Group claims views of Hanford High speaker outdated

By Ty Beaver, Tri-City HeraldMarch 20, 2013 

Elisa Garrett said it's not her goal to cancel a Hanford High School talk today by motivational speaker Brad Henning about sex and relationships.

Elisa and some other students, along with parents and a local nonprofit agency, describe Henning's presentation and views as outdated. They say he relies upon gender stereotypes and is apologetic of boys who aren't responsible in relationships.

Rather, Elisa and her friends just want to make sure students know what they'll be told during the mandatory 2-hour assembly, she said.

"We don't care how many people opt out, we just want people to make an informed decision," the 16-year-old junior told the Herald.

Students need parental permission to not attend. Some students have started an internet campaign to voice their concerns and tell others how to opt out.

Hanford High and district officials, as well as student government leaders, said they are supportive of Henning's visit. They noted that he is coming at the request of student government, not administrators. He has visited other high schools in the Tri-Cities for decades.

"All the other schools are baffled there's any dust up at all," said Principal Ken Gosney.

Henning, who lives in Puyallup, was unavailable for comment Wednesday. He has visited schools as a speaker for 30 years, according to a biography on his website. He works through his nonprofit organization, Life Resources, and makes presentations throughout the Pacific Northwest and the rest of the country.

"Life Resources exists to help kids build healthy relationships by teaching them the emotional differences between men and women and by showing them the value of sexual abstinence before marriage," according to Henning's website.

Henning hasn't been to Hanford High, which has more than 1,400 students, in at least 10 years, Gosney said.

Holly Fritts, executive vice president with Hanford High's associated student body, saw Henning's presentation at a Key Club conference in Sea-Tac last spring, she said. She and the hundreds of other students there enjoyed it and she felt empowered by its message of her ability to be in control in a relationship.

"My first thought was we have to have him speak at Hanford," Holly, an 18-year-old senior, told the Herald.

Students and their parents learned of Henning's visit by word of mouth and a letter sent home by the school. That's what led Elisa, her parents and her friends to research him.

"We kind of disagree with a lot of the views he shares," Elisa said.

Sophomore Devin Sprenkle, 16, said she was bothered by Henning's stereotypical portrayal of men as clueless and women as controlling, and the exclusion of issues facing lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender students.

"They're going to feel like they don't belong," Devin said.

Senior Pat Hickey, 18, said he has liked past speakers who have come to Hanford High, but he is upset by the apparent sexism of Henning's presentation.

"The thing I don't like is it's a mandatory assembly," he said.

Elisa and another student, sophomore Elisa Apra, 15, built a website to inform students about Henning's presentation and their concerns. It also gives directions on how to opt out of the assembly by getting a parent's permission.

Domestic Violence Services of Benton and Franklin Counties also sent a letter to the school late last week protesting Henning's visit.

The letter says Henning's presentation "reinforces dangerous gender expectations and stereotypes, and fails to include information about what to do if their relationship is unsafe. His presentation also greatly undermines the personal responsibility that guys have for their own behavior."

The agency requested that its staff also be allowed to give a presentation to students. Executive Director Dan Aspiri said he was not aware of the school responding to that request.

Gosney said a small number of students have been granted excuses to miss the assembly -- about 25, or 1 percent to 2 percent of the student body.

"He's still appealing to the current (student) population," Gosney said.

Holly said she hasn't spoken to students opposed to Henning's talk, but she has spoken to other students to clarify his message. She said many students were still interested in the assembly and that straight talk about sex is important.

"(Henning's) main purpose is talking about healthy relationships," Holly said. "I think that's useful to everyone regardless of someone's sexuality."

-- Ty Beaver: 509-582-1402; tbeaver@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @_tybeaver

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