Decision on gay-straight club delayed

January 21, 2009|By JENNIFER FITCH

WAYNESBORO, Pa. -- Seven people -- including one clutching a Bible -- passionately objected on Tuesday to a proposal that would form a Gay-Straight Alliance club at Waynesboro Area Senior High School.

Just as many people were on the other side of the argument, with several of them highlighting strides in unity demonstrated just eight hours earlier on a national scale.

"It just seems really important to acknowledge today of all days that we have our first African-American president and how much we're growing as a country," said Stephanie Kober, a resident of Clayton Avenue.

According to a draft of its bylaws, the club would use events and fundraisers to create a "more tolerant, friendly and safe environment for all gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, and transgender students." The school board delayed a decision on the club's formation in an effort to gather more information about its purpose as well as case law.


"I think homosexuality, like many other things, is immoral. I think it's absolutely wrong to have any kind of club or teaching of this kind of thing in a public high school," said James Teeter, of Country Club Road.

Board member Pat Heefner had tears in her eyes several times as people talked about their experiences with bigotry. She made a motion to approve the club, but ultimately agreed to wait when her colleagues requested further information.

"Go back 50 years and we could be sitting here in a Virginia backwater school district talking about blacks, letting blacks into our school and allowing blacks to sit at our cafeteria tables. We cannot demonize these children," Heefner said. "They need a place."

The board's lawyer advised that the federal Equal Access Act says the board must allow open forums like the Gay-Straight Alliance unless they interfere with the orderly conduct of school. Based on that legal opinion, Superintendent James Robertson recommended the board approve the after-school club.

"Part of my job is to protect the school district against litigation," Robertson said. The students talked to the principal, developed by-laws and found an adviser, all in line with district policy, he said.

The national Gay-Straight Alliance Network bills itself as a youth leadership organization with more than 650 clubs, including, Robertson said, ones in Shippensburg, Mechanicsburg and Carlisle in Pennsylvania. Some board members expressed concerns that they found GSA club Web sites with links to pornography.

"We're not forcing anyone to join our club," said Alexis Goodreau, a straight student who hates hearing her friend called a derogatory name as he eats lunch.

"My intention is to stop hearing gay slurs, or any type of slur," club founder Brendon Baker said, saying the Gay-Straight Alliance should be treated like the Spanish or chess clubs.

Amos Miller, of West Sixth Street, criticized the board for "the speed in which this happened." The board first mentioned the club at last week's meeting and agreed to put it on the agenda for Tuesday.

"This is a seed that's being planted, and that's how everything starts -- with a seed. ... What do you do next year if someone wants to form a neo-Nazi club or Ku Klux Klan club?" Miller asked.

"I know what it is to be gay, and how it hurts and how it hurts these children. This is not like the Ku Klux Klan. We were born this way," said Bob Parisien, who lives on Charmian Road with his partner of 25 years.

The school board next meets on Feb. 10.

There were reports of people being locked out of this week's meeting due to a custodian inadvertently locking the main door to the Clayton Avenue offices after the meeting had started. A doorbell is being installed.

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