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Lawmaker upset over feminists' Sex Faire at PSU

Thursday, February 15, 2001

By Johnna A. Pro, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

State Rep. John Lawless is giving an interview but breaking away to answer ringing phone lines every few seconds.

"Sorry. That was Oregon."

"Sorry. CNN."

"Sorry. South Carolina."

So went the day after news of Lawless' crusade about two recent Penn State events -- one called Sex Faire and the other something similar but unprintable -- hit the airwaves yesterday.

"It's been like this all day," said Lawless, who has been hot and bothered for weeks about sexually tinted events on the university's main campus.

The two events both were held in the recreation room at Pollock Commons, the first Nov. 18, the other Feb. 3.

Lawless, a Montgomery County Republican, was sufficiently agitated by the first event that he carried a video camera to the second one to gather evidence, making a tape that is now in considerable demand.

The Nov. 18 event, sponsored by Womyn's Concerns and the Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance and financed with nearly $10,000 in student funds, was described a celebration of women's "anatomical jewels."

The program included self-defense workshops and an evening program featuring lesbian performance artist Jess Dobkin, singer-songwriter Adrianne and author Inga Muscio reading excerpts of her graphically titled book.

Sex Faire, also sponsored by Womyn's Concerns, featured activities such as the tent of consent, orgasm bingo and an erotic-foods-guaranteed-to-turn-you-on table.

Supporters of the event said the names were simply clever ways to encourage people to learn about sex and sexuality.

"The Sex Faire, as it turns out, did not turn Pollock Commons into a lusty bordello of carnal pleasure but instead turned it into a place where one could have an informative time learning about things like consent, erogenous zones, disease and the human body in general," wrote columnist Mike Still in the Collegian, the campus newspaper.

Lawless disagrees.

After receiving complaints about the November event, Lawless went to Penn State for the Sex Faire, video camera in hand. He didn't like what he saw or heard.

Now he's demanding action from the governor's office and an explanation from Penn State President Graham Spanier.

"I encourage you to immediately suspend funding to PSU and appoint an oversight board to conduct a thorough investigation on the policy decisions of Penn State administrators," Lawless wrote the governor last week. "Academic freedom is one thing, classless acts of debauchery are another."

Lawless said no matter what the governor does, he's prepared to show a portion of the tape at a House Appropriations Committee hearing Feb. 27 and demand an explanation from Spanier.

Lawless said that even though funds were provided by students, the building, utilities, security and cleaning crews all were paid for by the university and, by extension, state taxpayers.

"We have community standards in this state and Graham Spanier better start meeting them," said Lawless, a frequent critic of the four state-related universities.

Penn State spokesman Bill Mahon said the issue wasn't community standards but free speech.

"The Constitution provides for free speech whether it's Mr. Lawless' free speech or that of the sons and daughters of Pennsylvania," Mahon said.

"A lot of us found some of the language and titles for the events distasteful. Nonetheless, the Constitution protects it."

Ridge spokesman Tim Reeves said that the governor also was offended by the language used to describe and advertise the events.

"The governor said [in November] and still says that while he understands and respects the notion of academic freedom, and that universities need to be centers of free expression, community standards also have to be a consideration when the university is deciding what events will occur on campus."

Even so, Lawless' suggestion to suspend funding is "not an appropriate solution for thousands of Pennsylvania young people who have nothing to do with this, and couldn't care less about it," Reeves said.

Reeves said no additional oversight was needed because it already exists in the university's leadership. But that leadership, he said, most likely will have many questions to answer at the appropriations hearings.

"We're going to learn there what the university intends to do."


Staff writer Joel Rosenblatt contributed to this report.



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