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1996-NOV:
Attempting to start a high school Gay-Lesbian
Support Group in Alaska. Community response.

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In this web site, the acronym LGBT means:
Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Transsexual.

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A club, the Gay/Straight Alliance, was formed on NOV-13 at the Dimond High School for gays, lesbians and their straight supporters. Controversy immediately broke out at the school. A varsity hockey player was caught tearing down a club poster and had his playing rights suspended for one game. Controversy spread to the community, largely by an "outpouring of vitriol" by local radio talk show hosts. Finally, it spread to the next school board meeting. Member Kathi Gillespie asked the board to review the types of clubs that are allowed in the high schools. [She was apparently unaware that Federal legislation, the Equal Access Act, prohibits schools from banning clubs because of their religious, political or philosophical views. Schools can either have no clubs at all, or any clubs that the students want.] Another board member, David Werdal, wondered if the club could be banned under a school board policy that prohibits clubs that distract students from learning.

21 people, all adults, signed up to speak at the meeting. Only a few were allowed to speak in the time allotted. As expected, speeches ranged from full support to outright condemnation. A parent, Gary Horton, said

"This particular club could stir things up to the detriment of the entire community...This is displeasing to God. Listen with your hearts to a real sensitive issue."

A board member of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians And Gays, Fred Hillman, recommended a 3 year old Massachusetts state education policy:

"They're making schools safe for gay and lesbian students...Massachusetts is a pioneer in this area. Alaska, a state of pioneers, should be leading this issue."

The Anchorage Daily News came out in support of the club:

"Take all those adolescent pressures and apply them to a teenager who's having some doubts whether he or she conforms to our culture's heterosexual ideal, and you have the recipe for real psychological torment. It's no wonder gay teens generally are considered to be a high risk for suicide...The federal "equal access" law was passed to accommodate conservative religious groups that wanted to host Bible club meetings on school property. Those Bible clubs have a legitimate place in the extra-curricular school scene - and so do those who want to promote understanding and tolerance for gay people. The Dimond High Gay/Straight Alliance should be left to do it's work in peace."

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Steve Williams, an Anchorage resident wrote a letter to the editor which was titled "HATRED JUSTIFIES GAY CLUB". He wrote in part:

"The venom that has been spewing forth on local radio stations concerning students who wish to be associated with the Gay/Straight Alliance at Dimond High School is positive proof of the absolute need of just such a club."

He expressed concern that some adults want to limit students' rights of free assembly. After referring to the 30% of teen attempted suicides by gays and lesbians, he writes

"This is fully indicative as to why this club should not only be allowed, but encouraged. The school district should take a pro-active role in helping the group to hang in there and stand strong against this incredible meanness."

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On 1997-FEB-10, the school board held a meeting at which the public could give input. The topic was "should all clubs be allowed, or just academic clubs? And if all clubs are OK, should students be required to get permission from their parents to join them?" As expected, the only club that received attention from the public was the Gay/Straight Alliance.

Frank Murphy, a youth pastor at a local church said:

"Keep the non-academic clubs open, but shut the Dimond club down."

Alice Lawrence, the head of a local charity, said

"I'm appalled at what the devil is trying to bring into the school system."

Elliott Dennis and Norman Schlitter, co-chairman of Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays and Bisexuals said that support groups like the one under discussion are important for young teens, and that they shouldn't have to get parental permission to join. Dennis said:

"If you pass this, some of those [gay] students will continue to lead a lonely life."

The Anchorage School Board voted on the issue and decided to continue allowing non-curriculum clubs, including the Dimond High Gay/Straight Alliance. However, parental permission slips will have to be signed, and these forms must include the club's statement of purpose.

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Webmaster's Comment: (Bias alert)
This type of community debate is a common phenomenon. It demonstrates the lack of respect that many people have for freedom of speech and freedom of assembly.

Unfortunately, the root cause of the debate is rarely addressed. It is the division of the community between two mutually exclusive belief systems concerning sexual orientation:

bullet The belief by social and religious conservatives that
bullet Homosexuality is a chosen behavior.

bullet A homosexual person can switch to heterosexual feelings and behavior through prayer and therapy.
bullet A person can be "recruited" into homosexuality
bullet Homosexuality is a practice condemned by God
bullet Homosexuality is unnatural and abnormal.

bullet The belief by the LGBT community, religious and social liberals, human sexuality researchers, and almost all therapists, that
bullet homosexual orientation is determined during or before pre-school childhood -- perhaps at conception.

bullet A person's sexual orientations is discovered, not chosen.
bullet A person cannot change their sexual orientation.
bullet People cannot be recruited into a different orientation.
bullet Consensual, loving homosexual relationships are not mentioned in the Bible.
bullet Homosexuality is a natural, normal sexual orientation for a minority of people.

Until a consensus can be reached on the nature of sexual orientation, people in the community who believe that individuals can be recruited into the "gay lifestyle" will continue to be terrified of gay/lesbian support groups, of school lectures on sexual orientation, and of support groups for sexual minorities. Until conservative religious groups change their belief systems, the battle between homosexuals and the religious right will continue.

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Later developments:

Students at Dimond High School were able to establish a Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA). However, the school required each student's parent or guardian to sign a permission slip for each club in which they participate. The federal Equal Access Act requires that all student clubs be treated equally, so the school could not single out the GSA for this form of special treatment.

The main problem with this arrangement is that many high school students have not come out to their parents. That is, they have not revealed their gay, lesbian, or bisexual sexual orientation to their parents. Many teens and young adults do not do this until they finish university or college, out of fear that their financial support will be immediately terminated, and/or that they will be thrown out of their home.

By 2014, there were 8 Gay-Straight Alliances in Anchorage, AK high schools.

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay"

  1. "Another ALASKA Action alert: Dimond High Gay/Lesbian/Straight Club," Google Groups, 1996-NOV-24, at: https://groups.google.com/
  2. From the Anchorage Daily News for 1996-NOV-26, 27 & 29; and for 1997-FEB-11
  3. "GSA Clubs in Anchorage School District - AK," GLSEN, undated at: http://www.studentorganizing.org/
  4. "Implementation of the EEA (Equal Access Act)," Wiki Spaces, undated, at: http://equal-access-act-jamie-fergerson.wikispaces.com/

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Related section:

bullet Gay-Lesbian support groups in public schools

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Return to the Homosexual News page

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