(GSAs) IN PUBLIC SCHOOLS
Topics covered in this essay:
Most public secondary schools already have at least one student-led,
non-curriculum club - perhaps a chess club, scuba-diving club, or Bible study
club. The federal Equal Access Act, (20 U.S.C. §§ 4071-74), requires
that such schools must allow the creation of additional clubs, even if the
school board or principal disagrees with the group's purpose. 1In
1990, the Supreme Court ruled that the Act is constitutional. 2,3 More details are available.
The original intent of the law was to force school districts to allow
religious clubs on high school campuses. But its wording protects the
right of all religious, political, philosophical, or other groups to
organize. The same law that protects an Evangelical Christian Bible club also
supports the right of gays/lesbians/bisexuals to form a support group, to
hold meetings on the high school campus before or after instruction hours,
and to have equal access to the PA system, bulletin boards, newspapers,
The People for the American Way (PFAW) is a liberal, civil rights
group that promotes the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. They issued
the following news release in early 2000-JAN. 4
Clubs for homosexuals have become more common in U.S. schools. More
than 600 gay and lesbian clubs meet at high schools, up from fewer than
100 in 1998, the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network
...The extracurricular clubs are permissible under the same [federal]
law that allows Bible clubs to meet at schools, supporters say. The Equal
Access Act, supported by many religious groups, says public
schools that allow clubs to meet in their facilities can't discriminate on
the basis of what is discussed, USA Today said.
...Many school boards oppose gay clubs, but relent when threatened by
lawsuits from gay teens and civil rights groups.
||School boards in Aurora, Colo., Greenville, S.C., and Manchester,
N.H., backed down when suits were threatened.
||A Salt Lake City school district forbade all extracurricular clubs
from meeting at the school rather than give in to a gay club.
||The Orange Unified School Board in California ruled that the
proposed Gay Straight Alliance club can't meet on school
grounds unless it changes its name and refuses to talk about sex.
Sophomore Anthony Colin, 15,
is suing...Gay clubs encourage impressionable teens to experiment with
homosexuality, a parents' group that opposes the club said. The clubs
"encourage children to accept a lifestyle that leads to
premature death," parent Donna Sigalas said.
...More teens reportedly are declaring themselves to be gay. About
two-thirds of gay students said they have been verbally, physically, or
sexually harassed at school, the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education
Network said. In some schools gay and straight students meet to
discuss problems faced by gay students and how to cultivate a tolerant
atmosphere. The presence of gay clubs makes homosexual students feel
safer, advocates say.
The Gay Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN; pronounced "glisten")
tracks GSA organizations in the U.S. As of late 2002, they are aware of
a total of 1681 GSAs. Only Mississippi, North Dakota and Wyoming (the state in
which Matthew Shepard was crucified) have no GSAs. Alabama has two;
Massachusetts has 222; California has the greatest number, 245. 5
Conservative Christian reaction to GSAs:
Beliefs about the nature of homosexuality differ greatly:
||Many conservative Christians view homosexual in terms of what a
person does; it is seen as a behavior. They believe that it is a sinful
"lifestyle" which is consciously chosen by the individual after puberty.
They believe that, through prayer and counseling, a homosexual can
become a heterosexual. Their opposition to school GSAs is at least
partly based on the belief that if gays and lesbians obtain equal rights
and acceptance, that more people will choose this "lifestyle."
||Many liberal Christians, gays, lesbians and human sexuality
researchers view homosexuality in terms of what a person is; it is seen
as a sexual orientation. They believe that it is not chosen, that it is
determined by a combination of genetics and some unknown trigger in the
environment, and that it cannot be changed. They view equal rights and
protections for gays and lesbians to be a fundamental civil rights
concern. They view GSAs as a useful method to fight discrimination and
to offer a safe place for homosexual students.
