AUGUSTA, Maine — A high school guidance counselor who appeared in a television ad opposing gay marriage is reportedly the target of an effort to rescind his state license, according to campaign officials.
Don Mendell of Nokomis Regional High School in Newport was featured in an ad by Stand for Marriage Maine in support of Question 1, which seeks to overturn a new state law allowing same-sex couples to wed.
Now, a guidance counselor from another school has filed a complaint with state regulators requesting that Mendell’s license to practice social work in Maine be revoked because of his statements on gay marriage, according to Scott Fish, spokesman for Stand for Marriage Maine.
Doug Dunbar, assistant to the commissioner at the Department of Professional and Financial Regulation, said confidentiality laws and rules prohibit his agency from even acknowledging whether a complaint has been filed. That information would become public, Dunbar said, only if a review board found merit in the complaint and scheduled a hearing on the matter, or if a consent agreement were reached.
Mendell did not return calls seeking comment Thursday.
A copy of the complaint was obtained Friday by Alliance Defense Fund, an organization that provides legal defense in cases involving religious freedom and “traditional values.” The Alliance Defense Fund, which is based in Arizona, is representing Mendell in the complaint case.
The complainant, identifiable only as “Ann” because her last name was blacked out in the documents, alleges that Mendell “has a long history of being unsupportive of GLBTQ issues.” GLBTQ stands for “gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, transgendered and questioning.”
The letter to state regulators also cites several passages from the National Association of Social Worker’s Code of Ethics the complainant argues are applicable in Mendell’s case. Those passages state that social workers “should not practice, condone, facilitate, or collaborate in any form of discrimination” based on sexual orientation and that social workers should “act to prevent and eliminate domination of, exploitation of and discrimination against” any group.
The writer further alleges that Mendell has been a vocal opponent of Nokomis’ Gay Straight Alliance.
“Don Mendell’s recent appearance in the Vote Yes commercial makes more public his opposition to the support of GLBTQ issues,” the letter reads. “His negative statements regarding homosexuality help contribute to an environment of negativity that already exists among students. Our schools work hard to promote respect and dignity for all, regardless of one’s personal beliefs.”
The complaint is dated Oct. 19. Mendell was apparently sent a notice of the complaint by the Department of Professional and Financial Regulation on Oct. 23. Stand for Marriage Maine officials made the complaint public during a press conference on Oct. 29.
Austin Nimocks, senior legal counsel at the Alliance Defense Fund, argued that no one should find themselves at risk of losing a job because they spoke up about their belief in “traditional marriage.”
“He can be completely professional and not discriminate against anyone based on their sexual orientation and still believe that marriage is a union between one man and one woman,” Nimocks said. “For this man to be threatened with his livelihood because of his beliefs is absolutely ridiculous and frankly unconstitutional.”
Fish used the alleged complaint to reiterate his campaign’s contention that gay marriage opponents have been harassed and targeted during the campaign. Such infringements on free speech and freedom of conscience likely would increase if the law stands, he said.
“It is ironic that those who claim tolerance as their highest value prove themselves to be so intolerant that they would go so far as to threaten a father’s career and put his family’s future at risk,” Fish said at a news conference Thursday at the campaign’s Yarmouth headquarters. “This latest attack highlights the true agenda of those who demand that marriage be redefined.”
Spokesmen for No on 1-Protect Maine Equality said the campaign had nothing to do with the complaint and that they were unaware of it before Fish’s statements. Mark Sullivan and Jesse Connolly said they disapproved of targeting Mendell’s license.
“He shouldn’t lose his job because of exercising his free speech rights,” Sullivan said.
Stand for Marriage Maine has made education a crux of its campaign by suggesting that the law could result in lessons on same-sex marriage being taught in public schools.
The No on 1 campaign, state education officials and the Attorney General’s Office have countered that the same-sex marriage law makes no reference to education and that marriage is not a part of the state’s general curriculum guidelines.
But the Yes on 1 campaign continues to argue that legalization of gay marriage would make it more likely for the subject to come up in classroom discussion. In one of the television ads, Mendell urges Mainers to “vote yes on Question 1 to prevent homosexual marriage from being pushed on Maine students.”
In an earlier interview with the Bangor Daily News, Mendell said he has seen the stress having same-sex parents can cause for adolescents.
“My business has been to do the best I can to help mitigate difficult situations and help them develop and grow despite hardships,” Mendell said. “To have those hardships codified into law is wrong, in my opinion.”