FAIRFAX, Va. - Virginia may be for lovers, but some state lawmakers protested what they called an inappropriate display of sex at George Mason University on Monday. The Sextravaganza sexual health fair received heated criticism from two Virginia legislators who said the event would disgrace the school - a claim disputed by event organizers and university administrators.
"When you separate sex from morality or faith, you get nothing but self-destructive consequences - nothing," Virginia State Sen. Ken Cuccinelli (R-Fairfax) said.
Pro-Choice Patriots, a student abortion rights group, set up the five-hour event in a GMU hall equivalent to the Marvin Center. The organization promoted the event as "the pain and pleasure of sex," with booths presenting information on both sides of the abortion and safe sex-versus-abstinence debates. Groups also presented information about rape, AIDS testing, sexual orientation and sexually transmitted diseases.
Thomas Hennessey, chief of staff to GMU's president, Alan G. Merten, said the school gave unwavering support to Sextravaganza.
"The university is supportive of all student activities without much reservation," he said. "I sent an e-mail to the organizers (Tuesday) morning congratulating them on the outstanding organization. It was as well an organized and delivered student event as we've had on campus."
Amanda Agan, co-chair of the Pro-Choice Patriots, said she was pleased with the turnout, estimating that 500 people attended the event in Fairfax, Va. She was disappointed, however, that Republican legislators had politicized it.
"It is an educational event," she said. "We never set out to make this political ... We're really promoting education and we're being nonpartisan."
Cuccinelli, the state senator, said a couple of students brought the event to his attention last week, and he asked one of them if he could observe an organizational meeting. Hearing about a raffle of sex toys - which organizers later scrapped - Cuccinelli expected the event would "push every form of sexual promiscuity there is out there."
"My ultimate concern was with the well-being of the students - and with the university ... (Sextravaganza) doesn't reflect well on a university that hopes to be an up-and-coming school," he said.
Agan countered Cuccinelli's arguments, explaining that student groups of all viewpoints were invited. Fifteen organizations participated in Sextravaganza, including two Christian groups promoting abstinence and anti-abortion stances, she said.
"I would've liked that he came to the event to really see what we're trying to do," Agan said. "If students do decide to have sex, (they learn to) protect themselves and do it in a safe manner, and if they don't decide to have sex we don't want them in any way to be forced."
John More, an associate campus minister with the Catholic Campus Ministry, said he was pleased his group was invited to present its positions on sexuality.
"We have just been very glad to have the chance to be here and promote abstinence," More said. "We have had quite a number of people who have walked by who have said, 'thank you for being here.'"
More declined to respond to negative comments made by Cuccinelli, a Catholic and GMU alumnus.
Hennessey, who attended the event, said the opinions were diverse and the organizers accomplished a "reasonably balanced approach" to the issues.
Ric Chollar, an adjunct professor and assistant director in the Office of Diversity Programs and Services, said his feelings toward the university have grown only more favorable as result of Sextravaganza.
"I have been really impressed (with GMU)," he said. "I am disappointed that having this is such a controversial thing, but it's very heartening to me that the university has gotten behind the students and allowed this to happen."
As faculty advisor of Pride Alliance, a gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender student group, Chollar said he enjoyed the opportunity to have discussions with people who had differing views on sexual orientation.
Agan said the Pro-Choice Patriots, who spent five months planning the Sextravaganza, hopes to make it an annual event.