Support for GSAs: Family News in Focus, a service of the Fundamentalist
Christian organization Focus on the Family, posted an unusual essay
on their web site during 2000-APR. 6 Referring to GSAs
as "unsavory groups" and "Sons of Sodom,"
and "objectionable clubs," the author nonetheless
supported their right to exist. This conclusion was not based on the need
of gays, lesbians, and human rights promoters to battle homophobia. It was
not based on the need for gay and lesbian youth to learn safer sex
techniques. It was not based on the need for mutual support and self
esteem boosting. It was based on the preservation of conservative
Christians' right to organize Bible clubs. Author Jordan Lorence supports
GSAs because: "in order to keep the government from censoring
unpopular groups like the Bible studies, all student groups should be
allowed to meet. In a free society, we must tolerate speech we don't agree
with...To empower school officials to ban the homosexual clubs would
empower them to shut down the Christian groups as well. We should not give
up our hard-won free-speech rights in order to stamp out a few
Opposition to GSAs: Some months later, Focus
on the Family published a curious essay on the Gay, Straight, and
Lesbian Alliance in Jackson High School in Michigan. 7
A local pastor, Rev. Ira Combs, and some students had held a protest
rally on campus, demanding that the school either violate the federal
Equal Access Act by closing down their GSA, or shut down
all extracurricular clubs "in the interest of student safety and
health." His apparent belief is that if gays, lesbians and
heterosexuals are allowed to meet and discuss topics like how to increase
tolerance, how to reduce homophobia, and how to practice safer sex, that
student safety and health will be adversely affected. His belief seems to
be that violence and an increase in unsafe sexual activity would result
from the existence of the Alliance. The Focus on the Family
article does not explain how these two behaviors would be triggered by the
the Alliance. Combs commented "There is no such thing as
'safe' homosexual and lesbian [sic] behavior." This is partly a
true statement; there are many forms of homosexual behavior which are
quite risky and unsafe. However, perhaps through ignorance, Rev. Combs did
not explain the full picture:
||That unsafe sexual behavior, involving the exchange of bodily
fluids, is unsafe for both homosexuals and heterosexuals.
||That there are certain activities like mutual masturbation, massage,
touching, etc. which are safe for both homosexuals and
||That there are certain activities like kissing and oral sex which
are relatively safe for both homosexuals and heterosexuals.
||That the proper use of latex barriers will greatly reduce the risk
of STD transmission.
School principal Jim Graham commented that some students wanted to form
a conservative Christian club to counter the GSA. He was concerned that
this could lead to conflict on campus: "That was my concern, was
that we would draw that line in the sand between two groups and cause a
lot of emotional upset or controversy among our student body."
There is a general realization that under the Equal Access law, if
one student-led extracurricular group exists, than students have every
right to organize a conservative Christian Bible study club or a GSA. In
fact, students probably have the right to organize a "anti-Gay-Straight
Alliance" to counter the existing GSA -- i.e. a group that
opposes inclusivity, promotes discrimination against gays and lesbians,
promotes homophobia, and advocates celibacy for gay and lesbian students.
Democracy and free speech do not necessarily guarantee the most tranquil campus life,
but they can allow controversies to be engaged freely, with
everyone's position being explored.
The text of the Equal Access Act is at:
"Board of Education of Westside Community Schools v. Mergens,"
1990-JUN-4. [496 U.S. 226 (1990) (USSC+)]. The text of the decision is available at:
http://supct.law.cornell.edu/supct/cases/name.htm and at:
David Buckel, "The Equal Access Act: What does it mean,"
News release by the People for the American Way (PFAW).
Their web site is at: http://www.pfaw.org/
The text was distributed on 2000-JAN-19 by the ReligionToday mailing list, a
Fundamentalist Christian news summary. ReligionToday provides free newsletters
to which you can subscribe at:
"Local Chapters," Gay Lesbian and Straight Education Network, at:
Jordan Lorence, "Responding to pro-gay campus clubs,"
Focus on the Family, at: http://www.family.org/cforum/fnif/commentary/a0011023.html
Dave Clark, "Controversy erupts over Mich. homosexual club,"
Focus on the Family, at: http://www.family.org/cforum/fnif/news/A0014332.html
Copyright © 2000 to 2002 incl., by Ontario Consultants on
Originally written: 2000-FEB-10
Latest update: 2002-DEC-12
Author: B.A. Robinson