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No room for site inclusive of all

An official at a national Web directory tells a mother that not discriminating against gays discriminates against "most major religions."

By REBECCA CATALANELLO
Published June 30, 2005


TAMPA - After exchanging e-mails with an official at a leading national homeschool Web site, Terri Willingham knew she had a problem.

"A major problem," wrote Ted Pride, the Web master at www.home-school.com:

Willingham welcomes gays.

Her Tampa-based homeschool group, LIFE Inc., states on its Web site that it "welcomes all educators regardless of religion, race, teaching style, politics, marital status, age or sexual orientation."

It was the "sexual orientation" part that got to Pride.

"(That) is too overt for a listing on our Web site," Pride e-mailed her. "Not discriminating on sexual orientation basically means discriminating against most major religions, since the two are mutually exclusive."

So Willingham went to her LIFE of Tampa Web site - a related list for homeschoolers in the Tampa Bay area - and changed "LIFE welcomes everyone" to "LIFE welcomes everyone of all races, ethnicities, religions, family compositions, sexual orientations, diets, learning styles, abilities (and) disabilities."

Then she asked Pride to remove her listings from Homeschool World's online directory.

In the past four days, 49 homeschool groups in 21 states have joined Willingham in "outing" themselves as homeschool organizations that don't discriminate against any belief or lifestyle.

The resulting National Directory of Fully Inclusive Homeschool Support Groups, posted at www.uuhomeschool.org/groups.php3 could be the first listing of its kind in the world of homeschooling - a sphere long dominated by conservatives who often home educate for religious reasons.

With the homeschooling movement growing in popularity, experts say the philosophical mind-set is shifting to include more people who see home education as an extension of good parenting rather than an outgrowth of religious instruction.

"I don't think I would have gotten a response like this five or six years ago," said Willingham, a 44-year-old author and Odessa parent of three. (Willingham contributes an occasional guest column on parenting and homeschooling to the St. Petersburg Times North of Tampa section).

Homeschoolers make up about 2.2 percent of the school-aged children in the United States, up from 1.7 percent in 1999. Florida alone has more than 51,000 students registered with the state Department of Education as being homeschooled, an increase of 409 percent since 1991.

"It seemed like it was time we made a public place where we could say that (we welcome gays and lesbians) and be okay," Willingham said.

Mary Pride is president of Homeschool World, which publishes Practical Homeschooling magazine. She also is the author o f Mary Pride's Complete Guide to Getting Started in Homeschooling , a leading homeschool text. She called the flap with LIFE a "nonstory."

"What we're looking at here," she said, "is Christian bashing."

Her son and Web master, Ted, was not authorized to make the statements he e-mailed to Willingham, she said.

"I theologically agree with him," she said of her son's e-mail. "But I would not want to be hung up with him ... If I put this stuff on our Web site, it sounds like we are condoning it, we approved it."

Pride said that if she had been in communication with Willingham, she would have questioned only whether LIFE is a true homeschool support group because the statewide organization promotes homeschooling as one of several educational options. She likened LIFE's inclusive statement to a "manifesto."

"Inclusive' is a good enough word without going into what they include," she said.

Willingham compared Homeschool World's stance with the military's "don't ask, don't tell, don't pursue" policy established in the 1990s.

Denny Lynn Zahrt, leader of Homeschool Cooperative Educating in Central Florida, said the controversy prompted her group to reword its inclusiveness statement. Not only is it open to all faiths, ethnicities and sexual preferences, she said, it now extends to diet, vaccination status and more.

The word "inclusive" has been used by homeschoolers for years. In some cases it means inclusive to all Christian denominations. In others, it means the group is secular and discourages any religious discussion.

Zahrt said it's nice to be able to stand up and say the only thing that matters to her group is that member families are homeschooling.

"We really do mean everybody," she said.

[Last modified June 30, 2005, 00:58:11]


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