What follows is something that 30 years ago would probably have been easilly discounted as a hoax. In today's religion-motivated homophobic hysteria, however, it's just another in a long series of bizarrely stupid things the religious among us do when faced with their own fears and it wasn't so easilly recognized as a hoax and dismissed.
The fact that many people bought into this hoax speaks volumes about
how the hatred of minorities has managed to become so commonplace in
America that hoaxes such as the one which follows can be believed.
A.P. (Brigham City, Utah) -- The Brigham City School Board met in an emergency session yesterday with the city council to consider allegations that the school district's youngest charges were being inculcated with a pro-gay ideology and same-sex marriage.
The issue arose after scores of parents complained that children in the kindergarten class at Brigham Elementary were being led in a game which mimicked same-sex marriages. At issue was the game "The Farmer in the Dell."
Mott, the accused kindergarten teacher, explained: "The class is way over-balanced with girls. I mean, we have lots more girls than boys. Sometimes it just happens that way, it's just chance. So when we play "Farmer in the Dell, sometimes I let a girl go first, so that everybody gets a turn."
The problem arises with the next line of the children's song: "the farmer takes a wife." The girl-farmer would often choose another little girl to join her in the circle as the "farmer's wife."
"This is just setting a bad example to our young and impressionable children," said Jared Day, whose child is in the class. "If you don't stand up for family values, this country is going to go right down the toilet."
"It's upsetting the natural order of things," concurred Lisa Perkins, "and it's upsetting me, too." "It's like dragging those innocent children down into a ditch. It's an outrage that we can't protect our own children from that sort of filth," said her husband, Wayne Perkins.
"I know these things may happen in other places," said Janabell Millett. "But this is Brigham City. We can't let that kind of pollution into our town. And into the kindergarten, no less!"
The extent of the furor over this issue can be gauged by the number of town citizens who have got involved -- far more than just the parents of students in the kindergarten class. At the extraordinary joint session of the School Board and the city council, over 200 parents and others showed up to voice concerns, and petitions were submitted with hundreds of names.
"Somebody told us about this in Relief Society last Sunday," said Filene Dunnbody, referring to the Mormon women's weekly church meeting. "We started the petition right then and there. We just knew we had to take action; we were all so mad about those poor little children. After we got everyone in Relief Society to sign, we took it over to the men's quorums and they were glad to sign on too. Even some of the youth signed."
It was rumored that Mormon churches in neighboring towns were gearing up to bus in hundreds more parents to the next School Board meeting, should the issue not find an immediate resolution.
Parents in Brigham City have organized an action committee, and have stated that they will sue the school board and the kindergarten teacher personally for psychic damage to their children. They have asked a BYU Law School professor to represent them in the case, and have already drafted a law for the State legislature which would ban all play acting of same-sex marriage in the public schools.
When kindergarten teacher Renee Mott testified to the combined school board and town council that the situation had come about entirely innocently, her explanation was met with pronounced scepticism.
"I just wanted all the children to have a turn," she concluded, visibly shaken.
"I don't care how "innocent" this thing started," responded LeClare Moffatt, speaking for the combined council. "If not all the students get a turn, that's just too bad. There are more important issues at stake here."
"The farmer has to be a boy," concurred Mayor Tom Merrill. "A boy gets picked first. That's the way we always played the game, and that's the way it should be played. You might as well get used to it."
The extraordinary joint session of parents and school board dismissed after reaching a tentative solution. Regardless of class sex ratios, boys would be picked first. However, in the interests of fairness, the position of "the Cheese" would be reserved for a girl. At the end of the game, the children sing "the Cheese stands alone, the cheese stands alone. Hi ho the dairy-O, the cheese stands alone."
"That should be enough to make anyone happy," concluded school board president Jack Peterson.
C.K. Woodworth, A.P. remote correspondent
The June editorial for The Letter - Kentucky's gay and lesbian newspaper.
THE FARMER IN THE DELL'S TALE
by David Williams, Editor
According to the Associated Press, a kindergarten teacher in Utah was recently called to task by her local school board for trying to inculcate same-sex values into her young charges. A familiar story, perhaps. What was so worrisome wasn't what the story was, however, but what it wasn't.
It seems that the teacher, Renee Mott, was perplexed at the imbalance of girls over boys in her class. But it wasn't much of a problem until she organized a traditional "Farmer in the Dell" playground sing-along game, where students form a circle and one stands in the center.
At the point in the song where the "farmer" (the student in the center) "takes a wife," Mott sometimes allowed the farmer to tag a female, even though the farmer was another female.
When the townfolk caught wind of it, they panicked and packed the school board's next meeting.
"This is just setting a bad example to our young and impressionable children," said Jared Day, whose child was in the class. "If you don't stand up for family values, this country is going to go right down the toilet." Others accused Mott of dragging innocent children into a ditch. "We can't let that kind of pollution into our town," Janabel Millett said. Lawsuits were threatened.
The story quickly shot across the internet. It was even picked up by the Associated Press.
Unfortunately, none of it was true. It was all a hoax.
It turns out the tale was written by a graduate student as a joke for her friends. But someone didn't get it. It found its way to the internet. At last report, like many another urban legend-- alligators in the sewers, gerbilling--it had taken on a life of its own.
A Utah radio station eventually interviewed the author to set the record straight. She expressed astonishment at the willingness of most people to accept the story without question.
But what can we expect? The religious right has prepared that dark and bloody ground well. In an era when almost anything associated with homosexuality is greeted with varying shades of hysteria, well-written stories like The Farmer in the Dell suddenly become too easy to believe. Paul Cameron, Lou Sheldon and Frank Simon have been spreading Farmer in the Dell stories for years. Is it a mark of our times that even the wildest gay-related stories seem plausible?
That hoax will probably soon die. The internet made it, it will break it. If only other hoaxes were so easily pricked. It may take years to kill that myth that gay men's average lifespan is only 42. But then, some people still think Gypsies steal babies.
What's the lesson here? I don't want to say, "You can't believe everything you read on the internet." They used to say that about newspapers. I like to think The Letter is reliable. We check our facts out as much as possible. It helps that we're a monthly, not a daily.
But when you realize I almost let the Farmer in the Dell story get printed, you begin to realize what dangers lurk in cyberspace. After all, if you can enter a chat room and pretend to be a 21- year-old hunk with a libido as wild as the Amazon (as yes, I confess, I've done at least once), what else is out there, waiting to take on a life of its own?
by Shelly Roberts
OUTTA THE MOUTHS OF BABES.
[... repeat of original hoax ...]
Good for you. You did it. Read it all the way to the end without having to go get snacks. Did it make you furious? Ready to whack a Christian? Relax.
IT'S A HOAX.
Even fooled the Associated Press. It was done by some graduate student with too much time, not enough money for cigarettes, and a friend from the land of duh who posted it to the Internet, where only Rosie O' Donnell rumors spread faster. If you believed it, you aren't alone. Thousands of jaws dropped.
So what's the finding in this fable? That the self-proclaimed super-religionist have tilled this bed till we're ready to harvest any kind of crop they seem to have grown, even if it's an hallucination? Or, since we know they are capable of making up so many other outrageous stories when our names are mentioned, then why not this one? Okay.
Or internalize a lesson of your own.
Don't you, sometimes, a little, miss the good old days when they had commies to chase so this would have been less believable
(C) 1997. Shelly Roberts. All rights reserved.
May be commercially reprinted only in its entirety with written
Shelly Roberts is an internationally syndicated columnist, and the
author of the new Roberts' Rules of Lesbian Break Ups. (Spinsters