Sunday, October 29, 1995

Small contributors have say on gay-rights referendum

Question 1

Abstracted data from latest PAC Reports

By Steven G. Vegh
Staff Writer
©Copyright 1995 Guy Gannett Communications

Amid the campaign rhetoric around the Nov. 7 anti-gay rights referendum, the personal convictions and not-too-deep pockets of Mainers like Nora W. Stetson and Joan Bakker are easy to overlook.

They haven't made the headlines. They haven't given speeches. They aren't central players in this unfolding political drama.

The spotlight has been on others: High-profile endorsements by such figures as Gov. Angus King and Martina Navratilova, the tennis superstar who came to Maine this month to oppose the referendum; how much influence the ''Big Right'' and the ''Big Left'' are wielding; campaign leaders' clashing views of the referendum's effect.

But the referendum's outcome rests with ordinary citizens like Bakker, who's voting ''yes,'' and Stetson, who's voting ''no.'' They care enough about the outcome to contribute small amounts of money to the causes. That money is being used to lobby other Mainers - through posters, mailings and television commercials.

The referendum asks voters whether the protection provided by Maine laws against discrimination should be limited to race, color, sex, physical or mental disability, religion, age, ancestry, national origin, familial and marital status.

The measure does not mention sexual orientation but is widely considered to be a vote on gay rights.

If approved, the measure would delete gays and lesbians from protection under the Maine hate crimes law. It also would invalidate gay rights ordinances in Portland and Long Island.

Decided voters such as Bakker and Stetson say Question 1 is about more than gay rights. What's at stake, they say, is what Maine will become as a place to live.

Bakker, a South Portland nurse, fears that the referendum's defeat would compound Maine's ongoing loss of good social values by giving militant gays the go-ahead to promote homosexuality.

''I kind of hate to see what they'll dream up next to invade our life with,'' said Bakker, 56.

Nora W. Stetson, who also is a nurse from South Portland, says referendum approval would mean that subtle discrimination against gays, as well as other groups, no longer need be subtle.

''There was a time not that long ago in this country where businesses posting positions had signs saying, 'Irish need not apply,' '' said Stetson, 67, who emigrated from Ireland after World War II.

Money where mouth is

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Bakker and Stetson feel so strongly about the referendum that each has contributed cash to her cause in hopes of winning other Mainers to their side.

Stetson gave $70 to Maine Won't Discriminate, which opposes the referendum. Bakker gave $100 to Concerned Maine Families, which initiated the referendum. Modest cash donations like these form the financial backbone of the referendum campaigns.

That's proven in the referendum campaigns' latest financial reports, which record contributions received between July 6 and Sept. 30. Nearly all of the donations were for $200 or less - 866 of Maine Won't Discriminate's 990 donations; 90 of Concerned Maine Families' 100 donations; and 48 of the 51 donations received by the Coalition to End Special Rights, a smaller pro-referendum group.

MWD, which has also received single contributions as large as $20,000, had raised $655,289 as of Sept. 30. That cash has allowed it to hire campaign staffers and campaign and media consultants. MWD spent $384,388 in late summer and early fall, most of it on advertising.

The pro-referendum groups, meanwhile, have raised far less. As of Sept. 30, CMF had raised just $58,195 since the campaign began. The Coalition to End Special Rights, a newer pro-referendum group, had raised $9,744.

The two groups' finance reports show spending on typical campaign expenses - postage, telephone service, office supplies and printing. Nowhere is there evidence that either group has the money to pay for an advertising campaign supporting a ''yes'' vote.

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In interviews in the past two weeks with the Maine Sunday Telegram, eight Mainers who have given money to the pro- and anti-referendum campaigns said they did so to stand up for what they believe in. And they said they formed their views of gay rights long before the referendum campaigns began.

Joan Bakker, in favor

Even though Joan Bakker is voting for Question 1, she said she is supportive of gay people. She said she's had friends die of AIDS and has gay co-workers.

''They're very busy with their work, their life, and they feel they're equal,'' she said, adding that special laws aren't needed to guarantee that equality. Bakker doesn't see any problems or discrimination facing gays.

In fact, she said, gays are well off financially. The fund-raising success of MWD shows gays are affluent, she said. ''You don't see homeless homosexuals everywhere, and banks give credit (to them). It's not a problem. So it's something else they want.''

Bakker attributes the push for gay rights not to her contented gay colleagues but to a second group of gays.

