RALEIGH -- Discussion of a charter school bill took an unusual turn in the North Carolina House Tuesday.
As lawmakers debated a proposal to prevent charter schools from discriminating against applicants based on sexual orientation and gender identity, one representative suggested that adult sexual attraction to children is a sexual orientation like homosexuality.
During the debate, Republican Rep. Paul Stam, R-Wake, said pedophilia, masochism and other illegal sexual practices are sexual orientations like homosexuality and he questioned the role adults who are sexually attracted to children might have in schools.
Several lawmakers called those comments offensive. After the House session, Twitter lit up with criticism of Stam's comments from other lawmakers and left-leaning advocacy groups.
"To use really severe issues to say that's how sexual orientation is defined is really offensive," said Rep. Tricia Cotham, D-Mecklenburg.
The amendment from Rep. Susan Fisher, D-Buncombe, would "prohibit a charter school from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity."
In response, Stam handed out a sheet listing what he said were 30 sexual orientations. He argued the definition of sexual orientation must be narrowed; otherwise it would include masochism, sadism, pedophilia, along with homosexuality and heterosexuality.
"Sexual orientation is not defined anywhere," he said. "Many, many sexual orientations are not the ones you want to have teaching kids in schools. You may think you know what you mean by this but you don't."
Stam asked Fisher to take a question, and she refused. No one else in the chamber would either.
"Well I think the response speaks for itself," he said.
In rebuttal to Stam, Rep. Marcus Brandon, D-Guilford, argued that pedophilia is not a sexual orientation.
"It's offensive. Pedophilia is not sexuality. It is a disease. It is a problem that has to be addressed outside of this body," said Brandon, who said the bigger issue in North Carolina is policies that treat some people as second-class citizens. "I don't think you should be able to do that."
ABC11 spoke with Stam over the phone, he declined an interview but said, "if someone wants to use the term sexual orientation in a bill, tell us what they mean."
On its website, the American Psychological Association says sexual orientation "refers to an enduring pattern of emotional, romantic, and/or sexual attractions to men, women, or both sexes," and also refers to a person's sense of identity. It also says, "The American Psychological Association maintains that pedophilia is a mental disorder; that sex between adults and children is always wrong; and that acting on pedophilic impulses is and should be a criminal act."
The House approved the changes to the charter school law, including making them subject to state open records law, allowing them to grow one grade level per year.
It also removed a provision prohibiting charter schools from discriminating against applications on the basis of ethnicity, national origin, gender or disability.
Cotham said the amendment to add sexual orientation and gender identity to that list has been tabled and likely will not be revisited since it does not have the votes to pass.
The bill also allows schools with single gender missions to limit admission on the basis of boys and girls, which the previous version had banned.
Charter school teachers also would be allowed to serve on the school's board of directors as non-voting members and make charter renewals valid for 10 years, unless specific conditions warrant a shorter charter.