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County is accused of being anti-gay

TIMES STAFF WRITER
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CANTON — St. Lawrence County was accused Monday night of homophobia for removing a poster advertising the Out at the Movies film festival.


More than 20 gay and lesbian residents and their supporters slammed the county at Monday's Legislature meeting over the administration's decision to remove the poster from a public bulletin board in the Department of Social Services building.


"The real issue is that we know in our society there is homophobia," said David R. Weissbard, Canton. "County policy cannot be that we give into that ignorance."


Out at the Movies is a festival of documentaries, dramatic and comedy films exploring issues in the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community. The festival ran from Feb. 26 to Monday. Twenty-one movies were shown at Clarkson University, SUNY Potsdam, St. Lawrence University, SUNY Canton, the Roxy Theater in Potsdam and Unitarian Universalist Church in Canton.


A poster advertising the movies was taken down two weeks ago after about six employees complained that they found words in them offensive.


"The problem we had was the employees complained," said James W. Davis, DSS commissioner. "I can assure you it had nothing to do with the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender group."


The county received 61 e-mails and one letter about the incident by Monday. The American Civil Liberties was contacted, said Maureen A. McCarthy, festival planning committee member.


County Administrator Karen M. St. Hilaire supported Mr. Davis's decision.


"This is not about pitting gays and lesbians versus people who are heterosexual," Ms. St. Hilaire said. "This is about what's appropriate in the workplace."


Titles included on the poster are "Itty Bitty Titty Committee," "Butch Jamie" and "Out at the Wedding."


Ms. St. Hilaire later discussed the incident with the head of Prism, a gay-rights group. They decided to meet and talk about sensitivity training for county employees, Ms. St. Hilaire said.


After County Attorney Peter B. Lekki concluded the posters did not constitute sexual harassment, they were reposted but with some of the words blocked out.


"They weren't obscene. You're making gay people become invisible when you do that," said the Rev. Wade T. Wheelock, co-pastor at the Canton Unitarian Universalist Church.


The explanation that the county will consider sensitivity training did not satisfy those in the gallery wearing rainbow pins who wanted an admission of wrongdoing. Democratic legislators J. Patrick Turbett, Potsdam, and Tedra L. Cobb, Canton, obliged.


"I think all of us should be cognizant of the fact that we did not act appropriately," Ms. Cobb said.

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