''There is a very real, powerful, militant gay group that is very vocal. They're very powerful in Congress, the state, the nation,'' Bakker said. This group intends to promote homosexuality, especially in schools, she said.

Bakker said Portland's gay rights ordinance demonstrated how a ''no'' vote would give entry to promotion of homosexuality. The city ordinance was passed in November 1992. The next spring, a Deering High School ''diversity day'' featured two lesbians who answered students' questions about their sexual experiences.

Yet, Bakker says, public schools cannot even talk about the religious aspects of national holidays such as Thanksgiving.

''I'm seeing the values that we've had in the state and country slipping, and these new values coming in,'' said Bakker, who has three children and two grandchildren. ''I don't like to see those values of homosexuality coming in if they push everything else out.''

Randall Clark, in favor

Like Bakker, Cape Elizabeth's Randall Clark perceives an agenda pushed not by all gays but by militant gays.

''It's impossible not to believe that their intentions are, in this case, I believe, to use this as a platform to build on for incremental rights and privileges,'' Clark said of referendum opponents. ''This is not the end.''

Clark, 36, works for the National Association for the Self-Employed, which provides services such as health insurance to small businesses. He and his wife, Susan, home-school their four children - they want to ensure that their values are passed to their children.

Clark said he's explained the referendum to his children. ''I said there were people that wanted privileges over and above what everybody has,'' he said.

Clark also doesn't believe gay discrimination in areas such as housing is a big problem. As a landlord - he rents out two houses and two apartments - his only concern is getting tenants who pay the rent promptly and who respect his property and other tenants. Fellow landlords feel the same, Clark said.

He has distributed leaflets in neighborhoods on behalf of CMF and contributed about $245.

''Balance is a key word in this,'' he said. ''I don't believe they (gays) should have special rights, that is, minority status.''

Carolyn Thomas, against

Carolyn S. Thomas, however, doesn't think that protecting gays from discrimination in banking, for example, is a special right.

As a credit analyst for a Portland bank, she knows that if it weren't for the city's gay rights ordinance, she could legally use sexual orientation as grounds for denying someone a personal, commercial or car loan.

''I've been surprised at the number of people I talk to who don't realize gays and lesbians can be fired from their job simply because they are gay or lesbian,'' said Thomas, who's given $100 to Maine Won't Discriminate.

Thomas, single and 34, traces her view to values instilled by her family during her childhood in a small, affluent Rhode Island town. ''It was something we grew up with - the whole notion of fairness,'' she said.

For Thomas, fairness is at the core of the referendum debate. It is not fair, she said, to limit what groups can be protected under Maine's human rights laws, which is what the referendum would do.

''Think about the black civil rights movement in the '60s. It wasn't until then that people realized blacks needed laws to protect them from discrimination,'' she said. ''If we'd left it to the South to add civil rights, there'd be none for blacks today.''

Joseph Sukaskas, against

Similarly, Joseph Sukaskas, a 50-year-old engineer from Yarmouth, said it's respect for others that's at stake on Nov. 7.

''One of the things we humans are getting away from is respect for each other,'' Sukaskas said. ''It just diminishes us, if we can't judge ourselves and family by accomplishments'' rather than appearance, color or other attributes.

A New York City native, Sukaskas and his Maine-born wife, Gail, moved to Maine in 1982. It was far different than life in the big city, ''that anonymity in New York where you didn't know, and didn't want to know, the neighbors on your road,'' he said.

''I discovered here that the world is a lot larger,'' he said. ''I could not only go to the mailbox with the person next door, but get to know them, and like them.''

Sukaskas has contributed $50 to MWD. He's talked with friends and co-workers, not about the referendum, but about how to get along with people. And the MWD sticker on his car - which urges fellow motorists to vote ''no'' on Question 1 - is the first political slogan he's slapped on his bumper in 15 years or more.

Why so much concern? ''Perhaps because this decision is more reflective of what we will be as a people, as a species. It's about how I'm going to deal with my fellow human beings,'' he said.

''This is probably the first time I've been faced with voting in a choice like this,'' Sukaskas said. ''The fact we're being asked to talk about this is unfortunate.''

Katharine Vogel, in favor

Katharine Vogel said it will be more unfortunate - a disaster, in fact - if homosexuals are allowed to spread their lifestyle.

''They want extra things that let them push their own values on people who don't want this. That's the schools and even the government, which is for all the people,'' she said. ''It is, down the road, heading to the breakdown of the family and our nation.''

