NEW YORK – A children's music video featuring SpongeBob SquarePants (search) that conservatives charge is part of an effort to encourage acceptance of homosexuality is being distributed to more than 60,000 schools nationwide, producers said Thursday.
The video features about 100 children's TV characters including SpongeBob, Miss Piggy (search) and Oscar the Grouch (search) singing the 1979 disco hit "We Are Family." It will be accompanied by a teaching guide that promotes tolerance of diversity.
"The opportunity to bring that message to children around the entire country is truly exciting," said Caryl Stern, senior associate national director of the Anti-Defamation League (search). "We know at ADL that people are not born as little haters, we learn to hate. And just as we learn to hate, we have to unlearn to hate."
To produce and distribute the video, the ADL teamed with the We Are Family Foundation (search), a nonprofit organization founded by music producer Nile Rodgers, who co-wrote "We Are Family."
TV networks and production companies also are involved, and FedEx has agreed to ship the videos for free.
The effort sparked controversy in January when the American Family Association (search), in an article by the editor of its monthly journal, charged that the video had a pro-gay subtext.
"On the surface, the project may appear to be a worthwhile attempt to foster greater understanding of cultural differences," wrote Ed Vitagliano. "However, a short step beneath the surface reveals that one of the differences being celebrated is homosexuality."
The video was also criticized by James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family, who alluded to SpongeBob SquarePants' role in a "pro-homosexual video" during remarks to a pre-inauguration dinner in Washington.
In a telephone interview Thursday, Vitagliano said he does not object to the "innocuous" video itself but to the accompanying teaching guide, which he said "distorts the definition of family to produce a nontraditional model."
Vitagliano pointed to a section where children are asked who is in a family, and if they say "a mommy," "a daddy," "a sister" or "a brother," the teacher is prodded to "ask further questions of the class."
"We feel that this is part of an attempt to include same-sex couples in the institution of marriage and the family," he said.
Rodgers, who joined ADL officials and others at an event promoting the video, said the project is not about sexual orientation.
"We're not talking about sex at all," he said. "This is for young children."
Christopher Cerf, the author and children's TV producer who's another of the video's creators, said he was "amazed" by the criticism.
"At first I thought this was so ridiculous that it's funny," he said.