April 28, 2010

Topless debate heats up

Heath: University’s ‘silence’ on march is 'tantamount to an endorsement’ of event

By Scott Monroe
Staff Writer

FARMINGTON -- With tensions already running high over a topless march planned for Friday, conservative activist Michael Heath on Tuesday ratcheted up criticism by calling public nudity "the most objectionable feature of homosexual rights marches."

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Michael Heath

Staff file photo by Joe Phelan

China resident Heath, founder of the American Family Association of Maine, said he has filed a public-records request with the University of Maine at Farmington seeking information on the university's financial support of a recent awards banquet for the gender-rights group EqualityMaine.

The half-mile march, scheduled from 1 to 2 p.m. at Meetinghouse Park, is being organized by Andrea Simoneau, 22, of Brooks, a UMF senior. The event is based on a similar topless march Simoneau attended recently in Portland. Demonstrators opposing the march are expected to turn out as well.

Heath said he draws a connection between the upcoming march in Farmington and his records request because "the promotion and presentation of public nudity is a staple of the homosexual rights movement." Heath's recently founded organization is a chapter of the Mississippi-based American Family Association.

"We see an organic connection between the two," Heath said. "Many still confuse sexual license, and indifference to the gospel of Jesus Christ, with true freedom and liberty."

Heath also says that UMF's "silence" on the march was "tantamount to an endorsement of the march."

But both a UMF spokeswoman and Simoneau said the university has no involvement in the topless march, which Simoneau estimates could draw about 70 people.

"The march is not a university-sponsored or endorsed activity," said Celeste Branham, UMF's vice president for student and community services.

And Simoneau said that while she personally does support gay rights, that's not what the topless march is about.

"It has to do with women's rights and equality rights," Simoneau said Tuesday. It's about "not barring women from going shirtless on a hot day when that right is extended to men already."

Although Heath acknowledges that the march is not held specifically to endorse gay rights, he says the University of Maine at Farmington "has an unfortunate connection to the homosexual rights movement" through its support of the EqualityMaine banquet, which was held March 27 at the Holiday Inn by the Bay in Portland.

Heath is the former executive director of the Christian Civic League of Maine and recently announced his candidacy for governor, before soon changing his mind and bowing out.

"The public is eager to know why tax money is used to support a cause they object to as a matter of religious principle," Heath said. "Such questions are all the more timely and relevant now that the town of Farmington is home to a march more typical of San Francisco than Maine."

On Tuesday, UMF officials said they had not received Heath's records request.

"Until there's something in writing, we don't have any response to this, so I guess we'll see what we get in the mail," said Bill Geller, UMF's vice president for administration.

Dorian Cole, spokeswoman for EqualityMaine, declined to comment on Heath's claim other than to say that the university "is one of about 40 sponsors of the annual awards dinner, which recognizes members of the community."

'A lot of concern'

Heath's criticism of the university and of Simoneau's march comes following other objections from people who are upset about the topless march.

Simoneau has already walked the downtown streets wearing only a long skirt and the word "Freedom" written across her chest. She has distributed a flyer on "Farmington's First Female Bodied Topless March" that says "respectful supporters are welcome" and electrical tape will be available "for the shy."

Women from several area churches are planning to line the streets in a "silent prayer protest," said Sandi Rebert, wife of pastor Brian Rebert of the New Hope Baptist Church in Farmington.

(Continued on page 2)

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