A registered nurse, Vogel, 41, now stays home to school her four children in the new house she and her husband, Arthur, built in York. Arthur owns and manages two Hallmark stores in Portsmouth.

Vogel, who gave $100 to CMF, said the media misrepresent folks who support the referendum.

''In the paper, it seems that people who are against (gay rights) are hateful and have guns and will shoot people, but that's not right,'' she said. ''I don't have any hatred.''

Instead, she teaches her children to be fair to everyone. ''I teach my children not to judge - that's God's role,'' she said.

A strong Catholic, Vogel said that the pope doesn't countenance homosexuality. Though the Diocese of Maine opposes the referendum, Vogel believes Maine's bishop is wrong and that her ''yes'' vote will reflect the Vatican's teaching.

Peter Gross, in favor

Faith also inspires referendum backing from Peter Gross, a Bath Iron Works engineer, Brunswick resident and 35-year-old father of three children.

A Baptist, Gross said his religious beliefs teach him that ''a certain kind of behavior is wrong.'' Homosexuality is wrong, he said. But if the referendum fails, Gross said he fears that the Legislature will approve a statewide gay rights bill next year.

''The government would become an advocate for homosexuals,'' he said. The impact on schools, day care centers, churches, businesses and most groups is clear, Gross said.

''They'd have no way of saying, 'We disagree with this, with having somebody who's homosexual on the staff. We don't like it,' '' he said. In other words, Gross said, employers would not be able to deny a job to someone they didn't like because of that person's obvious homosexuality.

Gross said his donations of $50 to CMF and $100 to the Coalition to End Special Rights, another pro-referendum group, will help stop gay rights from eroding the values of the American family.

''People who vote 'no' should ask, are they honest about it or doing it because it's politically correct,'' Gross said. ''They should be willing to say it's OK for their child to be gay. And if they can't they should think (again) about making it a government standard.''

Nora Stetson, against

Nora Stetson, a divorced mother of three, has six grandchildren and one great-grandchild. She has no trepidations at the possibility any of the youngsters may grow up to be gay or lesbian.

''It certainly would be OK with me if that's what they would be. I could never feel any different,'' Stetson said. Rather, her greatest concern is that ''they never have to face discrimination.''

Stetson worries about how hard it has been to stamp out discrimination, even with human rights laws on the books. She noted that just last week vandals overturned 150 headstones in two Jewish cemeteries in Portland. ''It sure has the look of a hate crime,'' she said.

Maine has no statewide gay rights law, and discrimination has taken place, Stetson said. She cited gay friends' accounts about applying for jobs and being told, falsely, that the vacancy had been filled. Such stories could become more common, and discrimination more blatant, if Mainers pass Question 1, she said.

''It wouldn't be so subtle if this passes,'' said Stetson, who gave $70 to MWD. ''I shudder to think about it.''

Carmen Dorsey, against

So does Carmen Dorsey, who is a lesbian. The referendum, she said, ''stirs up a whole caldron of fear, and sometimes hatred, toward gays and lesbians.

''My perspective and, I believe, that of other (gay) people out there is we're simply afraid and want to hold on to our jobs,'' Dorsey said.

Dorsey, 33, was born in Fort Fairfield and grew up in Massachusetts. ''My parents taught me to just love people, don't judge them all the time,'' she said.

Dorsey moved back to Maine 10 years ago. She now lives in Portland with her partner of seven years and works as a trainer in a social service agency.

''I think Maine is a great place to live. It's the only place that's ever felt like home,'' she said. ''I view the state as a pretty tolerant place to live.''

Tolerance, she said, means ''there's certainly people out there who would not agree with the way I live, but they leave me alone.''

Nonetheless, she said, there is discrimination in Maine, and the referendum would sanction it in the future. ''This is a very thinly disguised effort to isolate and separate one group from the rest, and I disagree with that on every level, as a human being,'' she said.

Dorsey has given MWD $60 and wishes she could give more. A reserved person, she is also urging everyone she knows or trusts to vote ''no.''

''This is awful,'' she said of the referendum. ''This thing is just awful.''


Question 1 on the Nov. 7 ballot reads: ''Do you favor the changes in Maine law limiting protected classifications, in future state and local laws, to race, color, sex, physical or mental disability, religion, age, ancestry, national origin, familial status and marital status, and repealing existing laws which expand these classifications as proposed by citizen petition?''

Concerned Maine Families and Coalition to End Special Rights support a ''yes'' vote.

Maine Won't Discriminate supports a ''no'' vote.

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