michelle White, and a transgendered woman.

A transgendered person, someone who identifies with their gender differently than others, might have surgery to physically take the form of the opposite sex. The person may then be defined as a transsexual.

"I felt the speakers did a nice job," said Gwin. "They briefly talked about growing up, realizing they were different, and how they dealt with it. I really did not see anything controversial in what they had to say."

But Rotondi and his wife found the information to be very controversial.

"To have [a speaker] stand before an assembly of 14- and 15-year-old children and say things like 'I used to be an outie but now I'm an innie,' horrifies us," he said. "My wife and I are appalled that this type of information was showered upon our child."

Rotondi said he respected the idea of tolerance and understanding, but he added that he did not understand the choice to include a transgendered woman.

"Transgender in my eyes has nothing to do with gay or lesbian," said Rotondi. "I don't know any transgender people and frankly feel it is a bit perverse."

Rotondi said it should be the parents' decision whether or not their children would attend such an assembly, and Gwin agreed.

"I should have sent out a letter in advance, allowing students to opt out of the assembly," said Gwin. "I neglected to do that, but that will not happen again."

The school is not planning any similar assemblies at this time, said Gwin. He said he has been getting positive feedback as well as negative.

"Some have been saying it's a good thing," said Gwin. "Others have been saying, 'What are you trying to do here?' We're just trying to make sure our students feel comfortable."

© 2000 Woburn Daily Times Inc.