OutFront organizes Watertown community meeting

Spurred by a Watertown family's complaints of anti-gay harassment in their community, OutFront Minnesota has organized a town meeting and a picnic for the family's supporters in the central Minnesota town. The meeting, which will be held Sept. 10 at the Watertown Elementary School, has already drawn the attention of the state attorney general as well as the local U.S. Attorney's office. OutFront also has invited city officials, religious leaders, and Carver County representatives to attend the meeting.

"Our general message is about a community taking responsibility for what's going on in their town," says Tommie Seidel, OutFront's anti-
violence programs coordinator.

Seidel says OutFront initially received calls from Watertown residents Brian Carlson and Robert Protomaster more than a year ago. The couple says they and their three adopted sons have been the target of anti-gay harassment since they moved to the town of less than 3,000 more than two years ago. During the 1997-96 school year, Protomaster says, the three teenagers were subjected to repeated harassment by their peers. The three boys were routinely referred to as "fag" and "gay boy" by classmates, he adds, and one son had the word "faggot" scrawled on his arm by one teen while others pinned him down. Protomaster claims that when he approached school administrators about the harassment, they failed to take his concerns seriously. The family filed a complaint with the state Department of Human Rights alleging discrimination by the school district.

In June, that complaint was dismissed by a department investigator. School district administrators have denied any discriminatory action in the matter. The Protomaster-Carlson family's lawyer, Leslie Lienemann, says she has asked the department to reopen the investigation. As of late August, the department had yet to reply to the appeal.

In the meantime, Protomaster and Carlson transferred their sons to the Minnetonka School District last fall.

Carver County Sheriff's Department reports also indicate that the parents themselves have been targets of anti-gay harassment in Watertown. Last June, according to a report, a group of girls taunted Protomaster outside a local grocery store, yelling "faggot" and damaging his car with a rock. Carlson claims he's been harassed by children in his own neighborhood, and the several sculptures in the family's yard have been stolen or vandalized.

The Watertown community meeting has tentatively been scheduled for 7 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 10, at the Watertown Elementary School, 301 State St. NW, in Watertown. A picnic for individuals who wish to show their support for the family will be held simultaneously at an area park. Call OutFront Minnesota at 822-0127 for details.

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